Highlights by Peggy

November 9, 2011

After almost four very happy years here at the Scottish Poetry Library at the communications and events helm, I (Peggy) am setting sail for pastures new. Well, sailing up the hill and joining the team at the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust. I’ve been tasked with picking a few highlights from those four years; Emily Dickinson’s ‘As if I asked a common Alms‘ comes to mind, so lovely, surprising and numerous have those highlights been. But – in no particular order –  here goes…

Flashmob for Burns:

Flashmob for Burns outside St Giles Cathedral, 1pm on Tuesday 25 January 2011. Man with harmonica sets the key. Photo by Chris Scott.

In which we are trying to think of something imaginative with which to toast Robert Burns, on Burns Night 2011. A flashmob flies to mind! The Let’s Get Lyrical campaign team come on board, Twitter goes wild with suggestions and we plump for ‘A Man’s a Man’ (‘Ae Fond Kiss’ is amusingly hard to sing…), to be sung en masse outside St Giles Cathedral on a mizzly Tuesday afternoon. A practise recording of me warbling ‘A Man’s a Man’ is snuck onto youtube. (A woman at a party would subsequently swear that we had met previously; we had not – she had seen this mortifying clip.) The press flock for interviews and photos. A 100 strong throng raise their voices in song, to the delighted surprise of passers by (warning: working at the SPL for 4 years will have anyone writing in rhyming couplets). Good times.

The Poetree:

The Poetree. Photo by Chris Scott

Regular readers of this blog will need no introduction to the ‘poetree’; irregular readers can acquaint themselves with this most delightful of stories by reading this. In short, it was a normal, quiet March morning when our librarian Julie Johnstone stumbled upon the wee tree, left for our attention on a table on the mezzanine with no clue to its provenance. Just a note:

It started with your name @byleaveswelive and became a tree.… … We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books… a book is so much more than pages full of words.… This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….. a gesture (poetic maybe?)

You can, should you wish, listen to our Lilias and I havering about it on this audioboo from the Guardian’s Michael MacLeod. The mystery artist has continued to leave surprise sculptures at cultural venues around the city. There are 7 in total now. Needless to say it’s one of my favourite things to have happened and continues to warm the cockles months later on a damp November day. Dear Artist, I don’t want to know who you are but I hope you know how much joy your gift continues to bring.

Meeting Seamus Heaney:

As a Northern Irish person who loves poetry, I can’t overstate Seamus Heaney’s  place in my imagination. Picture then the unadulterated joy that accompanies this set of announcements: ‘Seamus Heaney is dropping into the library’ and: ‘Peggy, could you please meet him off the train.’ And so it was that I waited at Waverley (45 minutes early, just – y’know – in case); what would I call him? immediately dissolved as, seeing him alighting, I hollered ‘Seamus, what about ye?’ My mother had mentioned that I might want to tell him our family friend Harry McGoldrick had gone to primary school with him, but I omitted that, and was delighted that the conversation in the taxi turned naturally to accents, how I hadn’t lost mine, not a bit of it, that to tell my mother that I sounded as Larne as the day I had left. We picked apart the word ‘wheen’ in particular. Great word, wheen. Great man, Seamus Heaney.

Douglas Dunn on the Castle:

Douglas Dunn's words from 'Disenchantments' projected onto the Castle Rock. Photo by Chris Scott

As part of the Carry a Poem Campaign, in partnership with the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust in 2010, lines from Douglas Dunn’s poem ‘Disenchantments’, suggested by our Lilias, were projected onto Edinburgh’s Castle Rock on Valentine’s Eve. Need I say more? We phoned Douglas who couldn’t be there to see it in person; ‘how do I look?’ he said. We replied ‘You look fabulous.’

Twitter & Facebook:

When I arrived at the library almost 4 years ago, my job title was Communications Officer: I sat at the front desk and handled enquiries and book circulation matters, answered the phone, signed us up to Twitter and Facebook, and started this here blog. Though I subsequently took on events programming, and enjoyed it very much, one of the best things about working here at the library continued to be the good folk of Facebook and Twitter. All human life is there, both international and local, known and people we’ve yet to meet, ready to share their opinions and recommendations, to consider cakes and quatrains, music and metre, biscuits, ballads and banter. Edwin Morgan wrote: ‘Nothing is not giving messages’. I’d say nothing is not receiving them! I have met some very fine people among that constant stream of infotainment, and look forward to following @byleaveswelive and being a fan of our Facebook page and joining the conversation from the other side.

EdTeaUp food squircle quadriptych. By Flickr user Oolong aka Fergus Ray Murray featuring the cakes of @NemesisRepublic, our Lilias and @SPLShop

Other highlights include: John Hegley; punk band, Shields Up, performing in the library on a Saturday afternoon, as part of the Wee Jaunt. Jings!;  Poets for Haiti at the Queen’s Hall, and sampling the Poet Laureate’s sherry, otherwise know as the butt of sack! EdTeaUp, when we drank tea and ate cakes with friends from Twitter; many By Leaves We Live fairs over the years; ditto StAnza Poetry festivals; working with the Edinburgh International Book Festival and many other splendid partners; talking about the library in Brussels and Ullapool and Wigtown and Newcastle and other places too. Top podcast: who could forget the simulcast from WSPL Radio: Real Poetry Radio featuring their presenter Ryan “the Wolf” van Winkle interviewing Scottish folk music sensation Jed Milroy. I’m glad to have worked with everyone here, people past and present, with their great and individual passions for poetry, and of course all the cakes. It’s been a real pleasure doing business with you all and I hope our poetical paths will continue to cross!