Join the queue and help Sighthill Library break the Guinness World Record for Longest Reading chain!

A message from Sighthill Library!:

Sighthill Library is playing host to Guinness World Records this summer as we attempt to break the record for the Longest Reading chain by getting 350 people to read a line from the same book. We would like to invite you to join our attempt:

” Did you know the people of Vienna, Austria hold the record for the most participants in a reading relay? They set the record on 26th Sept 2010 at 290.

On 19th August 2011 we want to break this record and add Reading World Record Holders to our UNESCO City of Literature status AND  we want you to be part of it!

Sighthill library will be your hosts for the day as we highlight passionate how Edinburgh are about reading as a whole city. Join our community day and break a world record to show how important Libraries are to us all!

Already home to Stevenson, Scott, Conan Doyle, Rankin, the National Library, a Storytelling Centre an International Book Festival and named the 1st UNESCO City of Literature!  Can you help us add World Reading Record Holders………”

We want to make this a record that is held by the people of Edinburgh and more importantly those who are passionate about literature and reading. Barrington Stoke and the Edinburgh International Book Festival are already on board and as a figure associated with literature in Scotland we would love you to take a line on the day and be part of a record breaking city!


Books from NZ

July 20, 2011

I love a day when there are more books than bills in the postman’s bag. Usually the books go straight to Julie, our Librarian, but these ones took a detour. Through the generosity of Kenneth and Jocelyn Keith, we’ve been able to maintain our New Zealand collection, and a consignment from Unity Books – my favourite Wellington bookshop – reached my desk this week.

Boldly, Bill Manhire and Damien Wilkins picked The Best of Best New Zealand Poems, one poem per author. Having edited Best New Zealand Poems 2009, I’m very pleased to see quite a few of my choices surfacing here, holding their own across the ten years of BNZP. It’s an online publication – a model for Best Scottish Poems (now in its 7th year) – but there’s a particular pleasure in seeing a printed version. Mary Cresswell is one of the 60 poets in the book, and her new collection, Trace Fossils, entered the SPL by stealth last week (thank you, Mary and Lyell!). New collections by StAnza favourite Jenny Bornholdt (The Hill of Wool), by Airini Beautrais (Western Line), Dinah Hawken (The leaf-ride), Vincent O’Sullivan (The movie may be slightly different) and newcomer Janis Freegard (Kingdom Animalia) were all in the Unity parcel, along with a fat edition of the magazine Sport.

I’ve yet to read the poems in Sport 39 because I was so absorbed in James Brown’s account of this year’s T.S. Eliot Prize readings. Brown went along to support the NZ poet Brian Turner (‘he kept [his army service] quiet’) only to find that it was the US Brian Turner, whose army service is central to his poetry. Brown’s detailed evaluation of the evening gives us an attentive outsider’s view of the finalists that’s entirely refreshing. It couldn’t have been written by a UK poet, I think – and of course, that’s the value of the SPL’s international collection of books and magazines: they provide us with different ways of seeing, and unsettle us.

~ Robyn

NZ poet blogs:

Burns’ birds

July 14, 2011

Our friends at the BBC thought you might like to know about this programme: Burns and Birds – a special programme from BBC Radio Scotland‘s Out of Doors team.

Broadcast on Saturday 16th July at 7.06 and again on Sunday 17th at 11.05 am on BBC Radio Scotland….

We hear from Burns enthusiasts about the attention to detail he had when featuring birds in his poems.

We learn about the bird which is displayed on the heraldic device Burns had made for his seal – and the controversy surrounding it.

We hear about changes to bird populations over the centuries since Burns’ time.

We discuss what could be Burns’ favourite bird.

And we visit Ailsa Craig – from where Burns wanted to source three to four stones of bird feathers for his bed.

The small birds rejoice‘, read by Billy Boyd

On the subject of rain

July 12, 2011

The past couple of weeks at the Scottish Poetry Library seem to have been all about weather. We hosted the launch of These Islands, We Sing, a rich anthology of islands poets, and it is a collection full of meteorological observations.  Whether in poems about summer, such as Ruaraidh MacThòmais/Derick Thomson’s ‘Leòdhas as t-Samhradh’ / ‘Lewis in Summer’ or the atmospheric quiet of Siùsaigh NicNèill’s Iona, ‘West Beach on a Rainy Day’, the collection reflects the constantly changing nature of the island environment.

Our own environment has been in a state of flux too, especially over the weekend. One member of the SPL was stranded in the Gothic splendour of Napier’s Craighouse campus as the storms raged overhead. Over the library, it sounded like giants were pulling wheelie bins down the High Street all day.  So what poetry suits a storm? Bad weather seems to be a theme that runs throughout British poetry (I wonder why?),and there are a huge number to choose from.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous rain poem might be a place to start:

The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.

It is certainly true that the rain has been raining all around: it is rather nice to imagine Stevenson walking through Edinburgh in similar weather, thinking out these lines as the rain ran down his collar.

Indeed there are some days our run of bad weather seems perpetual, as this anonymous holidaymaker visiting Oban felt moved to remark:

Mull Weather

It rained and rained and rained and rained,
The average was well maintained;
And when our fields were simply bogs,
It started raining cats and dogs.
After a drought of half an hour,
There came a most refreshing shower;
And then the queerest thing of all,
A gentle rain began to fall.

Next day ’twas pretty fairly dry,
Save for a deluge from the sky.
This wetted people to the skin,
But after that the rain set in.
We wondered what’s the next we’d get,
As sure as fate we got more wet.
But soon we’ll have a change again,
And we shall have

A drop of rain

There is something pleasing about hearing a humorous response to rain, rather than moaning about it. However, there is a lot more to rain than simply being stuck inside, pleasant though it can be to curl up with a poem and a cup of tea at these times.

Indeed, bad weather can be hopelessly romantic. The carefree surrendering of yourself to the elements is a common metaphor for the dizzying feeling of falling in love. One need only think of The Sound of Music where Liesl dances in the rain with Rolf to see the (albeit rather obvious) joy of singing, and kissing, in the rain. In reality, however, actress Charmian Carr who played Liesl shot through one of the plate-glass windows of the gazebo, and had to complete the scene in agony.

So rather than being exuberant in your rain romance, it might be a better idea to take your inspiration from Robert Frost’s poem A line-storm song:

Come over the hills and far with me,
And be my love in the rain.

This seems a far more elegant idea: and probably a safer one.

Rain needn’t be romantic in the literal sense however. For poet Don Paterson, the romance of films in which it rains comes from something different. For him, the appeal lies in the redemptive qualities of the deluge. He sees a parallel between cinematic rain and the rain of the Biblical flood. He sees the world wiped clean by rain, and an opportunity for hope in:

one long thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score

For Paterson, it is the atmosphere created by rain that gives the films their depth and impact. Rain sets the scene and becomes as important as the characters and the plot.

Rain is undeniably atmospheric, but it also lends itself to poetry in a rhythmic capacity. It is easy to think about the steady ‘plip, plop, plip, plop’ of rain as a metrical beat, or of the rhythm of rain lashing against a house or running down a window. In A.A Milne’s poem, ‘Waiting by the Window’, two raindrops (John and James) race down a window, the rhythm of the poem getting faster until:

John is there, and John has won!
Look! I told you! Here’s the sun!

In a glorious flurry of exclamation, the sun has come out again, and the raindrop-rhythm is broken.

Playing with the rhythm of the rain is not however, an idea limited to children’s poetry.  Shakespeare uses rain to symbolise the passing of time and the melancholy of life at the end of Twelfth Night, when the Fool sings or speaks these words:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

In this poem, rain is mentioned in the second and fourth lines throughout, providing a refrain. In both lines, the quick repetition of words with a single syllable (‘hey,ho’), (‘For the rain’)  sounds like the ‘pitter-patter’ of rain falling. This recurring sound of rain provides a melancholy undercurrent to the poem which is otherwise light and humorous.

So, there we are: enough rain in poetry to keep you happy during even the stormiest day. Of course, as I finish this, the rain has stopped and it is a glorious day. Let’s hope it stays that way.

~ Alice

Our poet of the month is Somerset Maugham award-winner Miriam Gamble. Here are the books she loves, a regular question put to our poets of the month.

An Old Favourite

Everything by Elizabeth Bishop – prose included. I just go back to her again and again, and she bowls me over every time; every time, I feel like I haven’t read it before. She’s a brilliant poet of description (and of description reaching beyond itself), but also a doyenne of the conceit. Her work combines the skilled articulation of ideas with immense evocative power. I’m also in love with early Derek Mahon: Night-Crossing is one of my most prized possessions. And Nil Nil by Don Paterson. Donne and TS Eliot were the writers who made me want to write.

A New Favourite

Public Dream by Frances Leviston – she’s the best poet of her generation on these islands. I can’t wait for the next book to come out. I also admire Meirion Jordan’s Moonrise. Further afield, Letters to the Tremulous Hand by Elizabeth Campbell stopped me in my tracks – she’s an Australian poet, based in Melbourne. Her poems are rebellious, and boundary-pushing, and intellectually exciting. They’re also crafted to perfection and very, very pure linguistically: she doesn’t have to dance around to get to the heart of the matter (which is no mean feat).

A Current Interest

Spanish language literature – in translation at the moment, though hopefully that will change! I’ve been enjoying a late honeymoon with the likes of Lorca, Neruda and García Márquez – all writers I ought to have read years ago. I’ve also come across some engaging contemporary voices – Héctor Carreto, for instance, and Louis Miguel Aguilar, both from Mexico.

You can borrow the books Miriam loves, and thousands more, from the Scottish Poetry Library. Check out our online catalogue

We were delighted to hear from Iain Leitch, a member of London Scottish who requested a batch of our ‘London Scottish’ Mick Imlah National Poetry Day postcards. He has kindly consented to us reproducing his missive here on our blog. 

I wanted to let you know where the postcards that you kindly sent me ended up.

Our tour to Belgium took place over the 22nd to 25th of April and covered the Flanders Scottish Memorial Day and ANZAC day ceremonies.

Our own London Scottish activities included a ceremony at the regiments memorial at Messine the site of the action described in the poem. The mayor of Mesen, the Flemish spelling, attended the ceremony and was presented with mementos by the club including a couple of the postcards.

The Flanders Scottish Memorial Day ceremony was held at the Scotland memorial near Zonnebeke and was attended by a large number of Scottish members of the British Legion together with Australians and New  Zealanders of Scottish descent. Again the mayors and officials present were given copies of the postcards. Cards were also given to  “The Tatty Tenors” who sang ” On The Road to Passchendaele” during the ceremony. They are an Australian trio, very well known in Australia, who were also involved at the ANZAC day ceremony at the Menin Gate.

Our rugby match took place in Zonnebeke against the London New Zealand Rugby Club with a satisfactory result for us. It was played on a football pitch with temporary posts in front of a crowd which included a good number of local people who had never seen a rugby match before. More cards were given to those involved including Jo Kane from New Zealand who appears in the photos on the first website below.

On our return to Richmond cards were given to some of our younger players who had been visibly moved, as I think we all were, by the battlefield sites, the cemeteries and the various ceremonies we took part in.

There are two websites connected to the events we attended. The first can be found by Googling “the Belgians have not forgotten“. This site has photos of the ANZAC events but also includes our match and the tattoo we attended at Zonnebeke. The second site again by Googling “On The Road to Passchendaele”  will find the version of the song by Alan Brydon who wrote it.

To finish on a rugby note. We played what should have been our last match of the season on the 30th of April against Blackheath and won. However, due to the bad weather earlier in the year our final match was last Saturday against Barking who were just below us in the league  and unbeaten all season. A breakaway score in the last minute of the game, against the run of play, gave us the title and promotion the Championship league next season.

Thank you again for the cards which much appreciated and I hope they will help spread the word about the Scottish Poetry Library.

We produce a set of postcards every year for National Poetry Day. You can see those postcards on our website, and send an e-card, if the mood moves you. Keep your eyes peeled for this year’s selection. The theme for National Poetry Day 2011, on Thursday 6 October, is games.