The Scottish Poetry Library (Edinburgh) is seeking a person with excellent communication, IT and organisational skills to be a part of its imaginative, energetic and committed team.

This is an ideal entry position for an individual interested in gaining experience of working in an Information Services environment based in Edinburgh’s vibrant literary arts sector.

Salary £16,300

37 hr/wk (Tuesday-Saturday, including Thursday to 8 p.m.)
Initial contract, fixed 1 year (extendable)

Start date: August 2010


  • positioned at the front desk, dealing with or redirecting calls and enquiries
  • managing events bookings, events databases and website pages; assisting with event preparation
  • managing library bookshop:  keeping accurate cashbook, monitoring and fulfilling online sales, ordering sales stock and contributing to stock decisions
  • manage circulation (new borrowers, issues, overdues, postal loans, requests, renewals)
  • managing library databases
  • assisting with reference enquiries
  • new acquisitions processing
  • assisting with catalogue maintenance (additions/deletions), and some item cataloguing
  • creating displays and managing noticeboard
  • contributing to the library’s Web 2.0 presence (blog and Twitter)
  • shelving, stocktaking, and general shelf maintenance
  • sundry administrative tasks, such as managing post, and ordering stationery

Essential skills/qualities

  • Pleasant and confident in dealing with the public, in person and by phone
  • Excellent IT skills
  • Efficient, organised and attentive to detail

Desirable skills/qualities

  • A library and information services qualification, or currently working towards this
  • Knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, Scottish literature, particularly poetry
  • Previous bookshop experience

To find out more about the work of the Scottish Poetry Library, visit our websites, ), our blog, or find us on Twitter @byleaveswelive

To apply, please send a covering letter explaining why you are applying for the post, together with a CV, to Julie Johnstone, Librarian, Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton’s Close, Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DT t: 0131 557 2876 f: 0131 557 8393

e: Applications by email welcomed.

Closing date: Thursday 17th June 2010

Interviews are likely to be held on either 29 or 30 June 2010.

Supported by the Scottish Arts Council. The Scottish Poetry Library is an Investor in People.

A propos de nothing, we revisit a piece in Issue 2 of our Poetry Reader by Stuart Kelly.

The availability of classic Scottish books has never been better. The major figures of Scottish poetry are now, for the most part, represented by handsome, sensitively edited and illuminating volumes. Of especial note this year is Duanaire Na Sracaire (Songbook of the Pillagers): An Anthology of Scottish Gaelic Verse to 1600, edited by Meg Bateman and Wilson McLeod. Along with the four previous volumes, Gair nan Clarsach, An Lasair, Caran An-t-saoghail and An Tuil, this comprises a complete overview and immaculately detailed representation of Scottish Gaelic poetry.

Thanks, mainly, to Polygon/Birlinn, Carcanet, John Murray and Faber, the achievements of the Scottish Renaissance can now be seen in their full form. It’s not just the Collected editions of MacDiarmid, Mackay Brown, Maclean, MacCaig and others (including, of course, the still-productive Edwin Morgan: some lucky postgraduate will one day have a field-day trying to create a Complete Edition of Morgan). Many of the more marginal figures – Gael Turnbull, W S Graham, Kenneth White, Burns Singer and Veronica Forrest-Thompson –  have significant complete editions of their work, and a burgeoning and attentive critical corpus. Polygon, especially, have done much to put the prose works of poets on a secure footing.

As such, it seems regrettable in the extreme that the work of Sydney Goodsir Smith lacks a similar treatment. Although he’s there in Sandy Moffat’s group portrait ‘Poets’ Pub’, and his best known works (such as Under the Eildon Tree) are frequently anthologised, it’s a huge disappointment that he has yet to receive a proper Collected Edition. And not just for the poetry: MacDiarmid thought that Smith’s novel, Carotid Cornucopius, would do for Edinburgh what Joyce did for Dublin (it doesn’t; but it’s an intriguing and experimental work nonetheless). I’m keeping a gap on my shelves for SGS.

Another book I’d love to see would be a reissue of the 25 issues of Iain Hamilton Finlay’s influential magazine Poor.Old.Tired.Horse. One-word poems, concrete poems, an internationalist perspective and a fitting paper counterpart to the national treasure of Little Sparta. In fact, there’s a great deal of material from the ‘avant-garde’ or ‘experimental’ traditions that could bolster such a volume: what about Alan Riddell’s typewriter poems, Henderson’s Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica and Trocchi’s Sigma papers?

On the horizon, I’m looking forward to the collected prose and poetry of Alastair Reid (edited by Marc Lambert) (*these books, Inside Out:  Selected Poetry and Translations and Outside In:  Selected Prose were published in 2008*), and still hoping against hope that someone will publish an accessible edition of Walter Scott’s poems. I know he’s unfashionable, that narrative poetry’s out and that you can pick up a second hand edition in almost every second hand bookshop in the country – hopefully when the Edinburgh Edition completes the Waverley Novels, we might get to see the poems in a new light too.

Stuart Kelly is the Literary Editor for the Scotland on Sunday. He blogs at McShandy’s, and has two books forthcoming from Birlinn this summer.  This piece first appeared in our Poetry Reader, Issue 2.

Poems of home…

May 25, 2010

This year, National Poetry Day falls on Thursday 7 October, and the theme is ‘Home’. Past themes have included Heroes and Heroines (2009); Work (2008); Dreams (2007); Identity (2006); The Future (2005) and Food (2004). Lilias heralded the troops around the table yesterday for covert talks about what poems about home would work for our annual postcard series and why. Home means so many things to so many different people: where the heart is? wherever you lay your hat? ‘Where thou art, that is home.’ said Emily Dickinson. Douglas Dunn wrote ‘I live in you, you live in me’ in ‘Love Poem’. Home is ‘safe sounds’ and ‘the road that’s never dreary’. For some home is defined by not having one. So you see, in our house of poems, yesterday afternoon was a particularly pleasurable exercise in communing with our poetical ornaments, though finding favourites among so many riches is difficult.

We won’t be unveiling the choices for our cards just yet (they’ll be released in time for National Poetry Day and available for free for all, including those not in Scotland), but in the meantime, what poems about home do you like?

On Friday evening we jumped on the Museums at Night bandwagon – a Culture 24 initiative – and kept the library open a little bit late. We decorated the place with fairy lights and candles, put up poem posters, welcomed some musicians along and did guided tours of the library, including our art work (such as our commissioned stripes and mezzanine glasswork). Afterwards, we read some poems, of course.

It was lovely to welcome new faces to the library – night owls, perhaps – as well as regulars who wanted to roam the stacks in a different light. The tours, in which the ghost we’d hoped to incorporate  never materialised (although our lift does have a mind of its own and is often to be heard groaning when staff are stationary and accounted for) were nonetheless well received, and the melodies of Chandra, Jed Milroy and Freight Train provided the perfect accompaniment to the floodlit books.  So while we didn’t skip the light fandango, the crowd did call out for more evening events a bit like this. So watch this space.

Hurrah for Chris Scott’s pictures of the evening.

Wanna be Clydebuilt?

May 18, 2010

Today is the start of the recruitment for this year’s Clydebuilt poetry Apprenticeship Scheme run by St Mungo’s Mirrorball and Glasgow City Council.

This is a scheme which provides free mentoring from an experienced poet for 4 aspiring poets looking to bring out their first full collection. The scheme is now in its fourth year and has a growing reputation. Poets “graduating” from the programme have gone to be showcased in national poetry festivals, read on Radio 3 and won a number of prizes.

All the entry details are attached and the closing date for entries is Friday 25th June.

To be eligible to be an apprentice you cannot be involved in any other writing course or receiving any other structured writing support as of September 2010 and you should not yet have brought out a full length poetry collection.

If you are interested in applying to be one of the four apprentices what we would like from you is the following:

  • Full contact details
  • A brief biography of your writing career to date
  • 5 poems as typical examples of your work
  • A statement of your short term and long term poetry goals
  • An outline of what you hope to achieve from the support over the next 12 months
  • A clear indication of the time commitment you are able to give both in terms of writing and attendance at the tutorial programme

Then send the submission to Clydebuilt – The Verse Apprenticeship Scheme, Heathfield, Horsewood Road, Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire PA11 3AU or e-mail it to | St Mungo’s Mirrorball website

*Only 24 are true…

1. It was the American born, Glasgow based poet Larry Butler who asked that fateful question in 1981 – ‘where is the Poetry Library in Edinburgh?’

2. The inaugural party for the SPL saw the birth not only of a new national organisation, but a new national dish. Vegetarian haggis, as created by Meg Stiven and Gowan Calder and packed in plastic by John Macsween of Edinburgh, proved such a success that Macsween developed the recipe for commercial use. The mix of ‘vegetable margarine, kidney beans, lentils, peanuts, walnuts, almonds, carrots, turnip and mushrooms; together with the traditional oatmeal, onions and our special blend of spices and seasoning’ is now sold all over Scotland and beyond, and Macsween remain long-standing and generous supporters of the SPL.

3. The plates and dishes used to feed the 300-strong crowd at the launch party were borrowed from George Watson’s College and had to be returned (clean) in time for school lunches the next day.

4. One of the most obscure enquiries our Assistant Librarian Lizzie MacGregor has ever solved began: ‘It was a poem I read in a magazine at the dentist in 1954…’ She eventually tracked down the elusive poem, an anonymous piece that had apparently been composed upon the wall of Ryvoan Bothy, and ‘fortunately copied before lost’ – somehow making its way into a magazine in that dentist’s waiting room in 1954, and eventually into an anthology, Poems of the Scottish Hills (Aberdeen University Press, 1982).

5. When the SPL applied to the Scottish Arts Council for captital Lottery funding for the proposed new Library building in Crichton’s Close, the application was registered as number 001 – the first of its kind.

6. Tessa Ransford wrote a poem talking about a ‘house of poetry’ in 1974 – ten years before she founded the SPL. It included the lines:

I shall fill the place with books
with books of poetry
wherein the very self of things
speaks its reality

And through the links and lines
between them
seep like irrigation
waters from the deep earth
the flow of imagination

The poem proved oddly prophetic in large ways (the SPL was opened in 1984, and the current building thirteen years later)and small (the a new spring that sprung on this old brewery site has caused waters from the deep earth literally to seep in and through the SPL).

7. Buried beneath the SPL building is a time capsule. Its contents include, among other things, poems from a Herald competition for a millennial poem, a poem by Colin Will written specially for the new building, poems by our Honorary Presidents at that time, George Bruce and Derick Thomson (still Honorary President today) and a blessing from Charles Robertson, Minister of Canongate Parish.

8. The longest ever loan from our collection lasted 17 years, from 1990 to 2007. Luckily for the borrower, the SPL doesn’t have fines!

9. Our strapline ‘by leaves we live’, adopted in 2004, is taken from the words of philanthropist, teacher and town planner Sir Patrick Geddes:‘This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent on the leaves. By leaves we live. Some people have strange ideas that they live by money. They think energy is generated by the circulation of coins. Whereas the world is mainly a vast leaf colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass: and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests.’

10. Unusual visitors to the library have included a baby blackbird, which flew into the ‘new acquisitions’ and roosted there until a rescue

11. The library has served as Muse to many architectural students, as well as poets: in recent memory, an innocently-labelled ‘legless’ chair received two poems in its honour.

12. The largest number of people to cross the threshold on one day was 1,147.

13. The SPL has several hidden pieces of artwork – the black stripes across the front window display these words from a seventeenth century Gaelic poem, with English and Scots translations by Derick Thomson and Neil R MacCallum:

Ní h-ór, ní h-ionmhus eile,

do ghéibha uaim d’ áiridhe,

ní cána no comha cruidh,

acht rogha ar ndána dheacruigh.


It is not gold or other treasure

that you will get from me in special;

it is not tribute, nor gift of cattle,

but the choicest of our hard-

wrought poems.


It isna gowd or ither treisurs

Argyle in special wins frae me,

I gie nae nowt as youissless fairins

But braw poems alane for ye.

14. Welcomed to the Scottish Poetry Library, a group of awed pre-schoolers were asked what they thought they’d find within. Much lip-licking and brow-furrowing and wide-eyed gazing around, and then … ‘A cat!’

15. The SPL features in Ian Rankin’s final Rebus novel, Exit Music – in which a Librarian gasps, and clutches a hand to her cardigan. All characters are presumably works of fiction, and any resemblance to real people is entirely coincidental.

16. The most-borrowed author is Edwin Morgan – making it all the more appropriate that the SPL should house the Edwin Morgan Archive, opened in April 2009.

17. The first book to be barcoded when the SPL adopted an automated circulation system was The Poetry of the Scots, by Duncan Glen (Edinburgh University Press, 1991).

18. The most enigmatic remark in our visitors’ book reads: ‘Things as they are not…’ We think it’s complimentary – any suggestions as to what it might mean?

19. Visitors complain that the SPL is indeed a ‘hidden’ treasure. While the sign at the entrance to Crichton’s Close is discreet, it took seven years, and latterly much lobbying by the first Edinburgh Makar, Stewart Conn, to gain permission to put up even this small sign.

20. The wrought steel words: ‘A Nation is Forged in the Hearth of Poetry’ that adorn the building at the entrace to Crichton’s Close were composed by John Purser. He explains:‘The line was specially written as a commission for the building. I first of all looked for an existing quotation that would meet the bill, but was unsuccessful. The line was composed with many things in mind – namely that the building was primarily for housing – hence the image of the hearth as a symbol of the home and its vital role in the community. Also the fact that the letters were in forged steel on an exposed steel beam – hence hearth and forged.

‘The national element was to reflect the importance of the site itself on the Royal Mile and leading towards our new parliament then under construction. The poetry element (which was in the end the fons et origo of it all) reflected the statement at the closing of the old parliament “thus endeth an auld sang” as well as reflecting the hearth as the place where the oral tradition thrived and where the dream at least of a culture that feels the need to organise itself as a nation was and is kept alive in many parts of the world. In other words, a complex of images and thoughts was at the basis of the line.

It was deliberate also that that part of it which could be read in the High Street without looking into the close made a semantic unit – A Nation Is Forged in the Hearth – whereas the part leading into the SPL was grammatically imperfect, thus ensuring that the inner world of thought and reflection was ultimately dependent upon the outer world of society and commerce, even though the statement as a whole puts poetry at the forefront and makes it the fire that energises the whole.’

21. Our collection includes Burns in Esperanto, as well as Polish, French, Norwegian, Gaelic, Spanish, German and Swiss-German, Russian, Swedish and Czech – and our Librarians are at least as likely to be asked for Burns in translation as in the original Scots.

22. At a squeeze, the rug in our children’s section – designed by Mary Louise Coulouris and woven by Louise Kirkwood, and depicting the MacDiarmid poem Hungry Waters – can fit 26 children.

23. Mail-order clothing retailer Boden thought the SPL was a dead ringer for an architect’s studio, and held a photoshoot here in summer 2008 to showcase their range of ‘architect’s shirts’. We did not realise that dropping library books – carefully colour co-ordinated – would be part of the bargain.

24. The oddest things left behind in lost property at the SPL were a cake, a pair of dentures and a bound PhD thesis on Modernism in contemporary Gaelic ballad forms.

25. From the Librarian, January 2003: ‘To the Member whose shoes were melted by our floor lights on the mezzanine floor, can I apologise? We do not use these any more and assure you that your footwear will be safe on your next visit.’

his piece first appeared in Issue 4 of our newsletter, the Poetry Reader.

Zapotec poet Victor Teran browsing in our bookshop. Photo by Travis Elborough

It’s been another busy week down Crichton’s Close. We welcomed the arrival of W S Graham’s ‘Untidy Dreadful Table’ with great joy, and spectated upon the power-hosing of our courtyard, which is now glittering in a sharp Friday afternoonish kind of sun.

We greatly enjoyed the Poetry Translation Centre’s Mexican poets, who were here with us on Saturday. If you weren’t among the hordes able to experience Zapotec aloud, you can glut yourself on the wonderful resources to be found on the Poetry Translation Centre’s website.

John Burnside has said that “Chase Twichell is one of America’s finest writers, a poet of philosophical depth, real engagement and profound compassion. Nobody writes better about what it means to be a conscientious participant in the daily miracle of this existence we share with other humans, with trees and stars and with the company of the animals.” You can imagine how excited we are to host her at the library here on Wednesday 12, 7.30pm, reading from her new collection, Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe) and talking with our Robyn about being a poetry editor, among other things. Here’s a sneak preview, courtesy of Pamela Robertson-Pearce, of Chase reading her poem ‘Savin Rock’.

Next Thursday, 6 – 7.30pm, brings a Nothing But the Poem reading group. Would you or your nearest and dearest like to renew your love of poetry with this fresh approach to reading? Free from criticism, reviews and hype, this is a chance to get up close and personal with just a few poems in a relaxed and friendly setting. To round off a busy week in events we’re jumping on the Museums at Night bandwagon and staying open late on Friday, in order to celebrate the library in all its beauty of the night. Starting at 8pm, we’ll have music from Jed Milroy, Chandra and Freight Train, a (‘haunted’) poetry tour and, of course, some poems! You know the Ben Stiller film Night at the Museum? It will be nothing like that.

New acquisitions this week, W S Graham’s table aside, include Douglas Robertson’s newly installed The Net Mender: an exhibition of box constructions and drawings. Douglas has collaborated with many poets, including Donald S Murray, Andrew PhilipPascale Petit and Jen Hadfield and this exhibition fits the library space very beautifully. It’ll be in situ until Saturday 12 June.

Books wise, we were happy to take delivery of Chase Twichell’s Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been: New & Selected Poems, both for our collection and for sale at Wednesday’s event, and Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets (both Bloodaxe) and Volume 2 of Timothy Neat’s biography of  Hamish Henderson, Poetry Becomes People (Polygon). All coming to shelves near you soon!