National Poetry Day fun!

October 12, 2010

On Thursday 7 October we had more than usual cause for putting poetry out and about there, for National Poetry Day was upon us!

Lilias joined the Edinburgh City Libraries mobile library van in Castle Street from which vantage, under the Castle rock, she pressed poetry into the hands of unsuspecting passers-by! People took cards, looked pleased, stopped or chatted briefly, hummed ‘Westering Home’, explained which friend / child / relative they were taking the poem for.

In the afternoon here at the library we donned pinnies, set the mood lighting to chintz and had a good brew with a fine spread of cakes, tarts and other delights (including cheese, inspired probably by G K Chesterton having said ‘Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese …) (with especial thanks to Aiko for the amazing cupcakes with cake-inspired poetry flags, and Twitter pal @NemesisRepublic for the chocolate cupcakes and and oranges and lemons cake, both pictured!). We read poems about home – this year’s National Poetry Day theme – the ones from this year’s postcard selection, others that folk had toted along especially, some they had penned upon the theme. The whole thing finished with a rousing rendition of Robertson’s ‘Westering Home’.

Our Lorna of education fame was on roving mic duty at Lockerbie Primary School’s GLOW workshop with poet Liz Niven. They communed with 1200 children in 40+ schools at final count in Fife, Shetland, Orkney, East and West Lothian, Ayrshire, Argyll & Bute,  and further and on.

And Robyn went to prison for the launch of The Poem Goes to Prison, an anthology that came out of a reading group run at HMP Barlinnie by Kate Hendry. Kate chose some Scottish poetry to look at with her reading group there, and they chose poems they liked – she then invited the poets into prison for a session talking to and reading with the prisoners, and then also commissioned a poem from them on the back of that. So the anthology is very much the prisoners’ choice, and includes work by Liz Lochhead, Vicki Feaver, James Robertson. It will be distributed in Scottish prisons.

What did you do? Anyone take Kona’s advice and sneak poetry upon the unsuspecting? Bake poetry onto a cake, like our pals at Poetry Digest? Help with the patchwork poem organised by North Carr Light? Attend a reading or event? Or simply hunker down with a nice cuppa and clear a space in the day for a poem? Your public wants to know!

Jane’s muffin/scone recipe

September 17, 2010

We’re not all about cakes here at the Scottish Poetry Library. Jane has just thrilled and delighted us with home made savoury muffins/scones (they’re a delicious symbiosis of both, blending the shape of a scone and a texture of a muffin. In case you were wondering). We’d show you a photo but only crumbs remain. Should you wish to make Jane’s muffins, simply follow the recipe below, adapted for veggies from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe in the Guardian!

Red onion, cheddar and chive muffins

These strong flavours work well together, but you can always play around with the combinations. Try spring onions instead of red and any strong cheese in place of the cheddar. Makes 12.

1 tsp oil
1 red onion, finely diced
250g wholemeal self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs
80g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
50ml milk
150ml plain natural yoghurt
1 tbsp finely chopped chives (optional)
150g strong cheddar, grated

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.

Warm the oil over a medium heat sauté the onion until just softened, about five minutes, then set aside to cool.

Thin the yoghurt with the milk.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. In a jug, whisk the eggs, butter and milky yoghurt, stir them into the flour mixture with a spatula until just combined, then fold in the cooled onion, chives, if using, and two-thirds of the cheese until just evenly distributed.

Spoon or scoop the mixture into the muffin tin, sprinkle on the rest of the cheese, and bake for about 18 minutes, until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

It’s been a while…

January 13, 2010

…since we last took a photograph of our afternoon tea.

Cake o’clock

October 29, 2009


Ali Bowden, fab doyenne at Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature provided. She decorated it with spiky white chocolate buttons. It used to read Carry a Poem, in deference to our Carry a Poem campaign – (newsflash!: cakes can carry poems too! We’d be thrilled to see any pastisserie treats you choose to adorn with poetry) – it doesn’t read that any more.

Lorraine Kelly sports Knitty Kitty's broochYou’ll see from earlier posts that we been busy! Yesterday being National Poetry Day brought goodies in the form of crafts, a Nothing But the Poem session, a Poems Aloud read-aloud, and our first poetry pub quiz

It also brought the launch of our Carry a Poem Campaign. We’ve been asking, canvassing and nagging you all to find out the poems you carry with you, and yesterday our site went live! You can read folks’ stories behind the poems they cherish, and find out how you can get involved. Lorraine Kelly told us her carryapoempoem was Burns’ ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That’ and we thought a nice way of illustrating the campaign would be to commission a brooch and see if she might wear it on GMTV! on National Poetry Day! And we did, and she did, and I can’t tell you how giddy and excited we were. There she is, smilingly above.

In other news: Robyn was in Lithuania facilitating a translation workshop. I have it on authority that she will tell us a bit about it, including the extreme cold and the interesting food, next week…

Brian Johnstone, poet and director of StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, held the Edinburgh launch of his ‘The Book of Belongings’ (Arc) on Wednesday night. What with accompaniment from his jazzing sidekicks Richard and Louise on sax and bass (the three star as Trio Verso in their native Fife) a great time was had by all. An interview with Brian on life and poetry will be appearing on your very screen in the not too distant…

Dave, Julie and I have just spent the better part of the afternoon stuffing envelopes full of events and A Model of Order programmes. Thankfully Lizzie was on hand with the Tea and Cake of Reward at the exact right moment.

On Wednesday, we bade a fond farewell to our book keeper of four years. All best, Jane!

In the next chapter of a Tale of Two Launches, we have Peter McCarey launching his epic online poetry project, the Syllabary here tomorrow (Saturday) night, and on Monday 12, Mariscat host the launch of One Bird Flying: Poems from the Great Road by Lesley Harrison. All welcome to either and both!

Happy weekend, poetry people. Till Monday, a little taster of our quiz… No googling!

Sports Round

1) Athletics: In which poem does Andrew Marvell make the claim that “though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run”?

2) Rugby: Which African-American spiritual, composed in 1862 by Wallis Willis, is now commonly associated with the England Rugby Union team?

3) Football: Which score is also the title of Don Paterson’s 1993 debut collection?

4) Tennis: Which American poet once dismissed free verse with the statement “I’d just as soon play tennis with the net down”? 

5) Swimming: Who swam across the Hellespont on May 3rd 1810, at the tender age of 22?

6) Fishing: Which classic T.S. Eliot poem features the mythological Fisher King?

Happenings 18

September 11, 2009

There’s cake in the building, so it must be Friday… it’s of the banana loaf variety.  We’re all a bit wary since reading the article in the Guardian this week on the dangers of eating biscuits (particularly killer custard creams). Not dangers of a dietary nature, but, they make you accident prone apparently. But fortunately for staff here, our favourite, the jaffa cake, comes out of the research as the least dangerous biscuit (cake).

It’s been a busy week here as usual. We’ve been packing up the Edwin Morgan Archive exhibition, Bawr Stretter!, to go off on a seven library tour of Dumfries & Galloway, starting with a stint at the Wigtown Book Festival.

Andrew Greig at the SPL

Andrew Greig at the SPL

We’ve also had the pleasure of having Andrew Greig in the library this week. Here he is comfortably reading his way through all the poetry published by Scottish poets in late 2008, and so far in 2009. He’s this year’s editor for the SPL’s online Best Scottish Poems. You’ll get to find out which 20 poems he has chosen in March.

Our Ivor Cutler exhibition is officially over, but we haven’t yet taken it down… so if you’re still feeling inclined, there’s still time. It’ll be up for another week yet. Unofficially and quietly. It’s been nice hearing the odd chuckles coming from visitors as they encounter him in the photos and on the dvd that’s playing. 

Dave’s been cataloguing lots of new CDs – they’ll be on the shelves soon. And I’ve been putting the finishing touches to the postcard for our A Model of Order concrete poetry exhibition and events extravaganza. Jane and Robyn have been putting the finishing touches to our Annual Report, and Lizzie has had her head deep in enquiries and research as usual. And we had a session for teachers this week to help them prepare for National Poetry Day.

Well, we’ll sign off there for this week. Happy weekends to all.


High tea

August 11, 2009

all the way from Devon

all the way from Devon

Today we enjoyed splendid fare: high tea, with clotted cream all the way from Devon. A very nice poet friend of the SPL popped in, and since one wouldn’t really chow clotted cream unaccompanied, he brought some scones and jam too. There is apparently a Japanese proverb that declares ‘If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty’. When 5 ladyfolk of the library have tea AND scones and clotted cream and jam, are they invincible?

Marth's biscuits Special mention to Peggy’s mother, who sent a parcel of biscuits for our afternoon tea all the way from Northern Ireland. Only a few didn’t survive the journey, and we’re tucking into the rest as we speak! Tasty oatcakes, how pleasing you are at 4.30pm on a muggy Tuesday afternoon. Hurrah for Marth!

Jaffa scandal at SPL

June 12, 2009


'They just don't taste quite right' - Dave Coates, 23 (above)

There was a mild disturbance among the employees at the Scottish Poetry Library today when librarian Julie Johnstone brought strawberry Jaffa cakes in for afternoon tea. Dave Coates (23, pictured) was the first to try the rogue cake/biscuit variant. He declared them to ‘not blend as well as Jaffa originals’ saying ‘they taste a bit funny’. Julie, didn’t like them at all, agreeing with Jane that they tasted like the horrible Quality Streets left over on Boxing Day that nobody likes but everybody eats.

‘The taste was just not right; not what you’d expect of a Jaffa, more like Turkish Delight’, one spokesperson, who wishes to remain nameless, stated. A commenter on Facebook told Our Sweet Old Etc, via a Facebook comment, that ‘as the custodians of language, poets should strenuously resist this insidious travesty’ [making a mockery of the name Jaffa by flavouring it with strawberry]. Lizzie MacGregor was unavailable for comment, though one witness claims she ate two. The investigation continues.

Fact Box

The largest strawberry ever grown weighed 8.17 ounces, that’s 231g.
Strawberries are the only fruit with seeds on the outside
The word strawberry comes from Old English words ‘Steowberie’ or ‘Streowbelige’.
There are no known poems written about Jaffa cakes.

It is with a degree of trepidation that I cross the threshold of the library today… because I am carrying a packet of STRAWBERRY jaffa cakes. Things could go badly wrong at Friday tea-break-time. They are surely going to be in the category of things are are just not quite right.

Maybe? Maybe not? The strawberry jaffa cake.

Maybe? Maybe not? The strawberry jaffa cake.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with strawberries. Edwin Morgan gets it absolutely right in his poem ‘Strawberries‘ – right down to that perfect last line: ‘let the storm wash the plates’. (We have lovely free postcards of this poem by the way – drop in to get some or we can post them to you.)

Dare I say that a good poem is like an original jaffa cake (orange), and that a not-so-good one is maybe (they’ve yet to be tasted of course) more like a strawberry jaffa cake. Some poems are just perfect – all the ingredients blend together to create something greater than the sum, something that lingers in the mind for ages. Others just don’t. Those good poems – happy accidents? Or more likely incredible skill hiding behind apparent simplicity.

Last lines – are they the hardest part of the poem to get right? Poets out there, tell us please. The challenge of bringing a poem to a close, yet quietly leaving it open for the reader. I’m reminded of the story of Robert Frost and the ending of his poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’. I hope I’ve not imagined this – correct me if I’m wrong. But I believe he was writing the poem and didn’t know how to end it, so just to fill the space of the last line of the last stanza temporarily he repeated the third line of that stanza: ‘And miles to go before I sleep.’ But somehow that sounded right, and he never did change it. And how could it be any other way now?

We’ll let you know how the strawberry jaffa cakes tasted later maybe…