Bookish Blog 2!

September 30, 2010

This is your not-quite-weekly books bulletin from the SPL shop (on Twitter as @SPLshop!), with a little about what you can buy and borrow from the Scottish Poetry Library. Read on!

New in this week…

Beyond the Last Dragon: A Biography of Edwin Morgan

By James McGonigal

The biography of Edwin Morgan was going to press when the poet died – we’re glad that this first account of his long creative life has reached our shelves so soon. James McGonigal, himself a poet, provides shrewd biographical and ethical insights in an immensely readable volume, available from the SPL at the keen price of £19.99.

Limited edition…

Under the Evening Sky

by the beserkers

It sounds like a joke: what do you get when two Icelanders, two Scots and a Lithuanian live together for a week? Answer: wonderful music, poetry, translations. ‘The beserkers’ was formed in a translation workshop in Crear in 2008, played at the EIBF that year, and now there’s a CD of their haunting and eclectic music, available in a limited edition only from the SPL (£8).

Featuring: Lise Sinclair, Gerry Cambridge, Ađalstein Siguardsson, Ástvaldur Traustason & Gintaras Grajauskas.

Something for the weekend…

Stone Going Home Again: New Writing Scotland 28

ed. by Alan Bissett & Carl MacDougall

Submissions for the next volume of New Writing Scotland closed today – but there’s still time to read Stone Going Home Again, the volume resulting from the last round of submissions. Featuring our very own columnist Kona Macphee, Ryan (in Residence), our podcasting mastermind Colin Fraser, 2009 Calum Macdonald winner Hugh MacMillan and many, many others, you’ll be in good company this weekend. (above, centre)


Published by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies,

End of the month bargain…

Dreychd an Fhigheadair/ The Weaver’s Task: A Gaelic Sampler

Ed. and introduced by Crisdean MhicGhilleBhain/ Christopher Whyte

The fabric of Scotland’s poetry is woven from the threads of the country’s different languages. Since it became common practice for Gaelic poets to translate their own work into English, a crucial strand in that interaction has been lacking. Seven Scottish poets with no knowledge of Gaelic were offered literal versions of contemporary Gaelic poems. In Dreuchd An Fhigheadair/The Weaver’s Task their responses are set alongside the Gaelic originals, revitalising a dialogue in which both sides have much to gain. (above, left)


Published by the Scottish Poetry Library

Cover of the week…

Railway Rhymes

ed. Peter Ashley

This neat hardback from Everyman wins the best design category by way of its dust jacket. Released to commemorate the official opening of the refurbished St Pancras station in London, the light blue jacket of the book is covered in retro fonts and selections from ticket stubs and to crown it off, even has a semi-circle notch taken out of its bottom left-hand corner. The interior continues the retro theme with a hardback that is pressed cloth which actually feels like cloth and the poems are delicately type-set in a serif font. However, the real glory of the interior design is the structure. The poems are split into sections: Navigating, Engineering, Waiting, Travelling and Musing, making it easy to find the right poem for whichever of the stages of a train journey you happen to have reached. (far above, right and above)


Published by Everyman


What we’re talking about over tea… National Poetry Day!

On Thursday 7th October, we’ll be stopping for tea at 3pm. Although we are keen tea-drinkers, this particular tea party will be for a Higher Purpose (oh yes!) and we invite you all to join us in celebrating National Poetry Day with a cup of warming tea and a poem about our theme, ‘home.’ You can join in by coming along to our tea party at the library at 3pm, by stopping to read a poem about home wherever you are, or by tweeting @PoetryDayUK or @ByLeavesWeLive.

Postcards will be available by post from the SPL (send us a self-addressed ordinary letter size envelope with 1st or 2nd class stamp marked NPD 2010), to pick up at the SPL, and online as e-cards from 7th October. Postcards will be available from lots of other places around the country: email us at to find yours.

It’s been all hands on deck this week in the build up to National Poetry Day, particularly for our Reader Development Officer, Lilias Fraser, and our Education Officer, Lorna Irvine. Postcard orders for schools have now closed, resources for teachers and education professionals are up on GLOW (look for a national group called ‘poetry’) and everyone at the library would like to thank them for their hard work with a cup of tea, coffee or Earl Grey… how’s 3pm, Thursday 7th October?

Footnote! Bratislava…

September 29, 2010

From left to right: Richard, Nurduran, Tom, Giorgos

A footnote to the Bratislava workshop – or rather, some actual notes from the workshop, which concluded, at Tom Pow’s behest, with the making of a sound poem. This was a new medium for most of the poets, and two in particular took to it with glee. It fascinated the audience at the Bratislava bookshop where the reading was held – a new form to them, too. I said in my introduction that the national poet of Scotland, Edwin Morgan, had died last month, and that he was a great translator and experimenter with language – a maker of sound poems – so this was our tribute to him and to our stay in Bratislava. The sound poem made by Giorgos Hanztis, Tom Pow, Nurduran Duman and Richard Gwyn is called ‘Bratislava’, and if you listen carefully, you may hear the sound of the Danube, of leaves in the wind, of a girl on her mobile phone as she walks along, and the sound of the tram (conveyed by the repetition of one Slovakian taste treat, best when filled with plums)…

You can see a video performance of the sound poem by clicking on this link and logging into Facebook!

Our fabulous friends at the Southbank Centre are currently recruiting for a Participation Producer (specialist in Literature and Spoken Word).

Participation Producer (Specialist in Literature and Spoken Word)

As Participation Producer you will create and manage extraordinary participation projects across Southbank Centre’s spaces and venues. These projects will be part of major Southbank Centre festivals, currently including the London Literature Festival, the Festival of Britain 60th anniversary celebrations in 2011 and our plans for the Olympic year. You will be a specialist in literature and spoken word, with a passion for poetry, and an interest in working across all art forms. You will recognise creativity in everyone and as a skilled collaborator have experience of producing complex projects in partnership with artists and educational/arts organisations. As well as an ability to imagine, create and run participatory projects you will also need excellent organisational skills, project management skills and experience of monitoring and working within defined project budgets.

The closing date for applications is 9am on Monday 4 October 2010.

For the full advertisement and details of how to apply please see:

For a flavour of the work they do, listen to our Southbank podcast from Ryan in Residence’s visit.

Bookish bulletin 1!

September 17, 2010

This is your weekly books bulletin from the SPL shop (on Twitter now as @SPLshop!), with a little about what you can buy and borrow from the Scottish Poetry Library. You’ll find our favourite new retail acquisition, something for the weekend, our favourite book cover of the week and what we’re talking about over tea. Read on!

New in this week…

We have quite a few new titles in this week, and we’ll be sharing a bit about them anon, but this week we’re enchanted by The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott (ed. Thomas Crawford) (fourth on the right, left.)

Sir Walter Scott’s epic poem was first published in 1810 and brought people to the Trossachs the way The War of the Worlds on the radio drove people to the streets (for entirely different reasons, it must be said). The devotion shown in producing this edition is evident in the level of detail throughout, from the lovely endpaper maps to small touches such as the small red line separating discreet, helpful footnotes from text. Linda Farquharson’s illustrations in black, white and red were specially commissioned for this edition and add much to its enjoyment. This special edition to mark the 200th anniversary of its publication is a striking one, whether you are new to The Lady in the Lake or revisiting it.

Price: £14.95 | Foreword by Alex Salmond MSP, introduction by Douglas Gifford and illustrated by Linda Farquharson | (pub. The Association for Scottish Literary Studies in partnership with the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, 2010)

Something for the weekend …

Ten Seasons: explorations in the Botanics

ed. Gerry Loose, photographs by Morven Gregor (right, right)

Ten Seasons is a good way to describe the average autumn day in Scotland as well as being the title of this anthology. However, one thing doesn’t change: the pleasure of visiting Botanical Gardens. This collection grew out of Gerry Loose’s three years as Poet in Residence at Glasgow’s Botanical Gardens and is a gathering of texts, along with stunning photographs. Poetry is presented through scraps of material, stone and water. As we’re sensing a change of season in the air in Scotland, marked by indecision as to exactly what weight of coat to wear in the morning, the time couldn’t be better to pick up this collection.

Price: £9.99 | (pub. Luath Press Ltd. and the Scottish Poetry Libary, 2007).

Cover of the Week

The Dark Horse: The Scottish-American Poetry Magazine, issue 25: Summer/Autumn 2010.

ed. Gerry Cambridge (left, in pic above)

Typeset and designed by Gerry Cambridge, bound by The Charlesworth Group, The Dark Horse is a pleasure to read and not just because of its top notch content. This colourful cover is multi-functional: it will steal hours of your time by glancing and staring, and it clearly presents a selection of contributors to the issue.  With a smooth, matte finish and a wonderful internal layout, this is our design pick of the week.

Price: £5.00 |

Bestseller of the Week

How Not To Get Your Poetry Published

by Helena Nelson

One of the most popular titles in our shop. The Dark Horse (25) contributor, Helena Nelson, has produced a succinct, to-the-point introduction to the snarls and joys of being an active poet in the poetry publishing world. Produced with the understated style HappenStance is best known for, this 52 page pamphlet gives honest and useful rather than blindly encouraging answers to most of the frequently asked questions.

Price: £5.00 | (pub. HappenStance, 2009)

Around the tea tray, we’re talking about… James Hogg, Confessions of a Justified Sinner

I asked what people were reading at the moment and accidentally started a lively debate about the fear factor of James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Greg, a PhD student with a focus on concrete poetry, is reading it to get to sleep at night- a tactic that may have backfired. Assistant Librarian Lizzie MacGregor admitted that it was the only book she’d never managed to finish, while our Librarian Julie has it on her shelf to be read but hasn’t started it. I remember finding it hard going for the first little while when it appeared on my university syllabus a few years ago but staying up late to find out how it ended. Lilias, our Reader Development Officer, said:

You start off reading it, thinking, oh here’s a nice douce classic Scottish novel, I’ll plough worthily through it and it will be educational. Very soon you realise how badly you may have underestimated it. Soon after that you realise you’re the only person in the house this evening. I still can’t go for a walk on the Crags if there’s a bit of a mist coming in.

What are your memories of this Scottish classic? Answers on a comment-shaped postcard…

For more about James Hogg, see:

For starters:

Lending: James Hogg: Selected Poems and Songs ed. David Groves (Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh 1986)

Reference: The Poems of James Hogg, The Ettrick Shepherd (Selected), with Introduction by Mrs. Garden (Walter Scott Limited, London)

For a closer look:

Lending: A Queer Book, James Hogg ed. P.D. Garside (Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 1995)

Reference: The Queen’s Wake, James Hogg ed. Douglas S. Mack (Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 1994)

About: James Hogg: A Critical Study by Louis Simpson (Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh 1962)

Jane’s muffin/scone recipe

September 17, 2010

We’re not all about cakes here at the Scottish Poetry Library. Jane has just thrilled and delighted us with home made savoury muffins/scones (they’re a delicious symbiosis of both, blending the shape of a scone and a texture of a muffin. In case you were wondering). We’d show you a photo but only crumbs remain. Should you wish to make Jane’s muffins, simply follow the recipe below, adapted for veggies from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe in the Guardian!

Red onion, cheddar and chive muffins

These strong flavours work well together, but you can always play around with the combinations. Try spring onions instead of red and any strong cheese in place of the cheddar. Makes 12.

1 tsp oil
1 red onion, finely diced
250g wholemeal self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs
80g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
50ml milk
150ml plain natural yoghurt
1 tbsp finely chopped chives (optional)
150g strong cheddar, grated

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.

Warm the oil over a medium heat sauté the onion until just softened, about five minutes, then set aside to cool.

Thin the yoghurt with the milk.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. In a jug, whisk the eggs, butter and milky yoghurt, stir them into the flour mixture with a spatula until just combined, then fold in the cooled onion, chives, if using, and two-thirds of the cheese until just evenly distributed.

Spoon or scoop the mixture into the muffin tin, sprinkle on the rest of the cheese, and bake for about 18 minutes, until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

Peripatetic poets

September 15, 2010

Poets are peripatetic – that’s my conclusion this month, anyway. I’m reading with great pleasure Gerry Loose’s blog from his temporary perch in Finland. Gerry Cambridge is setting off for Vilnius, where he’ll meet up with Lise Sinclair from Shetland, and the others from Iceland and Lithuania who make up ‘the berserkers’, a group formed from the impetus of the multilingual music/translation workshop at Crear in 2008. They’ll play in Vilnius and Riga to celebrate the launch of their CD, Under the evening sky, of which a limited number of copies will be available from the SPL next month. We’ll hope to air some tracks on our podcast.

Meanwhile, I’m in sunny Bratislava with a group of poets under the aegis of Literature Across Frontiers: Nuduran Duman (Turkey), Giorgios Chantzis (Greece), Elena Hidveghyova-Yung (Slovakia), Zaza Koshkadze (Georgia), Tom Pow (Scotland) and Richard Gwyn (Wales). The sessions have been as much master-classes in writing as translation sessions; the younger poets have benefitted enormously from the teaching poets’ experience – and I have, too. Sometimes the poets are asked to say nothing as we discuss their poems, sometimes they are asked to explain every last detail – indeed, Tom and I took to the floor to demonstrate ‘reel’ as it appeared in his poem. Today a producer from Slovak radio is coming to record them for her programme ‘Babylon’: yesterday I spoke on that programme, following a recording by  Armenian-African musicians… amidst these various voices, the clang of the trams and the pealing of bells at regular intervals, poems are being changed and exchanged. And the citizens of Bratislava will have a chance to hear the results at the Panta Rhei bookshop on Friday 17th at 5. The SPL pops up in unexpected places!

– Robyn

Nice to meet you… Kayleigh!

September 14, 2010

You may recall that we recently advertised for a new Library Assistant; well we acquired one and we’re delighted that she’s now fully in situ at our reception desk; manning the phones, dealing with enquiries of all shapes and sizes and managing our shop. Please give Kayleigh Bohan a warm welcome! Here’s a wee interview so we can all get better acquainted…

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I came to Edinburgh for university about five years ago and loved it so much I didn’t want to leave. My home town is Auchinleck on the west side of the country, famous for Talbot FC and being the home of James Boswell.

How have your first few weeks been? Highlights?

They’ve flown by! The Plan B private viewing with talks by Paul Muldoon and Norman McBeath has been my favourite event so far. Meeting volunteers on Saturdays and through the week has been great and the tea cupboard has been a highlight, definitely.

What’s the last book you read?

Usually, I have two books on the go: one for the bus or for spare minutes waiting in places, one for home when I have a few hours to get into it.  Sum by David Eagleman is the one I’m reading on the bus right now. At home, I’m reading Warrior Poet, a biography of Audre Lorde by Alexis De Veaux.

Your favourite kind of cake?

I’m stuck between chocolate crispy cakes and lemon cake, depending on the kind of tea to go with it. Please don’t make me choose.

The best thing about your job?

The SPL is a lovely place to work and there’s always something interesting to be getting on with.

What you’re looking forward to?

The Autumn series of events we’re running. Being around while that’s all happening will be great and I’m really looking forward to By Leaves We Live, the small presses fair on Saturday 25th September.

If you could have any kind of superpower, what would it be?

I can’t really answer without thinking about All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman and how most superpowers end up being a bit rubbish for the people who have them, so if superpowers exist, I’d be forced to make my superpower opting out of having one.

Kona’s column 11: The M Word

September 13, 2010

Once, in a distant and touchingly naive life, I invited a double glazing salesman over the threshold and into the house.  (While that prospect might seem titillating to those of you who’ve explored the cul-de-sac of paranormal romantic fiction, let me assure you that I remained non-exsanguinated, both biologically and financially, and only one of the participants was the least bit dirty.  Hint – it wasn’t me.)

The requirement was simple:  a single new sealed unit to replace an old one that was leaking and misted-over.  Predictably enough, Mr Hard Sell’s objective was to come away with a contract for the complete replacement of every double-glazed window in the house.  He was masterful, using manipulative sales tricks ranging from the “Yes Set” (a series of no-brainer questions to which the only possible answer could be “Yes”) to the “Spurious Personal Connection” (in the midst of his collection of sample window-installation photos, a snapshot of a cute toddler, ostensibly his).  The fact that his quoted price dropped by 50% during the course of his pitch, after a couple of (presumably faked) “special negotiation” calls to “my boss”, highlighted the lucrative margins on offer to the successful sales fast-talker.

It’s unfortunate that Mr Hard Sell and his unscrupulous ilk are the straw men that appear, small but oh-so-perfectly formed, in the average poetical head at the merest whisper of the word “marketing”.   I can’t imagine any really committed artist wanting their work disseminated through hard-sell methods, not least because the salesperson generally doesn’t care about the product, but only for the profits that can be fast-talked by shifting it to gullible buyers who won’t really appreciate it either.  (That said, I’d love to set our Double Glazing Salesman loose on a door-to-door cold-calling spree with a fat briefcase of contemporary poetry books, just to see how he got on:  come on Channel 4, there’s a reality show for you.) To characterise all marketing as hard-sell sales, the gulling of dupes into buying second-rate products they neither need nor want, is about as silly as throwing away a houseful of perfectly good windows – and it’s only one of the misconceptions that blights the name of marketing and thereby gets in the way of poets and poetry reaching new audiences.

Any business-savvy person will quickly point out that sales and marketing aren’t actually the same thing – so the hard sell problem is a red and particularly stinky herring when we’re discussing poetry marketing.  However, there’s a second misconceived objection, which has a parallel in the software industry that’s been beautifully satirised by geek hero Dilbert:  namely, the techies’ gripe that the Marketing Department consists of a bunch of shiny suits who swan in and override all the elegant designs, technical considerations and funky innovations proposed by the Engineering Department because “the market doesn’t want that”.

I’d argue that this view of marketing – that it consists of establishing the requirements of the market’s lowest common denominator, however stupid these might be, and conforming to them absolutely – is the source of the “dumbing-down” whinges that are often trotted out in regard to poetry marketing.  There are certainly commercial contexts in which a market exists and a product is deliberately “tailored” (or bowdlerised) to fit the needs and timescales of that market – but poetry, for goodness’ sake?  Have you ever heard of a poet being told by his or her editor “Can you please just get rid of some of those polysyllabic words, and make it all a bit more unintelligent, so I can sell it more easily?  Also, the words “shards” and “heartache” are hot this year with the C1 demographic, so can you throw some more of those in?  Oh, and by the way, I’m negotiating an iPad co-branding deal, so we’ll need a poem to work in with that.”

There’s a third variety of marketing, though, which is desperately relevant to poetry and its thoroughly non-burgeoning sales.  This kind of marketing, which is required for any innovative product, is simply the act of figuring out who might be interested in the thing you’ve made (be it a gadget, a book, an artwork or a song) and finding ways to let them know about it. There’s no hard-sell, no dumbing-down:  just the challenge of finding the natural market for your product, or, in the poet’s case, of reaching the particular audience that would value your poems.

Some will argue that for poets to bother with even this kind of pragmatic marketing is somehow lowering, fundamentally grubby, and that the artist’s first and only calling should be to his or her art.  I find this position quite defensible in those who wish only to write, but somewhat flaky in those who wish to be published;  publishing a book does tend to suggest that you, its author, would like people to read it, however coyly you might wish to deny this fact.   Even if you are genuinely indifferent to your readership – perhaps, for example, because all you really need or want is the psychological validation of your publisher’s stamp of approval – your publisher is unlikely to be so carefree about it.  Publishers must care about book sales:  commercial publishers have to survive in an increasingly tight marketplace, and grant-aided publishers have funding bodies very concerned about the audience for the work they subsidise.

In these circumstances, helping with the marketing of your book or pamphlet – however personally uncomfortable you find this – isn’t egregious self-aggrandisement:  rather, it’s simple professionalism, part and parcel of being a published contemporary writer.  I’m sure that many of us find the process awkward and embarrassing, and would prefer to restrict ourselves to the more desirable aspects of being a professional poet  (the wealth! the fame! the women throwing underwear!) – but poetry books need marketing to find markets, and in the absence of large commercial budgets for this, some DIY effort is required. It’s only once we embrace the basic non-evilness of marketing that we can get onto the far more interesting question of how to go about it – with all the same verve, creativity and sense of humour that we try to put into our writing.

Kona Macphee is a UK-born, Australian-bred poet now living and working in Scotland.This column is a monthly feature. Kona also facilitates the Poetry Society Poetry Surgeries. You can also hear Kona on the SPL podcast ‘Witching Hour’and  follow her on Twitter.