Burns Banner

February 24, 2009

What is the Burns Banner?

Who’s Stephen Raw?

Below is a computer mock-up of some possible sites in Edinburgh
for the Burns Banner and
how it might look.

These are currently under discussion with various local authority

Hear Brian Cox reading ‘A Man’s a Man For A’ That’

Mound mock-up...

Mound mock-up...


Just waiting for people to arrive

Just waiting for people to arrive

This week the SPL has a packed events programme celebrating the many-splendoured nature of love! Lilias has worked like a trooper decorating the library, inspired this year by bites at the apple and the Garden of Eden. With pain-stakingly gold-leafed apples, fairy lights, and perhaps most impressive of all, a heart-shaped bower, this week’s Blue Peter badge goes to her.

On Tuesday night we had a Close Encounter with Kate Clanchy, the last in our season of four such events in partnership with the National Library of Scotland (earlier in the autumn we had visits from John Burnside, Kathleen Jamie and Benjamin Markovits). Kate looked closely at two of her poems,’Driving to the hospital’ and ‘Driving Home’, and one by Sharon Olds, ‘The Language of the Brag’, comparing the different ways in which she and Olds record motherhood. Her thoughts, on the dearth of poems written about motherhood and the received stigma attached (her third collection, Newborn, came under fire for dealing with the ‘trivialities’ of birth and babies) were intelligently put forth, and much debate ensued between her and the 30-odd people who’d battled through the snow to be here.

Wednesday night welcomed Sophie Hannah, a joint event hosted by us and the Poetry Association of Scotland, and her bubbly, anecdotal style of delivering some of the most wittily love-lorn poems around. Her Pessimism for Beginners (Carcanet, 2007) was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and was the 2007 Poetry Book Society Winter Choice, and she bantered her way through poems charting the vagaries of love and life (‘no ball games ETC? I’ve always wondered what that ETC means, so I’ve written a poem pondering it…’). After a spot of wine and a browse of Sophie’s books, provided thanks to Claire at Blackwells, there was a convivial chat with PAS chair Joyce Caplan.

Stewart Conn, SPL’s own Lorna Irvine and Kirsteen McCue wooed the assembled with a romp through 100 Favourite Scottish Love Poems (edited by Stewart, Luath, 2007) last night. What with Lorna lending her voice to the recitation, Kirsteen’s wonderful classically trained lungs and Stewart’s edifying explanations, the top note of the evening was one of pure enjoyment. One satisfied customer, on being asked what they enjoyed most about the event, simply said ‘all of it.’ Result!

There are three events left in our love marathon: we’re looking forward to hearing A L Kennedy‘s Selected Works at 7.30pm tonight. Tomorrow we have Irene Brown, Anne Connolly and Colin Will celebrating prime-time love in Time’s Fool at 2pm, followed by the deliciously, darkly comic shenanigans of Tim Turnbull and Robin Cairns hosting our Valentine’s Book Party: another bite at the apple, at 6pm.

40 days…

February 5, 2009

Many of you will be aware that the Scottish Poetry Library was closed for December and half of January (40 days and 40 nights, if you will…) for building maintenance work. Our basement was letting water in and we had to shut up shop to get fixed and dry. No books were harmed and we’re back to full steam ahead, thanks to much help and encouragement from our friends, your patience, and of course, some friendly builders.

This is the magnetic letter board in our children’s section. We were pleased with this ingenious note, left by some as yet unidentified personage:


Picking Poems

February 3, 2009

Among our many lovely tasks, picking poems for the Saturday Scotsman ranks highly. How it works is, each month a poem picker among the SPL staff picks a peck of pickled poems for the month ahead. These are based on themes, new arrivals (a gratefully received number of which come from Scotsman HQ), events or landmarks we want you to know about. The poem, or cunningly selected extract, should be no longer than 20 lines, and should be accompanied by a little preamble of roughly 50 words. It’s lovely when people who’ve seen the Saturday paper phone or email the library seeking to borrow the book or find out more about the poet.

We’ve just received Natural Mechanical (CB Editions) by J O Morgan and I’ve spent a glorious afternoon reading it trying to pick just 20 lines. It’s ‘a rendering of the true life stories of Iain Seoras Rockcliffe’, a compellingly lovely memoir of a life, ‘at least in part’. ‘Rocky’ hates and avoids school, preferring to find his education all around him on the Isle of Skye.

There’s a particularly charming bit where Rocky and dog Kim observe a fox ridding himself of fleas:

     Currents push each hair up from the skin.
     And all the time the ball of wool held high within its teeth.
     Until the neck goes under.
     Until the ears go under.
     The closed eyes. The delicate snout.
     Till only a black nose. Flared nostrils.
     Then the nose goes too.

     And the ball is released.
     And away it floats.

It’s wonderful.

by J O Morgan

On Saturday night the Scottish Poetry Library had a party to celebrate being 25. Many people came. They came dressed as poems. Christine de Luca was ‘To a Louse’ (On Seeing One On A Lady’s Bonnet, At Church
1786) in which she wore a grand hat with a big louse on the train. Assistant Librarian Lizzie MacGregor had a bandaged Sair Finger. Dangerous Dan McGrew and the Lady that’s known as Lou were here, as were the dish and the spoon (‘Hey Diddle Diddle’) and several wastelands. Chair of our board Joyce Caplan was resplendent as Pound’s translation of Li Po’s ‘River Merchant’s Wife’, while Stewart Conn was a poem as yet unwritten.

The library was bedecked with fairy lights, candles and flowers, and much wine flowed. We had a raffle. We even danced! We wish we’d taken more pictures, but, naturally, we bagged one of the cake, a delightful confection:

our birthday cake

our birthday cake

Richard Holloway, in his speech, likened the SPL to a convent, a place of studious devotion and graceful warmth. He did not witness us tearing up the dance floor later on…