Moniack Mhor – The Jessie Kesson Fellowship

5th – 30th March 2012



JOB DESCRIPTION – Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre are offering a unique opportunity for a published writer to spend a month at the centre to dedicate time developing their own work.  The centre would like to encourage writers from out-with the United Kingdom to apply.  The writer in residence will work a minimum of two sessions a week in Highland schools.  The writer may be expected to participate in a literary evening event either as part of a ceilidh setting or at a designated local venue.

Moniack Mhor is a residential facility dedicated to the furtherance of literature in Scotland and beyond, it runs creative writing courses in partnership with the Arvon Foundation.

SALARY – £350 stipend per week and travel expenses.

DEADLINE – 20th December 2012


Tel: 01463 741675


Paper sculptures - the end!

the mystery sculpture where it was found (photo: Chris Scott)

On a rather gloomy Wednesday, with the wind buffeting the iron shutter downstairs, I was alerted (while fishing a consolatory custard-cream from the biscuit-tin) to something happening upstairs. My colleagues were clustered in the bay where the women’s poetry anthologies stand, and on a cleared shelf lay a pile of feathers… No, not feathers, as speckled and feathery as they seemed, but a paper sculpture of feathers. The great giver had taken us by surprise once more!

First there was the clue in the guest-book – but Kay at the reception desk didn’t catch anyone writing in it. Then this exquisite sculpture, ‘Gloves of bee’s fur, cap of the wren’s wings’, right out of Norman MacCaig’s deeply romantic early poem, ‘Gifts’, quoted on the tag. It also says: ‘10/10’ – well, obviously we’d give it that for beauty and pleasure and amazement, but we realised it meant the tenth gift of ten all told. Beside it stood a leaf from an old book, on which the giver has written that one has to know when to end a story… and confirming that the artist is female.

a close up of the feathers in the mystery sculpture's cap (photo: Julie Johnstone)

We won’t seek any further – we’ve always said we didn’t want to know who it was (except to say thank you). She’s seen our gratitude and that of the other recipients, though, tweeted round the world and re-tweeted. It has even made National Public Radio and Boing Boing. What gifts she has given! Not only of the precious objects, but also of her time, her extraordinary skills and imagination, and of deep understanding – an understanding of poetry, and of what all of us try to do in sharing our books and our passion for them with the world.

A heartfelt thank-you from all of us at the Scottish Poetry Library, especially because you chose to begin and end here, with your lovely leaves.

It’s important that a story is not too long ……does not become tedious …….

‘You need to know when to end a story,’ she thought.

Often a good story ends where it begins. This would mean a return to the Poetry Library. The very place where she had left the first of the ten.

Back to those who had loved that little tree, and so encouraged her to try again …….and again.

Some had wondered who it was, leaving these small strange objects. Some even thought it was a ‘he’! ……. As if!

Others looked among Book Artists, rather good ones actually…….

But they would never find her there. For though she does make things, this was the first time she had dissected books and had used them simply because they seemed fitting….

Most however chose not to know….. which was the point really.

The gift, the place to sit, to look, to wonder, to dream….. of the impossible maybe…….

A tiny gesture in support of the special places…..

So, here, she will end this story, in a special place … A Poetry Library ….. where they are well used to ‘anon.’

But before exiting …a few mentions. There could be more, because we have all colluded to make this work……. Just a few though.

– the twitter community who in some strange way gave rise to the idea in the first place

-@chrisdonia who gave the story a place, a shape and some great pictures

– and not least @Beathhigh whose books and reputation have been shame-lessly utilised in the making of a mystery ……..

…… But hold on. Someone’s left behind a pair of gloves and a cap……….?

Cheers Edinburgh It’s been fun!

A note from Lizzie on the book used to make the piece:

Photo: @splshop

On the back of the delicate ‘cap of the wren’s wings’, some of the paper strips binding the structure together are more legible, though of course shorn of helpfully full names or terms; one is headed ‘-lcolm Castle’  and is obviously from a page of fiction. There is a Lady Hel- in there, and a Robert Gran-. Irresistible – we just had to try to find what it was from. A little manipulation of internet searches, and we came up with Jules Verne’s In Search of the Castaways – there’s a Lady Helena in it, who is married to Lord Glenarvan of Malcolm Castle, there’s a Robert Grant  ….

We don’t know if there is any significance, but we love the idea of this last castaway coming to rest on our shelves.

Paper sculptures - the end!

Photo: Chris Scott

Paper sculptures - the end!

Photo: Chris Scott

UPDATE: @NtlMuseumsScot have announced they have received a mystery sculpture marked ‘9/10’: pictures here!

Communications Manager

November 18, 2011


The Scottish Poetry Library is a dynamic organisation, a unique national resource and advocate for poetry. We are expanding our team over the next few months, and are initially looking for a Communications Manager to start in January. This will be a full-time post, based at the SPL in Edinburgh, working with the team to enhance the SPL’s profile and to bring people and poetry together.


  • to develop and manage the SPL’s communications strategy
  • to ensure that our social media maintains and expands its high profile: managing the blog, communicating via Twitter, Facebook and Flickr
  • to manage the website – maintenance, creation of content, commissioning
  • to manage communications generally: with press, radio, television, other organisations
  • to manage communications with our audience specifically e.g. a weekly email
  • to assist in marketing the events programme
  • to assist with the creation of regular podcasts
  • to edit the Poetry Reader twice a year
  • to act as liaison for and diary assistant to the Makar, Liz Lochhead
  • to communicate the Makar’s activities to the general public and stakeholders

Essential skills

  • A graduate with a wide knowledge of and enthusiasm for poetry
  • Excellent writing skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Time-management skills, and an ability to work under pressure
  • Ability to take the initiative as well as work collaboratively
  • Significant experience in social media and communications
  • Attention to detail


  • £20,000 per annum starting salary


 See the attached background information for a general description of the SPL’s work:  SPL background for CM post

If you wish to proceed with an application, please send your CV with an accompanying letter, setting out your reasons for applying for this post and drawing attention to particularly relevant qualifications.

Please let us know where you found out about this post.

Referees’ names should be included but references will only be taken up in the event of your being selected for the post.

Applications should be addressed to:

Dr Robyn Marsack, Director, Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton’s Close, Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DT

and emailed to:

The closing date is midnight 4 December 2011.

We expect to interview short-listed candidates on 12 December.

Our friends at the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust are celebrating Robert Louis Stevenson Day all day on Thursday 17 November. You can wear velvet, tweet using the hashtag #RLSday, read facts and quotes posted on @EdinCityofLit, read poetry quotations @ByLeavesWeLive, take part in events happening all day and brush up on Robert Louis Stevenson’s works at the authoritative website here. 

We asked our Assistant Librarian, Lizzie MacGregor, for some of her reflections on Robert Louis Stevenson’s work:

I recently read Robert Louis Stevenson’s unfinished novel Weir of Hermiston for the first time, and was absolutely enthralled by it – they didn’t call him ‘Tusitala’ (storyteller) for nothing.  Many critics believe that it would have been Stevenson’s best novel, had it been finished, and certainly in it he has excelled in manipulating settings and characters; the sense of impending doom becomes so real that I was quite relieved when the book comes to a sudden halt  (RLS died in the middle of chapter 9).

One of the pleasures of reading Stevenson is his masterly dialogue. When Lord Hermiston thunders from the judicial bench or from the head of his dining table you recoil from his harsh pronunciations, and when Kirsty starts on a tale of her redoubtable family’s misdeeds you feel you are sitting with her, in the Borders farmhouse, staring into the fire, all ears. And they are talking in Scots, of course.

Image: Collected Poems of RLSIf Stevenson was so adept at handling Scots in his dialogue, why does his poetry in Scots have the reputation for being weak? There is an interesting chapter in the book Scotland and the Lowland Tongue (published by Aberdeen University Press in 1983) called ‘An awkward squad: some Scots poets from Stevenson to Spence’ in which Kenneth Buthlay traces the uneasy development of the use of Scots in poetry from the second half of the 19th century, until the Scottish Renaissance got underway in the early years of the 20th. He thinks that Stevenson did not apply the same craftmanship to his poetry in Scots as to his English, and generally deems Stevenson to have considered his Scots versifying as being just that, talking of his ‘deprecating attitude towards what he writes as being, not poetry, not even respectable verse, but just crambo-clink: ‘I rhyme for fun’ ‘.

If there was a weakness, would it have stemmed from the fact that Stevenson might have felt awkward writing poetry in Scots, because of the risk of association with the post-Burns rhymsters of the Whistle-binkie school?  I have always felt, though, that Stevenson’s poetry in Scots, while maybe not quite having the sustained strength of, for example, the tales of Thrawn Janet or Tod Lapraik , is written with a deal of energy, and fun. ‘It’s rainin … / A maist unceeivil thing o’ God / In mid July …’  And did anyone but him ever capture Edinburgh’s weather so well? The ‘snell an’ scowtherin’ norther blaw’, the ‘blast an’ blaudin’ rain’ (with of course, the antidote: ‘let the winter weet oor cla’es – We’ll weet oor thrapples!).

Derrick McClure, in his book Language, Poetry and Nationhood (Tuckwell Press, 2000) talks of ‘the unmistakeable sense of physical energy which prevails in his poems’, and puts it down to a preponderance of Scots verbs – a ‘forceful lexicon’.

One thing’s for sure – 161 years after his birth, Tusitala still enchants.

#PoetsAtoZ update

November 16, 2011

We’re still on A! Here’s the requests today [you just had to rhyme -Ed.]:

Always remember: ‘There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.’ Fleur Adcock, from Things

You came back into the room/where you’ve been living/all along. You say:/What’s been going on/while I was away? – Margaret Atwood

Give me a word/ any word/ let it roll across your tongue/ like a dolly mixture. – Patience Agbabi

expecting the second feature / expecting the second coming / expecting the last post / expecting to be late – Kenneth Allott

Talk some, write some,/ keep some in the archives/ of the heart – John Agard

A – Z requests

November 15, 2011

On twitter and facebook, we said:

Feeling in an A-Z sort of mood here today: tweet us the name of a poet beginning with A and we’ll seek out a line from their work for you 🙂

And you did! 

Here’s the responses from today:

For @bunnethustler on twitter:

For love must be spoken, not whispered, that it may be/ seen and heard. It must be without camouflage,/ conspicuous, noisy – Yehuda Amichai

For on twitter:

I finally wrote down the words/ that for so long I dared not say – Anna Akhmatova, 1910

For many, many people on twitter:

It was late, late in the evening,/The lovers they were gone;/The clocks had ceased their chiming,/And the deep river ran on – Auden

For @idea15webdesign on twitter:

No one knows / my lonely heart / when we’re apart. – Maya Angelou

For on twitter:

Now they are no longer/ any trouble to each other/ he can turn things over, get down to that list/of things that never happened – Armitage

For Helen Addy on facebook:

 ‘Souls are divorced many times. They exist as discarded fragments – a name left behind, / an unfashionable scarf, / nail parings. / They are so light without us.’  – Moniza Alvi from ‘Without Us’ in Souls, 2002

Pending requests:

Atwood, Agard, John Ash, John Ashbery, AA Milne (“I reckon we file him under M… but could make an exception later maybe :)”), Dafydd ap Gwilym (“Had a look and we do have some by him (but we file under G – is that wrong?)”), Anderson, Anonymous, Apollinaire as in Guillaume Apollinaire, Adcock, Arnold.

Keep them coming in!

Sorley MacLean

November 15, 2011

We’re looking forward to Polygon’s launch of Sorley MacLean’s Collected Poems, Caoir Gheal Leumraich / White Leaping Flame at the Library on Wednesday. The jacket image is so evocative – not the elder statesman of Gaelic poetry but the young man who knew that he was an ‘idealist democratic revolutionary’ when he was twelve. The photograph suggests vulnerability, eagerness and energy in equal measures.

I always thought that poets would ‘collect’ their own poems with great care and discrimination, whereas in fact some are quite cavalier, even careless. When Carcanet Press first proposed to publish a collected edition of Sorley Maclean’s poems in 1988, I saw him literally gather together old proofs and photocopies, convinced he’d managed to mislay some important poems along the way. Some of them have at last been recovered.

This new collection is a work of impeccable scholarship, edited by Christopher Whyte and Emma Dymock. It’s also a tribute of devotion to the poet who hauled Gaelic poetry into the twentieth century – albeit not single-handed – and assured its place in the great world of European poetry, in the company of Yeats and Blok and Valéry. It’s a fitting conclusion to this year of centenary celebrations.

~ Robyn