2010: Good eggs

December 21, 2010

This post is gleefully dedicated to the good eggs we’ve known and loved, in beaten, whipped and cake-ified form, in 2010.

Our Peggy brought cake back from the Scottish Book Trust coffee morning for all, and it was loved.


#edteaup brought cake, tea, people and poems together for a lovely Sunday afternoon at the library.

We may not have sampled this marvel, but we can admire its beauty from a virtual distance.

However, top marks must go to our National Poetry Day tea party on Thursday 7th October. Cake-makers across the land truly outdid themselves. Some examples from the groaning tables of the day:

Lemon and orange cake by @NemesisRepublic

Cupcakes by @aikowrites

And lastly, but by no means least, some honourable mentions from teapot gatherings throughout the year:

Victoria sponge:

Raspberry cake:

Finally, they’re not strictly cakes, but Jane made them, they made our morning better, and you may need it after the sugar content of the cakes above: a recipe for savoury muffin/scones made with red onion, cheddar and chives. We’d show you pictures, but only crumbs remain.

Happy New Year and Happy Holidays to you and yours, wherever you are (or aren’t) – we’ll be back in 2011 with fresh fruit, determination, and not a single look at the biscuit tin, we promise.

Winning Words

December 21, 2010

Remember our Carry a Poem campaign way back in February 2010? We asked you to tell us which poems you kept close, and why? Well if you liked that, you might like Winning Words too…

Winning Words is an opportunity for the public to be part of the lasting legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Winning Words is asking people to nominate inspiring poetry which will encourage athletes taking part in the 2012 Games, as well as future generations of Londoners. Until Thursday 6 January 2011, people can nominate inspiring poetry representing the values of the Olympic Games: respect, fair play, excellence, friendship and of the Paralympic Games: courage, determination, inspiration and equality, via the Winning Words website: www.winningwordspoetry.com

The poetry, selected from the nominations, will be announced in February 2011. The lines will be installed on a prominent wall in the centre of the Athletes’ Village, which will be seen daily by the athletes, and officials living and working in the Village. After the 2012 Games, the Village will be converted into new homes for east London and the wall will be part of the lasting legacy for local communities and residents. All nominations will be evaluated by a panel that includes Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, author Sebastian Faulks, poet Daljit Nagra, BBC Sportspresenters John Inverdale and Clare Balding and Head of Arts and Cultural Strategy at the Olympic Delivery Authority, Sarah Weir.The panel will have the final decision on which poetry is chosen for the Athletes’ Village wall. Poetry will also be installed in other locations within the Olympic Park, with further details announced in 2011.

Inspiring poetry nominations can be submitted until midnight on Thursday 6 January 2011. To nominate poetry and for further information please go to: www.winningwordspoetry.com

What will you choose?


Mary Bourne, who carved the oak leaf pavement outside our building (left, in snow) is now working on an arts-based countryside interpretation project with the local Primary School and Path Network charity in Dufftown. They wish to recruit a writer. Please see further details below.

Mortlach Story Walks, March 2011

Deadline for submission 14th Jan 2011

Mortlach Story Walks is a partnership project between Mortlach Primary School, Dufftown, Moray and the Speyside Paths Network Group to produce arts-based interpretation for the countryside around Dufftown.

Opportunity 1: Writer to work with Primaries 2, 4, and 7 on text for 3 “Story Walk” leaflets.  Also work with children on brief poetic texts to be integrated into interpretative sculptures.  10 days @ £150 per day

Opportunity 2: Visual Artist working in 2d (photographer, glass artist, printmaker etc) to work with Primaries 1, 3 and 5 to produce visual artworks for public buildings within the town which celebrate the local countryside. 15 days @ £150 + £2000 materials budget

Opportunity 3: Artist/designer to work with Primaries 2, 4 and 7 on Story Walk leaflet designs and Primary 6 on a fold out poster/map and templates for information boards and way markers. 14 days @ £150 + printing budget

Practitioners can apply for more than one opportunity and collaborative applications are also welcome.

For a brief and application details contact: Mortlach Primary School, York Street, Dufftown, Keith AB55 4AU

Email: admin.mortlachp2@moray-edunet.gov.uk tel 01340 820268

If you would like to discuss the project, please contact project co-ordinator Mary Bourne on 01340 821162 clunymore@yahoo.co.uk

Here’s a puzzle for you.  Which of these four items is the odd one out?

  • A ham sandwich
  • A rainbow
  • A goldfish
  • A racing bike

Take a minute or two to think carefully…

Now, examine your own thought processes.  Did you flail around, trying to find some axis of comparison on which one item was obviously different from the others?  Was it easy to compare these four heterogeneous entities?

The truth is that if there is an odd one out, I have no idea which it is. Arguments can be contrived for each item (for example: unlike the others, a rainbow can’t be held in your hands;  or, unlike the others, a goldfish is alive).  However, none of these are obviously the “right” answer to the problem, and it’s only our preconceptions – the way the question was posed – that lead us to expect that there is a correct answer.

This sneaky brain-teaser is a tangential introduction to the fact that in November, I was honoured to be invited to judge two poetry competitions. In one of them, for a writers’ group, I was the only judge, and in the other (the Genomics Forum competition), I was one of a panel of four judges.  This was a new experience for me, and I must admit that the process involved a certain amount of confusion – confusion not unlike that induced by our little puzzle above.

In many ways, the notion of artistic competitions is absurd;  how can you award prizes in a sphere that lacks an objective and deterministic notion of “the best” performance?  In a running race, the winner is obvious – the first over the line – but there’s no finishing tape in a contest between poems, paintings or musical performances.

Of course, just because an art award or a poetry competition can’t recognise  the best work doesn’t mean that it can’t recognise work that is good.  The judges’ dilemma lies in the framing of the problem:  the whole notion of First, Second and Third prizes and Honourable Mentions presupposes an objective and precise ranking scheme, and tends to make you flounder around looking for one.  In my case, this struggle involved confronting a couple of significant myths about poetry competition judging.

The First Myth – The best poems win the prizes

Judging is simple – just choose the best poems.  How do you do that?  Well, begin by defining what you mean by best.  How do you do that?  Ah, conundrum.  Comparing two poems can be like comparing a racing bike with a rainbow; how do you weigh two things against each other when everything from their intended purpose to their aesthetic style is radically different?

It’s hard to sustain any notion of “best poem” for very long, particularly if you’re aware of your own subjective tastes and biases, and are thus confusing yourself even more by trying to overrule your innate gut reactions and give everything a “fair chance”.

This myth rapidly gives way in favour of the next one:

The Second Myth – The poems the judge(s) liked the best win the prizes

Judging is simple – just choose the poems you like the best.  This might seem like a complete no-brainer when you’re the only judge, but even then there are some confounding factors (which are even worse in panel-judged competitions):

  • Liking is variable:  Our responses to a poem can be affected by all kinds of serendipitous things, including our mood, the context in which we’re reading it, and what we’ve read just beforehand.  I spread my judging out over several days, with multiple passes through the submitted poems, and I certainly found that my responses to particular poems could be different on different days.
  • The judges’ report: Ideally, judges can filter out the pressure of needing to justify their decisions in a judges’ report until well after those decisions have been made.  Realistically, a low-level background anxiety about the forthcoming report can subtly bias you towards poems that you feel clear-cut and articulate about, even though you might like some others just as much in a more fuzzy, gut-instinct, hard-to-justify way.
  • Finding a balance of poems: The wish to be fair and even-handed can easily become a perceived requirement for a “balanced” selection of prizewinners (representing, for example, both free and formal verse, the lyrical and the narrative, the experimental and the mainstream, the serious and the lighthearted, etc.)  If your four favourite poems are all sonnets – and especially if you yourself are a known sonnet aficionado – then the need to be “fair and objective” may lead you to discard some of these favourites in favour of other poems in a different style.

The Reality

Once the actual experience of judging knocked down these two myths, a pragmatic truth seemed to emerge: the winning poems are the ones the judges could agree on.  (In the case of a sole judge, in my experience there’s still some kind of negotiated coming-to-a-consensus process – it’s just that it happens internally.)

I don’t imagine that many judging panels find complete consistency between individual judges when they come together for their final deliberations.  In the process of reaching consensus, it’s therefore quite possible that the favourite poem(s) of most of the judges don’t win, and equally possible that the winning poem was not the absolute first choice of anybody.  Judges with natural persuasive talent may have a bigger impact on the final consensus than those who are more reticent – and it’s not clear how this could reasonably be avoided.

In summary, then, the judging of poetry competitions is both subjective and subject to a range of external pressures, and is further complicated by the social dynamics of a judging panel.  What does this mean for poets entering competitions rather than judging them?  Just this – always remember that poetry competitions aren’t scientific instruments for measuring poetic merit.  Whether you win, place or go wholly un-awarded, don’t take the outcome too personally, and keep on striving to enjoy and improve your writing – because the ability to write a good poem is a more enduring satisfaction than any fleeting contest success.

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 – keep an eye on our events page for further information on the next surgeries. She’s also facilitating a day long workshop here at the library on Monday 21 February: Stand Up and Relax: How to give a great poetry reading, and enjoy it too. You can also hear Kona on the SPL podcast ‘Witching Hour’and  follow her on Twitter.

World Book Night!

December 16, 2010

We’re excited about the inaugural World Book Night which will take place on Saturday 5 March 2011. This industry-wide initiative to celebrate adult books and reading will see one million free books given away by 20,000 passionate readers to other members of the public across the UK and Ireland.

You could be one of the army of book lovers selected to help give these book away; find out more about how to get involved on the World Book Night website, and by following them on Twitter: @WorldBookNight!

The 25 titles selected for World Book Night were announced on Thursday 2 December. They are:

• Kate Atkinson – Case Histories (Black Swan)
• Margaret Atwood – The Blind Assassin (Virago)
• Alan Bennett – A Life Like Other People’s (Faber/Profile)
• John Le Carré – The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (Penguin)
• Lee Child – Killing Floor (Bantam)
• Carol Ann Duffy – The World’s Wife (Picador)
• Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage)
• Seamus Heaney – Selected Poems (Faber)
• Marian Keyes – Rachel’s Holiday (Penguin)
• Mohsin Hamid – The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Penguin)
• Ben Macintyre – Agent Zigzag (Bloomsbury)
• Gabriel García Márquez – Love in the Time of Cholera (Penguin)
• Yann Martel – Life of Pi (Canongate)
• Alexander Masters – Stuart: A Life Backwards (Fourth Estate)
• Rohinton Mistry – A Fine Balance (Faber)
• David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas (Sceptre)
• Toni Morrison – Beloved (Vintage)
• Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Half of a Yellow Sun (Fourth Estate)
• David Nicholls – One Day (Hachette/Hodder)
• Philip Pullman – Northern Lights (Scholastic)
• Erich Maria Remarque – All Quiet on the Western Front (Vintage)
• C.J. Sansom – Dissolution (Pan)
• Nigel Slater – Toast (Fourth Estate)
• Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin)
• Sarah Waters – Fingersmith (Virago)

Which do you fancy?

A Christmas present suggestion, or maybe forward to a friend who likes to have new ideas and fresh resolutions lined up for January.  You heard it here first: in response to feedback (I do read those forms, you see), we’re planning an extended ‘Getting Into Poetry’ introductory course. Same approach as the 2-session version – we just want people to feel fired up and confident about reading poetry for pleasure – but taking more time about it so we can look at more poems, etc. We’ll have a whole new extra session on some of the poetry that crosses into visual art, courtesy of our Librarian, Julie, using some toothsome examples from the SPL’s special collections. Give me a shout if you want to know a bit more – or feel free to forward to a friend who might be interested and ask them to contact me, lfraser@spl.org.uk to book or investigate.

Getting Into Poetry – the new, 4-session version, starting 22 January

4 weekly Saturday morning  1.5 hour sessions

£65 full price /£50 conc & SPL Friends

Friendly and encouraging ‘absolute beginners’ course on reading poetry for pleasure * Explore rhyme and form * go beyond the printed page * discover new poetry with expert advice * develop your reading strengths * pick up a ‘toolkit’ of technical terms * get a personal plan of what to read next *

Catching up…

December 13, 2010

After a quiet, snowy week, it has occurred to us that we have failed to be suitably excited about our new, shiny Christmas present to the shop.

We were very excited when it arrived. So excited that we mistook it for one of our own staff.

However, it was not an extra Peggy. It was, in fact, our new turning, spinning, small items presentation stand.

Its minimalistic beauty can't be fully appreciated until you see its wider context.

Silliness mostly aside, and getting into the spirit of the festive season, we have some gift packages to take away for £15, containing:

Ten Seasons

co-published with Luath Press
ed: Gerry Loose
Photographs: Morven Gregor

Through the Letterbox

published by Renaissance Press
Haikus by George Bruce, illustrated by Elizabeth Blackadder, collected and edited by Lucina Prestige

Poet Prints

21 new portraits of Scottish writers, including Douglas Dunn, Andrew Greig and Jackie Kay. Postcards collected into one volume- perfect for sending individually or giving as a gift whole.
Edited by Ken Cockburn and Colin Cavers.

Also included is one of our specially designed leaf cards with red envelope.

Individually, these items would cost up to £20, but as a gift pack, you can get the lot for only £15. Perfect for giving to friends and family or keeping for your own holiday reading. We think they’re rather pretty as well:

Our online shop, found here, has a selection of items we have for sale. However, we have much more on our shelves- if you can’t make it to the library before Christmas, please do give us a call on 0131 557 2876 or email us at reception@spl.org.uk.

‘Poetry is a brilliant vibrating interface between the human and the non-human.’ Edwin Morgan

‘a poem is one person talking to another…’ TS Eliot

‘Poetry is language in orbit.’ Seamus Heaney

‘Poetry is that which arrives at the intellect by way of the heart.’ RS Thomas

‘A poem has to be the most powerful thing one can say in the shortest space possible.’ Charles Causley

‘Poetry: three mismatched shoes at the entrance of a dark alley.’ Charles Simic

The Scottish Poetry Library is inviting tenders for the redesign of its online presence.

We are embarking on an extensive and exciting programme of digital development in 2011. As part of this we are looking for a creative contribution from a designer to develop our new website.

We look forward to hearing from you!

The Scottish Poetry Library: bringing people and poems together…

Scottish Poetry Library current website

Deadline Monday 17 January 2011

Please see full detailed brief attached, plus our most recent annual report and newsletter.





December 2, 2010

Due to adverse weather conditions (left), we’ll be restricting our hours a little this week. Our plans thus far are to open:

Thursday 2nd December 10am – 4pm

Friday 3rd December 10am – 4pm

Saturday 4th December     10am – 1pm.

We will be closed on Sunday 5th and Monday 6th December as normal, and we’re hoping  to get back to more regular opening hours next week, weather permitting.  The best thing to do at the moment is to keep checking with our twitter feeds (@ByLeavesWeLive, @poetrylibrarian and @SPLshop), this blog, and it is worth phoning ahead to check that we are open (0131 557 2876).

Overdue notices

You may receive an automatically issued overdue notice while the weather stops you getting to the library. Don’t worry! You can now renew your books online (login required), by calling us on 0131 557 2876 or by emailing reception@spl.org.uk.

If you happen to be passing by and we’re closed, you can pop your books through our handy post-slot on the far left of the wooden shutters and we’ll check them back in as soon as we can.

Kay and Lilias are holding the fort at the moment for your poetry needs, but if you can’t make it to the building, there’s plenty to read and listen to on our website and others. You can:

read the latest issue of Poetry Issues

listen to one of our many wonderful podcasts

explore the Edwin Morgan Archive and read some of his poems online

listen to this programme about WS Graham from BBC 3, broadcast on Sunday at 9.30pm and available via iPlayer for three more days.