The Edinburgh International Book Festival is here and our August will never be the same again! There’s plenty of poetry events that we can’t wait to get stuck into, and the first of the lot was last night’s ‘Poems from Small Islands’ event, the showcase of the now annual Crear / Literature Across Frontiers / SPL translation workshop [here’s a piece Robyn wrote about Crear from our Poetry Reader issue 6]. This year, the participating poets all come from ‘small islands’: Miriam Gamble is from Northern Ireland; Adrian Grima from Malta; Maria Rosa Llabrés Ripoll lives in Palma, Majorca; Jenan Selçuk lives in Famagusta, Cyprus and Ian Stephen in Lewis, Stornoway (when he’s not at sea).


The story of their week was unfolded through this dialogue via poems. We started by hearing Miriam’s translation of Adrian’s ‘Andrew Dreams of Catherine Wheels’; heard Adrian read his translation of ‘;’ by Miriam; Maria Rosa read her translation of Ian’s poem, ‘Baptist Church (Abandoned)’ and Jenan read his attempt at translating Miriam’s challenging poem ‘The Flaying of Marsyas’ (‘it nearly killed him’, Miriam told us). And so wonderfully on – a journey through their week, free-wheeling between Catalan, English, Turkish and Maltese.

It was a lovely evening, many of the poems prefaced with an explanation of the process: the difficulty of gendered words; the challenge of uncharted subject material; how some of the translations cleaved more closely to the original than others. One poem, Adrian’s poem for Abder, became ‘The Sea Swell’ in Ian’s hands, and many stanzas shorter in Miriam’s version, owing to the tradition of the compact Northern Irish lyric.

Miriam articulated her feelings on the complexities of translation: ‘it’s not the original poem, but not a freed poem either. It falls somewhere between the lines.’ Robyn closed by saying that she appreciated it was challenging to listen to an hour of poetry in an unknown tongue, but that she hoped the audience had revelled in the music of language. We certainly did.

This morning, we partook of coffee, croissant and an hour in the splendid company of John Glenday at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. This event is part of the strand we assisted Don Paterson in programming, and the afore-mentioned was on hand to introduce the event and lob a few well aimed questions John’s way at the end.

Don admitted it was ‘a relief to be able to stop talking about John as poetry’s best kept secret’, in light of his recent brilliantly received collection Grain (Picador), 14 years after Undark (1995) which succeeded his first, The Apple Ghost (1989) (both Peterloo). Don, John’s editor at Picador, spoke warmly of John, saying his fastidiousness is legendary, and laughed about emails bearing the subject line ‘Glenday writes new poem shocker!’. He commended the skill and imaginative daring that went into these poems that were ‘so well-made’.

John read mostly from Grain, though sprinkled a few oldies from his previous collections in there (‘finding an old poem in the middle of the reading like one of those old tired jokes from a Christmas cracker’, though certainly not for the audience). He read the delightful ‘Tin’, a love poem, inspired by the fact that “the can opener was invented/ forty-eight years after the tin can”. He read about Orkney in ‘A Westray Prayer’, about giving things a name, about ugly fishes – because ‘ugly fishes have more depth’ – ‘I love you as I love the Hatchetfish,/ the Allmouth, the Angler’. He spoke about a self-confessed lack of imagination, it being a ‘terrible burden for a poet because it means you actually have to start looking at things.’ Then he read us the fruits of his lookings – those ‘overlooked saints’ of ‘St Orage’, ‘St Eadfast and St Alwart’, ‘St Agger of the drunken brawling praise’, life seen backwards in ‘A Fairy Tale’ his parents re-seen in his poetry. On the topic of his parents he said, ‘My mother put the words in the poem, my father put the silences. She’s the clockwork. He’s the spring.’ We are glad that in ‘the matter of life and death’ that it was to not let anyone know that you are writing poetry in Monifieth in 1963, that John prevailed.

You can hear more from John on our podcast.

Hens at work. By Flickr user Escarião under a Creative Commons license

One event that we’re really looking forward to at the Edinburgh International Book Festival is on Tuesday 17 August at 3:30pm, when Douglas Dunn and Mandy Haggith will remember Norman MacCaig.

2010 is the year of MacCaig’s centenary, so we’re taking more than usual pleasure in celebrating him and his unique contribution to Scottish literature. Douglas Dunn, poet and friend, will be joined by Mandy Haggith, poet and founder of Top Left Corner – acknowledging MacCaig’s love of Assynt – for readings and fond reminiscence. It’s also chaired by our own Lilias Fraser.

Here’s a wee mouth-watering snippet from our Poetry Reader issue 7 (originally from Alan Taylor’s interview with him in the Sunday Herald), as Seamus Heaney (another of this year’s participants) remembers his first encounter with MacCaig’s work:

As (Heaney) has recalled, his first encounter with MacCaig’s work was his poem ‘Summer Farm’ (“Straws like tame lightnings lie about the grass/And hang zigzag on hedges”). Such images, he thought, were simply brilliant. “A unique continuum of wiliness and sensuousness. The minimal and the dotty (‘A hen stares at nothing with one eye,/Then picks it up’) transposed into a metaphysical key.”

ScottishPower Studio Theatre | £10 / £8

Are Friends Electric?

August 10, 2010

On Sunday 15th August, Peggy of SPL communications officerdom (speaking, m’lud!) will be chairing an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The event is called Are Friends Electric? and the blurb runs thus:

Biologists have claimed we can only deal with a certain number of close friendships. Facebook’s 400 million active users average 130 friends each. Twitter averages 50 million tweets a day. With this much information and this many people, are we emotionally and personally connected, or just sharing information? Join Jason Bradbury, Gadget Show host and one of the world’s most influential Twitterati, and Mariann Hardey, social media researcher and blogger extraordinaire, for interactive chat. #mustsee.

Supported by ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum, in association with The Skinny, this event is an exciting chance to discuss and debate the impact of social media. Here at the SPL, in the last few years, we have whole heartedly embraced social media developments available to us, so perhaps we are biased about the positive results it can have; we’re able to bring people and poetry together on a global scale, and that has to be a good thing!

But what do you think. Are friends electric? Do you feel that you have more than one online persona? Can you really be friends with someone you’ve only met online? We’d love to have your feedback before the event, electric friends! You can comment here, or join in on Twitter: please make sure you speak to us by using the hashtag #electricfriends.

The Signet Library was alive with the sound of excited chit chat, tangy raspberry mocktails and tiny breakfast canapés this morning, for the launch of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Julie, Robyn and I were in attendance for the unveiling of this year’s programme, the first under the directorship of Nick Barley. We’re incredibly excited to be involved again this year, having assisted Don Paterson in his guest selection of a poetry strand. Participating poets include Seamus Heaney, Jackie Kay, John Stammers, Sinead Morrisey, John Glenday and many more. And what with the mini-festival within a festival, Unbound, there’ll be music, poetry and story at night – every night, for free! – in the rouged embrace of the Highland Park Spiegeltent. The programme for Unbound will be released in 3 weeks time in collaboration with the Skinny.

If you haven’t picked up your paper programme, you can drop in and get one from us, or download it online. Get circling and get deciding! What’s your hot ticket? And for those of you unable to make it, we’ll be blogging the poetry strand right here. August, come hither!