To be continued…!

January 4, 2012

Our blog continues on the brand new Scottish Poetry Library website.

You’ll find the gorgeous new website at

And you’ll find our most recent blog posts on our Connect pages

We look forward to seeing you there…

The SPL team


December 16, 2011

Ah, December, let us count the ways. You hold the enticing possibility of snow. You make us mull over the past year and plan good things for the coming one. And, crucially, you are the only month of the year when it becomes socially acceptable to enjoy Prosecco and cheese straws for dinner.

The library looks especially appealing at the moment, with fairylights twinkling invitingly on the upper level and greenery along the top of the shelves. Many people say they love the library in vile weather – when wind and rain batter the large glass panes at the entrance, it feels a bit like being in a warm, safe ship on a stormy sea. And there’s something pleasing about seeing new visitors come in, rubbing cold hands and stamping frozen feet, only to hang up coats, deposit drookit umbrellas, and relax into the warmth and peace of the library stacks. Also, as two members of staff currently have broken boilers at home, we love our central heating system almost as much as our surfeit of cheese straws.

Poetry, of course, is warming in any case – make sure you indulge in some over the holidays.

Looking forward to the new year, we’re delighted to announce that Colin Waters will be taking up the post of  Communications Manager in January. Colin joins our team from the Scottish Review of Books, where he is Deputy Editor, and brings extensive journalism experience and a background in librarianship with him to the SPL. We look forward to welcoming him both online and with a pot of tea in January. We don’t expect the chocolates that kind people have brought in to last until January, so he’ll be on the austerity regime that usually prevails at tea-time… But he can always sample a poem.

The library closes its doors to the public tomorrow at 4pm; if you’re in need of poetry to borrow or buy, do drop in. We will be re-opening at 10am on Wednesday 4th January.

All that remains is for us to wish everyone the very best for the holiday season and a happy New Year!





Photo credit: The Giant Vermin / flickr

We have been sifting through a mass of applications for the position of SPL Communications Manager: arriving at a shortlist was difficult. There are many talented people out there, but even they haven’t grasped some essentials in making an application. We thought it might be useful to offer a few pointers.


  • try to restrict your covering letter to 1 or 2 pages and your CV to 2 pages
  • show an understanding of the organisation’s aims and ethos
  • connect your skills with its needs
  • communicate a sense of your personality: lots of people claim to be competent, calm and team-players – what makes you stand out?


  • repeat in the covering letter all the information in your CV
  • give the impression of a cut-and-paste application e.g. leaving in the name of another organisation to which you’ve applied
  • start off with your birth date and/or marital status – not relevant or required these days
  • make spelling mistakes, especially when claiming that attention to detail is your strength!

Thank you to everyone who applied, though. We appreciate your interest!


Gods, Heroes and Foxes

December 7, 2011

Robyn reflects on Ted Hughes, and Kay on Christopher Logue, who died on 2 December. 

The only time I heard Ted Hughes read was at Westminster Abbey in 1985, when the stone honouring sixteen poets of the First World War was unveiled. He had an incredibly powerful presence – I could have listened to him read all day. It was the year he became Poet Laureate, and he wrote to his old friend Terence McCaughey: ‘What is most strange of all is the role I now play in the rusty locked-up heart of the Anglo-Saxon common man woman and child. Very peculiar.’ Now it’s his turn to be honoured, with the stone unveiled yesterday, adjacent to that of T.S. Eliot, his publisher. Hughes’s stone is inscribed with lovely lines from his poem ‘That Morning’:  ‘So we found the end of our journey / So we stood alive in the river of light / Among the creatures of light, creatures of light.’

Liz Lochhead has recently been down to Mytholmroyd, Hughes’s birthplace, to judge the poetry competition run by the Elmet Trust. I asked her what her favourite Hughes poem is, and she plumped for ‘The Thought Fox’, that vivid evocation of the animal and the arrival of a poem. Hughes himself remarked that ‘occasionally I could enjoy the beautiful experience of breaking though a sound barrier and floating at a speed beyond sound, effortless; that happened in the little poem Thought Fox.’


  Saying these things Patroclus died.

And as his soul went through the sand

Hector withdrew his spear and said:


It was the right poetic encounter at the right time. As a third-year undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh, with an embryonic dissertation title on a post-it note (‘MYTH & POSSIBLY RETELLINGS?’), I put out a plea: what am I missing? A friend on the other side of the pond responded with the passage above, from Christopher Logue’s War Music, presented without comment. And she was right.

To say War Music blew the cobwebs away is an understatement: it was more vivid than any action sequence on film, with moments that couldn’t have been more different from my standard diet of nineteenth-century books about books. In one case ‘APOLLO!’  fills the spread of two pages , to be followed by ‘Who had been patient with you, / Struck.’ The god’s strike is after the turn of the page and in standard type size: a tiny gesture from a massive presence, and a perfect illustration of the positions of gods and men in Logue’s version of Homer’s epic.

Everything, including the short introduction, bore reading again and again. Like my friend, I went on to press it on others with urgency and to read the subsequent additions: Kings (1991), The Husbands (1995), All Day Permanent Red (2004) and Cold Calls (2005). Its stamp on my mind is indelible.


All power to the poets, whose work never dies.


Some events leave you with good feelings for days afterwards. Obviously the deposit of the final paper sculpture – by someone the Guardian brilliantly called ‘Booksy’ and NPR’s sympathetic columnist ‘The Library Phantom’ – is one such event, and that good feeling has been shared globally. Others are more local, such as the visit from a group of bouncy nursery-school children, who were magically stilled as they heard the opening words of The Gruffalo (and that rhyming story is a global phenomenon, in fact); or going out to a care home and seeing the magic of rhyme working with older folk, too – who carry poems in their heads after other things have faded.

We‘re still living in the after-glow of Kay Ryan’s reading. With the help of the Poetry Trust, the US Embassy in London and the Poetry Association of Scotland, we brought Kay – former US Poet Laureate – to Edinburgh for a reading last month, and her first visit to Scotland. There was a capacity house at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, to hear a reading that combined insight, elegance, charm and surprise in equal measures.

As a reusable alternative to tickets, our friends at the Scottish Storytelling Centre gave us a box of 99 tokens to hand out, which were red on one side and yellow on the other. It was an inspiring and enjoyable evening – so much so that Stewart Conn wrote the poem below.

Poetry Reading by Kay Ryan

We trouped downstairs,

each eagerly clutching

a plastic disc, red on one

side, yellow on the other,

vouching we had paid

and giving right of entry –

to emerge what seemed

moments later, having

exchanged it for a gold coin.

Moniack Mhor – The Jessie Kesson Fellowship

5th – 30th March 2012



JOB DESCRIPTION – Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre are offering a unique opportunity for a published writer to spend a month at the centre to dedicate time developing their own work.  The centre would like to encourage writers from out-with the United Kingdom to apply.  The writer in residence will work a minimum of two sessions a week in Highland schools.  The writer may be expected to participate in a literary evening event either as part of a ceilidh setting or at a designated local venue.

Moniack Mhor is a residential facility dedicated to the furtherance of literature in Scotland and beyond, it runs creative writing courses in partnership with the Arvon Foundation.

SALARY – £350 stipend per week and travel expenses.

DEADLINE – 20th December 2012


Tel: 01463 741675


Paper sculptures - the end!

the mystery sculpture where it was found (photo: Chris Scott)

On a rather gloomy Wednesday, with the wind buffeting the iron shutter downstairs, I was alerted (while fishing a consolatory custard-cream from the biscuit-tin) to something happening upstairs. My colleagues were clustered in the bay where the women’s poetry anthologies stand, and on a cleared shelf lay a pile of feathers… No, not feathers, as speckled and feathery as they seemed, but a paper sculpture of feathers. The great giver had taken us by surprise once more!

First there was the clue in the guest-book – but Kay at the reception desk didn’t catch anyone writing in it. Then this exquisite sculpture, ‘Gloves of bee’s fur, cap of the wren’s wings’, right out of Norman MacCaig’s deeply romantic early poem, ‘Gifts’, quoted on the tag. It also says: ‘10/10’ – well, obviously we’d give it that for beauty and pleasure and amazement, but we realised it meant the tenth gift of ten all told. Beside it stood a leaf from an old book, on which the giver has written that one has to know when to end a story… and confirming that the artist is female.

a close up of the feathers in the mystery sculpture's cap (photo: Julie Johnstone)

We won’t seek any further – we’ve always said we didn’t want to know who it was (except to say thank you). She’s seen our gratitude and that of the other recipients, though, tweeted round the world and re-tweeted. It has even made National Public Radio and Boing Boing. What gifts she has given! Not only of the precious objects, but also of her time, her extraordinary skills and imagination, and of deep understanding – an understanding of poetry, and of what all of us try to do in sharing our books and our passion for them with the world.

A heartfelt thank-you from all of us at the Scottish Poetry Library, especially because you chose to begin and end here, with your lovely leaves.

It’s important that a story is not too long ……does not become tedious …….

‘You need to know when to end a story,’ she thought.

Often a good story ends where it begins. This would mean a return to the Poetry Library. The very place where she had left the first of the ten.

Back to those who had loved that little tree, and so encouraged her to try again …….and again.

Some had wondered who it was, leaving these small strange objects. Some even thought it was a ‘he’! ……. As if!

Others looked among Book Artists, rather good ones actually…….

But they would never find her there. For though she does make things, this was the first time she had dissected books and had used them simply because they seemed fitting….

Most however chose not to know….. which was the point really.

The gift, the place to sit, to look, to wonder, to dream….. of the impossible maybe…….

A tiny gesture in support of the special places…..

So, here, she will end this story, in a special place … A Poetry Library ….. where they are well used to ‘anon.’

But before exiting …a few mentions. There could be more, because we have all colluded to make this work……. Just a few though.

– the twitter community who in some strange way gave rise to the idea in the first place

-@chrisdonia who gave the story a place, a shape and some great pictures

– and not least @Beathhigh whose books and reputation have been shame-lessly utilised in the making of a mystery ……..

…… But hold on. Someone’s left behind a pair of gloves and a cap……….?

Cheers Edinburgh It’s been fun!

A note from Lizzie on the book used to make the piece:

Photo: @splshop

On the back of the delicate ‘cap of the wren’s wings’, some of the paper strips binding the structure together are more legible, though of course shorn of helpfully full names or terms; one is headed ‘-lcolm Castle’  and is obviously from a page of fiction. There is a Lady Hel- in there, and a Robert Gran-. Irresistible – we just had to try to find what it was from. A little manipulation of internet searches, and we came up with Jules Verne’s In Search of the Castaways – there’s a Lady Helena in it, who is married to Lord Glenarvan of Malcolm Castle, there’s a Robert Grant  ….

We don’t know if there is any significance, but we love the idea of this last castaway coming to rest on our shelves.

Paper sculptures - the end!

Photo: Chris Scott

Paper sculptures - the end!

Photo: Chris Scott

UPDATE: @NtlMuseumsScot have announced they have received a mystery sculpture marked ‘9/10’: pictures here!

Communications Manager

November 18, 2011


The Scottish Poetry Library is a dynamic organisation, a unique national resource and advocate for poetry. We are expanding our team over the next few months, and are initially looking for a Communications Manager to start in January. This will be a full-time post, based at the SPL in Edinburgh, working with the team to enhance the SPL’s profile and to bring people and poetry together.


  • to develop and manage the SPL’s communications strategy
  • to ensure that our social media maintains and expands its high profile: managing the blog, communicating via Twitter, Facebook and Flickr
  • to manage the website – maintenance, creation of content, commissioning
  • to manage communications generally: with press, radio, television, other organisations
  • to manage communications with our audience specifically e.g. a weekly email
  • to assist in marketing the events programme
  • to assist with the creation of regular podcasts
  • to edit the Poetry Reader twice a year
  • to act as liaison for and diary assistant to the Makar, Liz Lochhead
  • to communicate the Makar’s activities to the general public and stakeholders

Essential skills

  • A graduate with a wide knowledge of and enthusiasm for poetry
  • Excellent writing skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Time-management skills, and an ability to work under pressure
  • Ability to take the initiative as well as work collaboratively
  • Significant experience in social media and communications
  • Attention to detail


  • £20,000 per annum starting salary


 See the attached background information for a general description of the SPL’s work:  SPL background for CM post

If you wish to proceed with an application, please send your CV with an accompanying letter, setting out your reasons for applying for this post and drawing attention to particularly relevant qualifications.

Please let us know where you found out about this post.

Referees’ names should be included but references will only be taken up in the event of your being selected for the post.

Applications should be addressed to:

Dr Robyn Marsack, Director, Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton’s Close, Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DT

and emailed to:

The closing date is midnight 4 December 2011.

We expect to interview short-listed candidates on 12 December.

Our friends at the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust are celebrating Robert Louis Stevenson Day all day on Thursday 17 November. You can wear velvet, tweet using the hashtag #RLSday, read facts and quotes posted on @EdinCityofLit, read poetry quotations @ByLeavesWeLive, take part in events happening all day and brush up on Robert Louis Stevenson’s works at the authoritative website here. 

We asked our Assistant Librarian, Lizzie MacGregor, for some of her reflections on Robert Louis Stevenson’s work:

I recently read Robert Louis Stevenson’s unfinished novel Weir of Hermiston for the first time, and was absolutely enthralled by it – they didn’t call him ‘Tusitala’ (storyteller) for nothing.  Many critics believe that it would have been Stevenson’s best novel, had it been finished, and certainly in it he has excelled in manipulating settings and characters; the sense of impending doom becomes so real that I was quite relieved when the book comes to a sudden halt  (RLS died in the middle of chapter 9).

One of the pleasures of reading Stevenson is his masterly dialogue. When Lord Hermiston thunders from the judicial bench or from the head of his dining table you recoil from his harsh pronunciations, and when Kirsty starts on a tale of her redoubtable family’s misdeeds you feel you are sitting with her, in the Borders farmhouse, staring into the fire, all ears. And they are talking in Scots, of course.

Image: Collected Poems of RLSIf Stevenson was so adept at handling Scots in his dialogue, why does his poetry in Scots have the reputation for being weak? There is an interesting chapter in the book Scotland and the Lowland Tongue (published by Aberdeen University Press in 1983) called ‘An awkward squad: some Scots poets from Stevenson to Spence’ in which Kenneth Buthlay traces the uneasy development of the use of Scots in poetry from the second half of the 19th century, until the Scottish Renaissance got underway in the early years of the 20th. He thinks that Stevenson did not apply the same craftmanship to his poetry in Scots as to his English, and generally deems Stevenson to have considered his Scots versifying as being just that, talking of his ‘deprecating attitude towards what he writes as being, not poetry, not even respectable verse, but just crambo-clink: ‘I rhyme for fun’ ‘.

If there was a weakness, would it have stemmed from the fact that Stevenson might have felt awkward writing poetry in Scots, because of the risk of association with the post-Burns rhymsters of the Whistle-binkie school?  I have always felt, though, that Stevenson’s poetry in Scots, while maybe not quite having the sustained strength of, for example, the tales of Thrawn Janet or Tod Lapraik , is written with a deal of energy, and fun. ‘It’s rainin … / A maist unceeivil thing o’ God / In mid July …’  And did anyone but him ever capture Edinburgh’s weather so well? The ‘snell an’ scowtherin’ norther blaw’, the ‘blast an’ blaudin’ rain’ (with of course, the antidote: ‘let the winter weet oor cla’es – We’ll weet oor thrapples!).

Derrick McClure, in his book Language, Poetry and Nationhood (Tuckwell Press, 2000) talks of ‘the unmistakeable sense of physical energy which prevails in his poems’, and puts it down to a preponderance of Scots verbs – a ‘forceful lexicon’.

One thing’s for sure – 161 years after his birth, Tusitala still enchants.

#PoetsAtoZ update

November 16, 2011

We’re still on A! Here’s the requests today [you just had to rhyme -Ed.]:

Always remember: ‘There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.’ Fleur Adcock, from Things

You came back into the room/where you’ve been living/all along. You say:/What’s been going on/while I was away? – Margaret Atwood

Give me a word/ any word/ let it roll across your tongue/ like a dolly mixture. – Patience Agbabi

expecting the second feature / expecting the second coming / expecting the last post / expecting to be late – Kenneth Allott

Talk some, write some,/ keep some in the archives/ of the heart – John Agard