December 16, 2011

Ah, December, let us count the ways. You hold the enticing possibility of snow. You make us mull over the past year and plan good things for the coming one. And, crucially, you are the only month of the year when it becomes socially acceptable to enjoy Prosecco and cheese straws for dinner.

The library looks especially appealing at the moment, with fairylights twinkling invitingly on the upper level and greenery along the top of the shelves. Many people say they love the library in vile weather – when wind and rain batter the large glass panes at the entrance, it feels a bit like being in a warm, safe ship on a stormy sea. And there’s something pleasing about seeing new visitors come in, rubbing cold hands and stamping frozen feet, only to hang up coats, deposit drookit umbrellas, and relax into the warmth and peace of the library stacks. Also, as two members of staff currently have broken boilers at home, we love our central heating system almost as much as our surfeit of cheese straws.

Poetry, of course, is warming in any case – make sure you indulge in some over the holidays.

Looking forward to the new year, we’re delighted to announce that Colin Waters will be taking up the post of  Communications Manager in January. Colin joins our team from the Scottish Review of Books, where he is Deputy Editor, and brings extensive journalism experience and a background in librarianship with him to the SPL. We look forward to welcoming him both online and with a pot of tea in January. We don’t expect the chocolates that kind people have brought in to last until January, so he’ll be on the austerity regime that usually prevails at tea-time… But he can always sample a poem.

The library closes its doors to the public tomorrow at 4pm; if you’re in need of poetry to borrow or buy, do drop in. We will be re-opening at 10am on Wednesday 4th January.

All that remains is for us to wish everyone the very best for the holiday season and a happy New Year!





Photo credit: The Giant Vermin / flickr

We have been sifting through a mass of applications for the position of SPL Communications Manager: arriving at a shortlist was difficult. There are many talented people out there, but even they haven’t grasped some essentials in making an application. We thought it might be useful to offer a few pointers.


  • try to restrict your covering letter to 1 or 2 pages and your CV to 2 pages
  • show an understanding of the organisation’s aims and ethos
  • connect your skills with its needs
  • communicate a sense of your personality: lots of people claim to be competent, calm and team-players – what makes you stand out?


  • repeat in the covering letter all the information in your CV
  • give the impression of a cut-and-paste application e.g. leaving in the name of another organisation to which you’ve applied
  • start off with your birth date and/or marital status – not relevant or required these days
  • make spelling mistakes, especially when claiming that attention to detail is your strength!

Thank you to everyone who applied, though. We appreciate your interest!


Gods, Heroes and Foxes

December 7, 2011

Robyn reflects on Ted Hughes, and Kay on Christopher Logue, who died on 2 December. 

The only time I heard Ted Hughes read was at Westminster Abbey in 1985, when the stone honouring sixteen poets of the First World War was unveiled. He had an incredibly powerful presence – I could have listened to him read all day. It was the year he became Poet Laureate, and he wrote to his old friend Terence McCaughey: ‘What is most strange of all is the role I now play in the rusty locked-up heart of the Anglo-Saxon common man woman and child. Very peculiar.’ Now it’s his turn to be honoured, with the stone unveiled yesterday, adjacent to that of T.S. Eliot, his publisher. Hughes’s stone is inscribed with lovely lines from his poem ‘That Morning’:  ‘So we found the end of our journey / So we stood alive in the river of light / Among the creatures of light, creatures of light.’

Liz Lochhead has recently been down to Mytholmroyd, Hughes’s birthplace, to judge the poetry competition run by the Elmet Trust. I asked her what her favourite Hughes poem is, and she plumped for ‘The Thought Fox’, that vivid evocation of the animal and the arrival of a poem. Hughes himself remarked that ‘occasionally I could enjoy the beautiful experience of breaking though a sound barrier and floating at a speed beyond sound, effortless; that happened in the little poem Thought Fox.’


  Saying these things Patroclus died.

And as his soul went through the sand

Hector withdrew his spear and said:


It was the right poetic encounter at the right time. As a third-year undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh, with an embryonic dissertation title on a post-it note (‘MYTH & POSSIBLY RETELLINGS?’), I put out a plea: what am I missing? A friend on the other side of the pond responded with the passage above, from Christopher Logue’s War Music, presented without comment. And she was right.

To say War Music blew the cobwebs away is an understatement: it was more vivid than any action sequence on film, with moments that couldn’t have been more different from my standard diet of nineteenth-century books about books. In one case ‘APOLLO!’  fills the spread of two pages , to be followed by ‘Who had been patient with you, / Struck.’ The god’s strike is after the turn of the page and in standard type size: a tiny gesture from a massive presence, and a perfect illustration of the positions of gods and men in Logue’s version of Homer’s epic.

Everything, including the short introduction, bore reading again and again. Like my friend, I went on to press it on others with urgency and to read the subsequent additions: Kings (1991), The Husbands (1995), All Day Permanent Red (2004) and Cold Calls (2005). Its stamp on my mind is indelible.


All power to the poets, whose work never dies.


Some events leave you with good feelings for days afterwards. Obviously the deposit of the final paper sculpture – by someone the Guardian brilliantly called ‘Booksy’ and NPR’s sympathetic columnist ‘The Library Phantom’ – is one such event, and that good feeling has been shared globally. Others are more local, such as the visit from a group of bouncy nursery-school children, who were magically stilled as they heard the opening words of The Gruffalo (and that rhyming story is a global phenomenon, in fact); or going out to a care home and seeing the magic of rhyme working with older folk, too – who carry poems in their heads after other things have faded.

We‘re still living in the after-glow of Kay Ryan’s reading. With the help of the Poetry Trust, the US Embassy in London and the Poetry Association of Scotland, we brought Kay – former US Poet Laureate – to Edinburgh for a reading last month, and her first visit to Scotland. There was a capacity house at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, to hear a reading that combined insight, elegance, charm and surprise in equal measures.

As a reusable alternative to tickets, our friends at the Scottish Storytelling Centre gave us a box of 99 tokens to hand out, which were red on one side and yellow on the other. It was an inspiring and enjoyable evening – so much so that Stewart Conn wrote the poem below.

Poetry Reading by Kay Ryan

We trouped downstairs,

each eagerly clutching

a plastic disc, red on one

side, yellow on the other,

vouching we had paid

and giving right of entry –

to emerge what seemed

moments later, having

exchanged it for a gold coin.