Robert Garioch remembered

April 28, 2011

Robin Fulton Macpherson remembers Robert Garioch in the 30th anniversary of his death.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s I met Garioch quite often and it was very clear to me that behind his courteous, quiet-voiced and sometimes hesitant manner there was a sharp mind very well stocked with knowledge of all sorts. He knew his Latin and his history, but he was also street-wise and knew the value of humble things like pieces of string. He was well-versed in tolerating awkward circumstances, like the irksomeness of trying to combine school-teaching with writing and the more serious tribulations of getting through his years as a P.O.W. He seemed to have learned not to kick against the pricks.

His humility on occasion attracted the attention of bullies. “Literary” life in Scotland in the 1960s and 1970s had its less enlightened side: there were not a few loud voices and deaf ears and too often argument aimed at putting down others took the place of open-minded discussion. Some of the minnows in the pond imagined they were piranhas. It was no surprise that MacDiarmid chose to be supercilious: “he has no elevation and is… not only dull but vulgar in the worst sense.” I suppose the Great Man was aware how Garioch had little patience with his windy self-promotion (and with what he saw as MacDiarmid’s political naivety).) Nearer home, I heard unkind and unjust comments from people who ought to have known better. On the other hand, those who actually knew him and read his work without preconceptions held him in great esteem and affection.

My own part in editing Garioch came about through my work with Callum Macdonald. I edited 37 issues of Lines Review  and Callum and I printed as much as we could by Garioch; we also brought out his collection Doktor Faust in Rose Street (1973). When Garioch died Callum asked me to write something for Lines Review  but I felt a bit tongue-tied about that and suggested we could do a decent collected edition, which we did, and that was Complete Poetical Works (1983). We followed that with A Garioch Miscellany  (1986 ), which included, among other things, samples of his letters, of his book-reviews, and of his way of working on the Belli translations with Antonia Stott. When Callum retired The Saltire Society took over his stock but in due course it became clear that they were about to let Garioch simply go out of print. That’s where Birlinn came in, and the current edition appeared in 2004 with the Polygon imprint, now called Collected Poems, with Garioch’s ordering of the poems restored and a new introduction.

It was heartening to come across Seán Haldane’s piece on Garioch in The Dark Horse (21), an example of how Garioch´s work deserves to be approached. He sees Garioch as in the “first three” along with Maclean and MacDiarmid, and concludes that “Taking Garioch seriously means reading his poems not only with a mind open to his wit and intellect but with a heart open to the intensity of his feeling.” I still feel angry when I see how old misleading labels, once stuck, seem to resist being unstuck. Sometime, somewhere, someone who had done no homework decided that Garioch could adequately be described along the lines of “a Scottish poet who wrote comic verse” (e.g. about a hen). Once started, the belittlement continued as others thoughtlessly stuck on the same label, passing off someone else’s ignorance as their own wisdom. It surely can’t be difficult to see that Garioch was the supreme verse-caftsman of his generation, and that the whole weight of his life is behind all of his work  –  his knowledge of Edinburgh, his understanding of Scottish history and literature, and his experience of twentieth century Europe.

–  Robin Fulton Macpherson

‘Scotland’ in London

April 21, 2011

Robert Crawford's 'Scotland', part of the Festival of Britain at the Southbank Centre. Thanks to Bea for sending us the snap!

We were delighted to receive this snap from Southbank Centre’s Bea, of Robert Crawford’s poem ‘Scotland’, one of a series of poems being exhibited at the heart of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Britain celebrations!

A series of ‘lands’ have been created in the centre, by artists and designers which honour the heritage and themes of the original 1951 festival. Launching next weekend, there will be celebrations each weekend – from the Meltdown Festival and the London Literature Festival to Wayne Hemingway’s Vintage Festival. Southbank will be peppering the site with poetry, weaving it into the fabric of the festival, ensuring that poetry from across the UK and beyond is celebrated.

You can find out more about the Festival of Britain 2011 on the Southbank Centre website, and we’d recommend catching them on Twitter for up to the minute pics, gossip, giveaways and more.

Postcards to Japan

April 20, 2011

Express your support to the people of north east Japan by sending original A5 art work postcards.

After the major earthquake and tsunami in north east Japan on 11th March 2011 power supplies, land lines, mobile phone networks and internet access went down, making it extremely hard to contact family and friends to find out if they were safe. The post office were quickly up and running again and in many cases the first news that loved ones were safe was by postcard.

Inspired by the wonderful impact postcards can have, Kate Thomson & Hironori Katagiri would like to invite artists and poets to send tangible messages of support to communities affected by the devastation by making A5 size original artwork or poetry postcards and posting them to:

Ukishima Net,
Iwate, Iwate,  Iwate,

They will collate all the postcards received into an exhibition to tour venues in north east Japan. There is no deadline, but if they have as many cards as possible by the end of May they can start putting on exhibitions.
They also hope to publish a catalogue of the postcards received.
Any profit made from the sale of catalogues would be donated to recovery projects in north east Japan.

Please look out for updates on   If you have any questions please e-mail

Our Robyn on reading

April 19, 2011

Our reader development officer Lilias grills our director Robyn upon her reading habits. If you fancy a joyous dip into the bookshelves, why not join our Lilias, Robyn and John Glenday on our delicious Reading Poetry for Pleasure course at Moniack Mhor in June

The house was quiet and the world was calm.

When do you get to read?

Very occasionally, sitting in a patch of sunlight in the living-room on a Sunday afternoon… that’s best of all. Otherwise, on the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow (and it has to be a strong narrative to overcome Scotrail surroundings, not ideal for poetry); in bed at night, always.

I live for books
and light to read them in

What was the last poem you pressed on a friend, with a manic gleam in  your eye?

I’ve been recommending Jane Draycott’s beautiful translation of Pearl, a fourteenth-century poem of loss and consolation.

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no pleasure like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

If poems were food, name one fancy Heston Blumenthal-style starter, one hearty breakfast favourite and one guilty after-pub snack.

I understand that Heston Blumenthal has gone back to older English food traditions and remade them for current tastes, so what about an old poem, George Herbert’s ‘Prayer’ –which he likens to ‘a land of spices’; and then for uncomplicated nourishment, ‘Big Minty Nose’ by Jenny Bornholdt, full of the textures and scents of daily life (in her hometown, which happens to be mine), but also how those durable, repeated things connect us with what’s transient and loved – lots to grasp immediately in her deceptively casual style, lots that continues to reverberate; and for the guilty snack – but I don’t mind reading it openly – Lorraine Marriner’s Jessica Elton poems, including ‘Suntan’.

The pigs sleep in the sty: the bookman comes

What’s in your current reading pile, warts and all? (the pulp fiction and the gardening catalogues too..)

Volume 2 of Roy Foster’s fascinating biography of W.B. Yeats, The Arch-Poet; Simon Garfield’s book about fonts, Just My Type ( I’m still not able to distinguish Optima from Gotham at a hundred paces); and the May number of World of Interiors, which includes glorious photographs of John Campbell and Margaret Shaw’s house on Canna, now a museum housing their collection of Gaelic music and folklore. Besides Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, which sits there reproachfully,  I would normally have a novel or two in the pile, but they’ve just gone back to Hillhead Library – time to make another raid. I’m trying not to buy fiction!

And finally, you already have Shakespeare and the Bible on the desert island. You can keep one poem and one luxury. What’ll they be?

Oh dear, one poem is impossible! I could cheat with the Divine Comedy or Four Quartets, I suppose. ‘Sunday Morning’ by Wallace Stevens would give one a lot to think about… The luxury has to be pen-and-paper, an endless supply, more necessary even than chocolate biscuits.

Reading Poetry for Pleasure will take place at Moniack Mhor in Inverness-shire from 10 – 12 June. If you’d like more information, visit this post, or drop an email to Lilias on 

The Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry is delighted to announce the second Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. The Prize will be awarded annually to the writer of the best first collection published in the UK or Ireland in the preceding year.

The Chairman of the judges for the second Seamus Heaney Centre Prize will be Professor Harry Clifton, Ireland Chair of Poetry.

The shortlist of up to 5 books will be announced in September 2011. The judges will announce their final decision at a presentation at the Robert Graves and Ireland Symposium, Queen’s University Belfast, on 25th November 2011.

The Prize for 2011 will be £1000.

The Seamus Heaney Centre Prize has been inaugurated to celebrate the work of the Heaney Centre, and to honour its founding poet.  The Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry is a focal point for creativity in Ireland and is recognised as an international centre of creative and research excellence in the field of literature. Central to the Centre’s ethos is the encouragement of emerging talent.

The winner in 2010 was Sian Hughes for ‘The Missing’ (Salt)

The Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry invites submissions from publishers or individual poets for this prestigious annual prize.

Details of terms and conditions of the Prize can be found at, or Contact Mrs Gerry Hellawell, Email:, Tel: +44 (0)2890971070.


Last year we joined forces with the Edinburgh International Science Festival to hear from Paul Murdin and Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell on the anthology Dark Matter: poems of space, and we’re delighted to be tag-teaming again this year for two events, happening this week!

Sophie Cooke & Russell Jones at the Genomics Poetry Competition prize-giving at the Scottish Poetry Library in January 2011 © Chris Scott

Our first event is a Genomics Poetry Party: we invite you to join us on Wednesday 13 April (tomorrow) at 6.30pm, when Sophie Cooke and Russell Jones, both prize-winners in the Genomics Poetry Competition, will read their winning poems and some others; judge, and poet, Kona Macphee, and novelist and poet Tracey S Rosenberg will join us too. It promises to be a fascinating evening and we’re really looking forward to it! If you can’t make it, our latest podcast features Sophie and Russell, talking about why they are drawn to science fiction as a literary form among other things, and the podcast before that stars Tracey and science fiction writer Ken MacLeod. All in the name of science!

On this day Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space when he took off

Nothing is not giving messages - Edwin Morgan. Vinyl lettering, part of our Bawr Stretter! exhibition celebrating the opening of the Edwin Morgan Archive in 2009

aboard a Soviet Vostok capsule on April 12, 1961 and completed nearly a full orbit of the Earth over 108 minutes. It seems specially apt then that our Lilias, in preparation for the second of our two events with this year’s Edinburgh International Science Festival, has been riffling through anthologies of poems of space and science. She’s unearthed lines such as ‘Time sped and slowed. The constellations shifted/ bringing us messages in particles of dust and light’ (from ‘A Dream of Constellations’ by Deryn Rees-Jones, which, in Poems of Dark Matter, is transposed into Morse code, in honour of the astronomers who sent Morse code out into space for whoever was there to receive them). If you’d like to delve into discussion about poems of science, then join Lilias for our Nothing But the… Science Fiction Poetry on Thursday 14 April here at the library at 6pm.

Meanwhile, our friends up the hill at the Scottish Storytelling Centre have thrown themselves into the science festival with great gusto, and they’ve got something for everyone! Why is Snot Green? How Does the Weather Work? Murderous Maths! These are just some of the … delights in store!

Scottish Poetry Library and Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre

Moniack Mhor, 10-12 June 2011

Reading poetry can offer solace, a fresh eye on the world, a renewed love of language. But sharing your discovery with other readers brings another dimension of pleasure – the swell of confidence and enjoyment that comes from a give and take of new ideas, fresh approaches, and discovering poems and poets you’d never otherwise stumble across.

“I live for books
and light to read them in” ~ Diane Wakoski

From 6pm on Friday to 2pm on Sunday, you’ll be provided with a vast range of poems, old and new, in helpfully structured group discussions.  You’ll also bring a personal favourite poem to share, and will have time to browse the resources of the Scottish Poetry Library collection at Moniack.  Guest reader John Glenday will read from his own work and talk about the poems that inspire him, and Scottish Poetry Library Director Robyn Marsack will share some of the poems she loves best.  (And just in case you feel your reading skills are rusty, we offer an optional reassurance session on complete poetry-reading basics.)

The spaces in the poem are yours.
They are the place where you
Can enter as yourself alone
And think anything in.
~ W S Graham

The weekend should continue to refresh and inspire your reading once you go home, with the help of a reading diary, your own reading plan for what to explore next, and a session on running your own poetry discussions with friends.

Accommodation & Food

Moniack Mhor is within reach of national and international air, rail and bus links at Inverness. If you plan to travel by public transport, the Centre can arrange for you to share a taxi from Inverness with any other participants who may be arriving around the same time.

You can arrive between 4-6pm on Friday, and the course will run from 6pm on Friday to 2pm at lunchtime on Sunday.

Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre is comprised of two separate buildings.  The house, a cosy converted steading,  has 12 rooms, a large, well stocked, farmhouse kitchen and a welcoming, common room with a wood burning stove.  There is an induction loop and the main work/living space is wheelchair accessible. The cottage has three rooms; its sitting room contains four networked computers and a printer, and it houses a large fiction library and a large selection of poetry books from the Scottish Poetry Library. The centre can offer a wi-fi internet connection.

Full board will be provided, and Centre staff will provide evening meals on the Friday and Saturday nights, breakfast and lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and ensure that tea, coffee and snacks available in the kitchen at any time. We will make every effort to provide for particular dietary needs if you tell us about these in advance.

Full board £250 (SPL Friends & concs £220)

Further information and booking details WordPDF

Further information can be found on the Centre website,

If you have any queries about food, accommodation or directions, please contact the Centre:

Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre
Teavarran, Kiltarlity,
01463 741675

Please direct all bookings and course enquiries to Lilias Fraser at the Scottish Poetry Library:

Scottish Poetry Library
5 Crichton’s Close
Tel 0131 557 2876

Our friends at the Save the Forest! campaign are currently asking for the help of the extended artistic community in defending a unique grassroots arts space in Edinburgh from closure.

The bankruptcy of the previous landlord in October 2010 has seen the lease fall into the hands of administrators, who have put the building up for sale. The campaign’s intention is to secure the future of The Forest by raising enough funds to ensure they can afford a future lease, or to allow them to move to other premises.

They have so far raised an astonishing £17,000 just from donations and have an ambitious new target of £50,000 by June 1st, enough for a year’s commercial rent in the current premises.

The next major event is an art auction in partnership with the AXO Gallery, Edinburgh. Donations would be greatly appreciated from artists both locally and from further afield, calling for donations of original art, prints, books and other media.

The deadline for completed forms and artworks is 20th April 2011. For more information, please email The auction will run from 13 – 15th May 2011 at AXO Gallery, 59 Queen Charlotte St, Leith.We can’t wait!

For more information on the ongoing progress of the campaign, go to

Come one, come all – it’s that time of year again. We’re talking, of course, about the fantastic Wigtown Poetry Prize.

This year’s judges are Brian Johnstone, Aonghas Phàdraig Caimbeul / Angus Peter Campbell and Rab Wilson.

The deadline for entries is Tuesday 3rd May.

For the full guidelines, forms, more information about the judges, last year’s winning poems and to enter online, see the Wigtown Poetry Prize website.