Canan Marasligil is a freelance writer, editor, screenwriter and translator, who visited Edinburgh as part of the British Council Edinburgh Bookcase in 2010. She translated Emily Ballou’s poem for the TRANSPOESIE project. We’re delighted to have her blog post below.

Emily Ballou's poem in Brussels Metro

26 September is the European Day of Languages, celebrated every year across European cities through a wide range of events. Brussels, a multilingual city in nature with its official bilingual status (French and Flemish), its common use of English as part of its international status (European Parliament, Commission and the NATO are based here among other big institutions) and its ever growing demographics of citizens speaking a wide variety of languages, is hosting the TRANSPOESIE project and asks all its metro commuters: one poem, one trip, how many journeys?

Organised by EUNIC in Brussels and inspired by London’s Poems on the Underground and Warsaw’s Wiersze w Metrze displaying poetry in their cities underground stations, EUNIC has joined forces with the local transportation company STIB/MIVB to spread poetry all across the Brussels metro.

The official launch of TRANSPOESIE took place in Passa Porta, the International House of literatures, on the European Day of Languages. Directors Sigrid Bousset of Passa Porta and Martin Hope of British Council (current president of EUNIC Brussels) opened the event with an introduction on their respective institutions and their support for multilingual activities and projects.

The evening was hosted by Belgian poet, essayist and academic Peter Vermeersch. Seven of the twenty two poets featured on the TRANSPOESIE website were in Brussels to take the stage and discuss poetry, translation, languages, public space, and to read their poetry in their original language.

From the Page to the Public Space

Emily Ballou at Transpoesie event

The first part of the evening started with poets Morten Sondergaard from Denmark, Emily Ballou from the UK and Claudiu Komartin from Romania.

Vermeersch started the discussion by asking the poets how they felt about writing for the public space and if the process was any different from writing for the page.

It turned out all poems were already written before the project and not specifically thought for the public space. However, all three agreed on the challenge of being read by people on the move.

You’re always surrounded with text in the public space, so you need to compete with other content” says Sondergaard, “Poetry doesn’t sell” he adds.

Ballou explains that although her poem existed before, this series she’s written about lizard has been the most public of all her poems. “I like the idea of having these poems in the public space” she says, “the lizard signature is perfect for that.”

“We have moments in our lives when murmured words are more important than screamed ones” says Komartin, explaining that this is his idea of experiencing poems in the public space. “Among all those people, you have one moment for yourself when you are reading the poem” he says, emphasizing on the power of poetry.

“If you want to be heard you have to lower your voice” adds Sondergaard.

TRANSPOESIE is a project that brings poetry to people who are on the move and who can be transported by the poetry published on the billboards.

“Some of my poems started with overheard conversations” says Sondergaard, “the idea of movement is pretty much in poetry.”

Emily Ballou is also a screenwriter. When asked if she writes differently for the screen, she says that “for the screen, I look for images. Poetry gives more inside space.” She goes on telling about her preference to write on the typewriter, “I like the sound” she adds.

For Komartin as well, poetry has everything to do with rhythm, “It has to do with our every move, every choice we make.”

Poetry in Translation or Filling the Gaps

Peter Vermeersch with Lieke Marsman, Clara Janes, Radek Maly and Carl Norac

The evening continued with four more poets: Lieke Marsman from the Netherlands, Clara Janés from Spain, Radek Malý from the Czech Republic and Carl Norac from Belgium.

Vermeersch opened the conversation with multilingualism and translation, “Public space in Europe is filled with languages” he says giving Brussels as one good example. He asks the poets how they feel about being translated to another language.

Marsman says she felt honoured, “When I first read one of my poems in English it was a strange feeling. I tried translating my poems on my own thinking my English was good enough, then when I read the English translation, I found out I didn’t event understand some of the words!”

Janés, who is a translator herself, says she learns a lot from the translator, “I am a translator myself too so I know. You have to use your own language creatively to fill the gaps” and she adds, “You have to understand the mind of the poet.”

Malý translates from German to Czech and explains that he tried to translate one of his  poems to German, “with the help of my wife who is a native German speaker.” The German version turned out being another poem. “I don’t think about other translations” he says, “I prefer not to ask why my poem keeps rhymes in Dutch and not in French for instance” and adds “Every translation is interpretation.”

Norac talks about the dialogue that exists between the poet and the translator, “Translators ask what is behind the mirror” he says, “If you can talk with the translator you will win other things, you share secrets with the translator, you talk about your poetry in a different and new way with your translator.”

Vermeersch adds that it can even be more alienating when the poet knows the language in translation.

“I often write for illustrated books” explains Norac, “I picture poems in my head and I tell my translators to use their imagination. I want to tell them ‘I give you my poems, do what you want with it’.”

Peter Vermeersch and Morten Sondergaard

Vermeersch also asks Marsman if writing for a small language group like Dutch is annoying in terms of reaching audiences. She says it is not an issue, “I learned languages at an early age and can read poetry from different places. Also, there are translators, so I’m not worried about the state of Dutch poetry.”

He turns the question to the speakers of bigger languages, like Spanish and French. All poets agree it does not really matter and that what counts is that it needs to be written and read. “It’s not only about the language” says Norac, “but to find people to read the poetry.”

Poems will be on display in various metro station across Brussels until mid October. You can read all the poems in their original languages  and in their Dutch and French translations (no English I’m afraid) on the TRANSPOESIE website.

The Scottish Poetry Library is looking for a project manager for WorldWideWords, the SPL’s project to broadcast a poem a day from each of the competing countries in the Olympic Games next year.

This will be a year of gathering and disseminating lively, thought-provoking international poetry, to demanding deadlines and using a wide range of contacts.

The successful candidate will be required to:

  • research and gather in from various sources nominations for the 204 poems required
  • research background material
  • liaise with the broadcast producer about texts and readers
  • brief and liaise with external suppliers including website designer, graphic designer
  • ensure that the vital time deadlines are met
  • work with a publicist to secure traditional and new media coverage

The skills needed for this wide-ranging project are:

  • a wide knowledge of and enthusiasm for poetry
  • excellent communication skills
  • excellent time-management skills, and an ability to work under pressure
  • ability to take the initiative as well as work collaboratively
  • excellent project-management skills including budgets
  • attention to detail

Salary: £21,000 per annum; the post finishes on 28 September 2012

Application deadline: Friday 30th September 2011

Application pack available from:

Is it you they’re looking for?


Info and application pack here

Communications Executive

Deadline: Thursday 29th September 2011

In 2004 Edinburgh became the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, pioneer in a new international network of cities under UNESCO’s Creative Cities programme.

The Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust is an independent charity that works with partners to promote literary activity in Edinburgh, champion Scotland’s literature and develop literary partnerships around the world.

We are looking for a Communications Executive to work alongside our Director and help deliver a creative and dynamic programme of work over the coming years. This is a unique opportunity to contribute to an organisation that works to promote and develop literary Edinburgh, and be part of a growing international network of literary cities.

Based at the Trust’s office, in Central Library, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, the successful candidate will work in the following areas:

  • Profile-Raising – ensuring day-to-day visibility for literary Edinburgh
  • Digital Presence – managing website and social media content and profile
  • PR – managing promotional campaigns and liaison with media
  • Print – managing the design, production and distribution of all printed matter
  • Events Activity – delivering specific profile-raising activity

In addition you will provide support to our freelancers and volunteer staff, as needed, and deputise for the director when required.

What you would need to have:

  • Significant experience in PR, social media and communications environment
  • Be a graduate; relevant professional qualifications would be desirable
  • Strong media skills and good knowledge of, and contact within, UK/Scottish media (print, broadcast and electronic)
  • Creativity, with a nose for a good story
  • Excellent writing and editing skills are essential
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Exceptional organisational skills
  • Strong knowledge of literary Edinburgh and literary Scotland
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a small team
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Attention to detail required

Salary is £21,100 per annum.  To apply for this post please visit and download the application pack. Applications for this post should be sent to

Closing Date: 5pm on Thursday 29th September 2011
Short Listing: Monday 3rd October 2011
Interviews: Wednesday 5th October 2011

For questions or further information, contact

Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust is the operating name of Edinburgh World City of Literature Trust which is a company limited by guarantee (No. 270581) and registered as a charity (SC035697).

Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust gratefully acknowledges support and funding from Creative Scotland and from the City of Edinburgh Council.

11 September 2011

September 9, 2011

This post is taken from SPL Newsletter 38, January 2002, edited and designed by Duncan Glen. It is reproduced here on the tenth anniversary of the events of September 11 2001.

Robyn Marsack, Director, writes:

There was immediate poetry-writing, of course, in September 2001 and afterwards. Andrew Motion commented on a selection from the hundreds the Guardian had received, calling them ‘signs of compassionate life’, in which literary skills were ‘subordinate to other values’. We needed to give and accept such signs. People quoted Auden’s ‘September 1, 1939’ for its location, its ‘odour of death’, its apparently uncanny parallels; others argued its inappropriateness to the occasion, its particularity of context.

What we feel during such crises may be quite straightforward: horror, anger, grief. Journalists describe the landscapes of desolation, the burning. The poets that we return to, I suggest, create uncertainties that complicate our responses. They draw on our emotional intelligence rather than appealing to our instincts. Wait a minute, try seeing it this way … and that way … thirteen ways. In a culture that is always simplifying, and in which language itself is reductive, this is invaluable.

Looking through Walt Whitman’s poems as we tried to find something to put on the board outside the Scottish Poetry Library on 12 September 2001, I came across these lines:

I hear it was charged against me that I sought to destroy institutions,

But really I am neither for nor against institutions,

(What indeed have I in common with them? or what with the destruction of them?)

Only I will establish in the Mannahatta and in every city of these States inland and seaboard,

And in the fields and woods, and above every keel little or large that dents the water,

Without edifices or rules or trustees or any argument,

The institution of the dear love of comrades.

It was a shock, that first line. ‘I hear it was charged against me…’ – what could be plainer than those suicidal flights? It may be that Whitman was thinking of the institution of heterosexual marriage, for example, while I thought of the protests at the G8 summits, of the great global institutions and the interests of trade, and the way that many people feel disconnected from the forces that they perceive to drive the world. Whitman, using the Native American name for the island which stands for unsleeping commerce, for success, recalls the disinherited, the marginalised, those whose ancestral relationships with the land have been destroyed. The spectres of the dispossessed cluster down the centuries to disturbing effect.

Yet there is one institution that Whitman will allow: comradeship, the brotherhood of man. You might say with the Beatles, ‘All you need is love’, or with Auden, ‘We must love one another or die’ – and this is at once too simple and too difficult a solution. Whitman’s is closer to Burns’s democracy of spirit. ‘That man to man the world o’er, / Shall brothers be for a’ that’: recognising our common humanity beyond the differences that divide us, reminding us that the family of humankind is just that, the clan to which we all belong. Whitman complicates feeling by calling it an ‘institution’; he knows it’s not enough to leave it to chance: it must be constructed without being rigidified, with all that implies of care and thought and reinvention. ‘Comrade’, not irredeemably stained by political misuse, still suggests working together for the common good, pooling talents, and above all, trusting one another.

From our perspective on the twentieth century, it is easy to dismiss Whitman’s vision as naïve. But its passionate articulation should not obscure its resonances nor its necessity. I found in his poems sorrow, realism, generosity, a large vision: belief in the capacity of men and women to renew creation and themselves despite their terrible propensity to destruction. I don’t think this vision was immediately possible in 2001 but I, for one, needed to hold on to it. In such testing times, true poetry speaks the language we can steer by.

Image credit: courtesy of, George Glazer Gallery, New York City and found here.


September 7, 2011

As Carol Ann Duffy launches her ‘Anthologise’ competition for secondary schools, Liz Lochhead – who will be one of the judges – shares her enthusiasm:

I love anthologies.

Themed ones are good. I Wouldn’t Thank You for a Valentine, Carol Ann Duffy’s choice of Poems for Young Feminists, or Out of Fashion, her anthology more full of poems about garments than any magic wardrobe… Lovely stuff.

I like the anthologies that are all jumbled-up best: The Rattlebag, edited by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney,  is everybody’s favourite to dip into and guzzle,  like it was a box of chocolates of every flavour going.

My personal favourite anthology ever, though? I’ve just taken down from my shelves (and spent a whole afternoon reading, when I was supposed to be working!) Voices, the First Book and the Voices, the Third Book, two anthologies edited by a man called Geoffrey Summerfield, who changed my life.

These were books I found in the English Department cupboard in the comprehensive school I first taught in when I was twenty-three years old. (I bought copies for myself, though they were officially school books for teenagers and I was supposed to be grown up. ) I was beginning to write things — I had been doing so since I was eighteen — and I was beginning to read, and read over again, poems I loved.

So in Voices I recognised poems by Roger McGough, Philip Larkin, MacCaig, Morgan, Heaney, Hughes, Plath. Loved them all over again. But I did not know the poems by Denise Levertov, Carl Sandburg, Charles Causley, Robert Lowell, Tony Connor; nor, though I’d heard of the poets, of course, even read some of their work, these poems by Robert Frost, Gerard Manley Hopkins, that Blake, this D.H. Lawrence poem called ‘A Sane Revolution that proved poetry can do politics. There were some great new poems by Anon. (She’s just the best ever. Always will be.)

I don’t think I’d have kept writing poems if I’d never come across this anthology. The one volume introduced me to small, perfect, Chinese poems translated by Arthur Waley and, on the other hand, to an American poet called John Logan and his long poem that is nearly prose, almost a story, a wonderful poem that starts ‘It is the picnic with Ruth in the Spring’… This book taught me that I needed all these voices as I searched for my own. And it made me hungry to write.

Anthologies in the Voices series are available to borrow or read at the Scottish Poetry Library.

Find out more about ‘Anthologise’ and resources for the project on the SPL’s Education site or via Picador.

We are delighted to offer a small quantity of A Choosing: Selected Poems by Liz Lochhead for sale.

This limited edition, produced for and previously exclusive to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, presents a ‘crafted, personal selection of poems published over the last four decades, along with new work,’ with a foreword by Carol Ann Duffy. The trade edition of A Choosing: Selected Poems is due to be published by Polygon in October 2011.

Polygon says of A Choosing: Selected Poems:

A stunning new collection of selected works from one of Scotland’s most loved writers. During her career Liz Lochhead has been described variously as a poet, feminist playwright, translator and broadcaster but has said that ‘when somebody asks me what I do I usually say writer. The most precious thing to me is to be a poet. If I were a playwright, I’d like to be a poet in the theatre.’ Liz Lochhead has a large and devoted audience and delights audiences where she goes. Liz Lochhead was appointed Scotland’s Poet Laureate (Makar) in January 2011.

To order, please get in touch with, call 0131 557 2876 or pop into the library. We accept cash and cheque.

Copies are priced at £9.99 and postage and packing for postal orders will be £1.50 per copy, with international shipping quoted on request.

Lend us your quotes…

September 2, 2011

Can you fill in the gap?

‘How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,

Whose action is no stronger than a flower?’

I love these lines from Sonnet 65, but they’re too long for our purposes… we’re turning to you for help! We’re looking for vivid, short quotations – no longer than 12 words – that we can use for a variety of things: downloadable posters, a Scottish Poetry Library bag, a Scottish Poetry Library notebook… They should be about poetry, or lines from a poem. New York’s Poets House has already bagged ‘… dwell in Possibility-;’ Emily Dickinson, of course, provides great lines: ‘There is no frigate like a book…’, or ‘The Brain – is wider than the sky – ’ or ‘Dreams – are well – but Waking’s better’. It would be good to have a Scottish inflection: ‘the Scottish Poetry Library: whaur extremes meet’? We look forward to your suggestions, as brief and inspiring as you can make them.

Please send your ideas on a digital postcard to @ByLeavesWeLive on twitter or