Our Robyn on reading

April 19, 2011

Our reader development officer Lilias grills our director Robyn upon her reading habits. If you fancy a joyous dip into the bookshelves, why not join our Lilias, Robyn and John Glenday on our delicious Reading Poetry for Pleasure course at Moniack Mhor in June

The house was quiet and the world was calm.

When do you get to read?

Very occasionally, sitting in a patch of sunlight in the living-room on a Sunday afternoon… that’s best of all. Otherwise, on the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow (and it has to be a strong narrative to overcome Scotrail surroundings, not ideal for poetry); in bed at night, always.

I live for books
and light to read them in

What was the last poem you pressed on a friend, with a manic gleam in  your eye?

I’ve been recommending Jane Draycott’s beautiful translation of Pearl, a fourteenth-century poem of loss and consolation.

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no pleasure like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

If poems were food, name one fancy Heston Blumenthal-style starter, one hearty breakfast favourite and one guilty after-pub snack.

I understand that Heston Blumenthal has gone back to older English food traditions and remade them for current tastes, so what about an old poem, George Herbert’s ‘Prayer’ –which he likens to ‘a land of spices’; and then for uncomplicated nourishment, ‘Big Minty Nose’ by Jenny Bornholdt, full of the textures and scents of daily life (in her hometown, which happens to be mine), but also how those durable, repeated things connect us with what’s transient and loved – lots to grasp immediately in her deceptively casual style, lots that continues to reverberate; and for the guilty snack – but I don’t mind reading it openly – Lorraine Marriner’s Jessica Elton poems, including ‘Suntan’.

The pigs sleep in the sty: the bookman comes

What’s in your current reading pile, warts and all? (the pulp fiction and the gardening catalogues too..)

Volume 2 of Roy Foster’s fascinating biography of W.B. Yeats, The Arch-Poet; Simon Garfield’s book about fonts, Just My Type ( I’m still not able to distinguish Optima from Gotham at a hundred paces); and the May number of World of Interiors, which includes glorious photographs of John Campbell and Margaret Shaw’s house on Canna, now a museum housing their collection of Gaelic music and folklore. Besides Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, which sits there reproachfully,  I would normally have a novel or two in the pile, but they’ve just gone back to Hillhead Library – time to make another raid. I’m trying not to buy fiction!

And finally, you already have Shakespeare and the Bible on the desert island. You can keep one poem and one luxury. What’ll they be?

Oh dear, one poem is impossible! I could cheat with the Divine Comedy or Four Quartets, I suppose. ‘Sunday Morning’ by Wallace Stevens would give one a lot to think about… The luxury has to be pen-and-paper, an endless supply, more necessary even than chocolate biscuits.

Reading Poetry for Pleasure will take place at Moniack Mhor in Inverness-shire from 10 – 12 June. If you’d like more information, visit this post, or drop an email to Lilias on lfraser@spl.org.uk 

Artists’ Bookmarket

March 25, 2011

Everyone at the library is looking forward to the return of the Bookmarket to our friends and near-neighbours, The Fruitmarket Gallery.

This time the focus will be on Artists’ Books, with a special appearance from John Byrne at 8pm, and Lucy May Schofield will be in residence with her Bibliotherapy Artists’ Book Library.

Hope to see you there!

Bookmarket flyer

Flyer for Tuesday's bookmarket


Catching up…

December 13, 2010

After a quiet, snowy week, it has occurred to us that we have failed to be suitably excited about our new, shiny Christmas present to the shop.

We were very excited when it arrived. So excited that we mistook it for one of our own staff.

However, it was not an extra Peggy. It was, in fact, our new turning, spinning, small items presentation stand.

Its minimalistic beauty can't be fully appreciated until you see its wider context.

Silliness mostly aside, and getting into the spirit of the festive season, we have some gift packages to take away for £15, containing:

Ten Seasons

co-published with Luath Press
ed: Gerry Loose
Photographs: Morven Gregor

Through the Letterbox

published by Renaissance Press
Haikus by George Bruce, illustrated by Elizabeth Blackadder, collected and edited by Lucina Prestige

Poet Prints

21 new portraits of Scottish writers, including Douglas Dunn, Andrew Greig and Jackie Kay. Postcards collected into one volume- perfect for sending individually or giving as a gift whole.
Edited by Ken Cockburn and Colin Cavers.

Also included is one of our specially designed leaf cards with red envelope.

Individually, these items would cost up to £20, but as a gift pack, you can get the lot for only £15. Perfect for giving to friends and family or keeping for your own holiday reading. We think they’re rather pretty as well:

Our online shop, found here, has a selection of items we have for sale. However, we have much more on our shelves- if you can’t make it to the library before Christmas, please do give us a call on 0131 557 2876 or email us at reception@spl.org.uk.


December 2, 2010

Due to adverse weather conditions (left), we’ll be restricting our hours a little this week. Our plans thus far are to open:

Thursday 2nd December 10am – 4pm

Friday 3rd December 10am – 4pm

Saturday 4th December     10am – 1pm.

We will be closed on Sunday 5th and Monday 6th December as normal, and we’re hoping  to get back to more regular opening hours next week, weather permitting.  The best thing to do at the moment is to keep checking with our twitter feeds (@ByLeavesWeLive, @poetrylibrarian and @SPLshop), this blog, and it is worth phoning ahead to check that we are open (0131 557 2876).

Overdue notices

You may receive an automatically issued overdue notice while the weather stops you getting to the library. Don’t worry! You can now renew your books online (login required), by calling us on 0131 557 2876 or by emailing reception@spl.org.uk.

If you happen to be passing by and we’re closed, you can pop your books through our handy post-slot on the far left of the wooden shutters and we’ll check them back in as soon as we can.

Kay and Lilias are holding the fort at the moment for your poetry needs, but if you can’t make it to the building, there’s plenty to read and listen to on our website and others. You can:

read the latest issue of Poetry Issues

listen to one of our many wonderful podcasts

explore the Edwin Morgan Archive and read some of his poems online

listen to this programme about WS Graham from BBC 3, broadcast on Sunday at 9.30pm and available via iPlayer for three more days.

Those Wonderful Books (Orange.Art, MCMXCIII)

Those Wonderful Books unearthed itself from a nearby desk, and is apparently another one of Robyn’s London finds, this time in the marvellous shop at the V&A, (which our Lilias ‘is not allowed into..’). Deliciously small – roughly the size of a Kellogg’s Variety Pack, in fact – this little gem does exactly what it says on the title page:

Observations by Enthusiasts, Addicts, and Others

So its slight stature belies the manifold delights therein: as well as quotations and musings from all manner of Enthusiasts, Addicts and Others, (‘A good heavy book holds you down. It’s an anchor that keeps you from getting up and having another gin and tonic’ – Roy Blount, Jr; or: ‘A book is an axe to the frozen sea around us’ – Franz Kafka) it has some delightfully odd little accompanying illustrations, including one of dentures, one of an elderly gent smoking a pipe, several ships, and what looks like two dogs barking at a book.

elderly gentleman smoking pipe and two dogs barking at a book

We all know the power of reading, how it opens doors, how it expands our imagination and thought, and how it connects us to other people.  Reading aloud can be even more powerful for those in Care Homes, who may no longer read themselves, have few relatives that come to visit, and might not be able to participate fully in some activities.

Read Aloud, a new initiative currently being run by Edinburgh Libraries and our partner, the Scottish Poetry Library, sets out to connect with residents in Care Homes, to offer them spoken poetry and and stories, a chance to share their memories and enjoy a bit of company.  We read poems on popular themes- ‘gardens’, ‘Leith in the old days’, ‘childhood’, chat to the residents about their favourite poems and rhymes and pass around props and photos to spark off reminiscence- we often end with a wee communal sing song!

Our project kicked off in December 2009 when we met with various interested parties- Ryan Van Winkle (Poetry Reader in Residence) Artlink, Care Home staff, Royal Edinburgh Hospital staff, the Storytelling Centre and Direct Services (Edinburgh Libraries) to discuss our ideas and a way forward.  Now the project is up and running, with our first outing to Forthland Lodge in March and our most recent Read Aloud session in Donaldson’s Court in Leith, last week.

Currently we aim to visit approximately 3 Edinburgh Council Care Homes regularly, once a month.  We hope to expand our base of ‘Readers’ by involving interested and keen staff in both our organisations and Care Homes, and also by using volunteers.  If you would like to  know more about this project, please get in touch with Annie Bell, Reader Development, Central Library 0131 242 8046, annie.bell@edinburgh.gov.uk

Annie Bell is the Reader Development Officer at the Central Library, Edinburgh City Libraries. We are glad to reproduce this piece which first appeared in WordUp, the Central library’s email newsletter

'He was hale as a whale and twice as strong'

While in London this week, Robyn procured a new acquisition in a second hand bookshop. Timmy the Tug (Thames & Hudson, 2009)  – ‘A story in colour, a story in rhyme’ – was originally written in the 1950s by Ted Hughes to accompany a story that was conceived and delightfully illustrated in watercolour by his friend Jim Downer. Their workings were lost to the mists of time and only recently rediscovered by Hughes’s widow, Carol. This edition is presented as a facsimile of the original manuscript, which accounts for the handwritten page numbers and the wonderful foxing on the pages:

slightly foxed...

There’s an illuminating afterword by Jim Downer which contextualises the book – and provides insight into their lives and friendship in the 1950s:

This book was devised, illustrated and written over fifty years ago, between 1953 and 1956. The idea for it came to me while I was living in the top-floor flat of a Georgian terraced house in Bloomsbury… In the spring of 1952 I moved into the top-floor flat at 18 Rugby Street, Bloomsbury… [Downer includes much detail about the rent (it cost his weekly wage) and the specifics of the flat, too]…

He met Ted Hughes by virtue of sharing the one cold water tap between their two landings, and reminisces: ‘Even the sharing of a basin can lead to a friendship, and so it was in this case.’ He remembers shared suppers, bottles of ‘Bulls Blood when [they] we flush’, clubbing together to buy batteries for a radio so they could listen to Richard Burton reading the first performance of Under Milk Wood. He mentions the changing group of mostly twenty-year-olds which comprised their social scene, including such luminaries as actors Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney and Siân Phillips, Jacques Tati ‘when he was in London’, painter Robert O’Brian and director Philip Wrestler.

Ted Hughes has written of the Rugby Street flat in Birthday Letters (Faber), his multi-award winning address to Plath (’18 Rugby Street’).

'But the seagulls shouted: "Hurry, hurry,/ A faster tug is coming."'