Peripatetic poets

September 15, 2010

Poets are peripatetic – that’s my conclusion this month, anyway. I’m reading with great pleasure Gerry Loose’s blog from his temporary perch in Finland. Gerry Cambridge is setting off for Vilnius, where he’ll meet up with Lise Sinclair from Shetland, and the others from Iceland and Lithuania who make up ‘the berserkers’, a group formed from the impetus of the multilingual music/translation workshop at Crear in 2008. They’ll play in Vilnius and Riga to celebrate the launch of their CD, Under the evening sky, of which a limited number of copies will be available from the SPL next month. We’ll hope to air some tracks on our podcast.

Meanwhile, I’m in sunny Bratislava with a group of poets under the aegis of Literature Across Frontiers: Nuduran Duman (Turkey), Giorgios Chantzis (Greece), Elena Hidveghyova-Yung (Slovakia), Zaza Koshkadze (Georgia), Tom Pow (Scotland) and Richard Gwyn (Wales). The sessions have been as much master-classes in writing as translation sessions; the younger poets have benefitted enormously from the teaching poets’ experience – and I have, too. Sometimes the poets are asked to say nothing as we discuss their poems, sometimes they are asked to explain every last detail – indeed, Tom and I took to the floor to demonstrate ‘reel’ as it appeared in his poem. Today a producer from Slovak radio is coming to record them for her programme ‘Babylon’: yesterday I spoke on that programme, following a recording by  Armenian-African musicians… amidst these various voices, the clang of the trams and the pealing of bells at regular intervals, poems are being changed and exchanged. And the citizens of Bratislava will have a chance to hear the results at the Panta Rhei bookshop on Friday 17th at 5. The SPL pops up in unexpected places!

– Robyn

by Lizzie MacGregor

A lengthy downtime of our internet connection set me to clearing out old folders and papers, and I was fascinated to read through again the search history of an enquiry I first received by letter in 1996.

A lady from Perthshire doing a spot of family history had heard of a poem connected with her great-grandfather, who was dispatch rider to Queen Victoria, and who took the news of the fall of Sevastopol to Balmoral: ‘A horseman rides at dead of night / through the forest braes of Mar…’. We failed to find the poem in 1996.

In 2000 we were asked for it again, by a library in Northern Ireland, and though shaking off confusion with the rather more famous lines ‘The standard on the braes o’ Mar / is up and streaming rarely’, still failed to find it.

In 2006 we heard from Northern Ireland again, from a gentleman whose family had some lines of it as handed down by a grandmother who had first learned the lines at school in Antrim in the early 1900s. This time we first contacted the Royal libraries, and then called in Aberdeenshire Libraries, where the local history department came up with several mentions of the poem, and at last, an author. I was able to rush up to the National Library of Scotland, find the book, copy the poem, and send it off with a flourish to our enquirer. (For your edification, the title is ‘The Bonfire at Craig-gowan’, and it’s by William Shand Daniel.)

I was laying bets with myself that the whole rigmarole would be unnecessary in 2010, as the thing could possibly be found on Google, so as soon as our internet connection went live again I was on it, and sure enough, eventually scored a hit. And why would someone at school in Antrim in 1903 be learning a (not incredibly good) Scottish poem about the ride to take Queen Victoria news of the progress of the Crimean War? I had guessed it would be because it had been included in a school reader of ‘improving’ verse, and I was right – there it is, now digitised by – well, you know who.

And although one question was solved in 2006 with the finding of the poem, another had been thrown up: in the copy of the local newspaper report of the event that Aberdeenshire libraries kindly sent us, the person named as the  conveyor of the news to Her Majesty was the manager of the Deeside Railway and Telegraph – not the dispatch-rider whose glorious deed has gone down in the family history of our very first enquirer. But that, thankfully, is not a problem for us to solve. Enough to know that the beacon was lit, the bells were rung, people gathered and joyfully sang the national anthem at midnight as the Queen stood in the doorway of her palace listening, and Prince Albert ordered the crowd to be ‘handsomely regaled with refreshments’.

Wanna be Clydebuilt?

May 18, 2010

Today is the start of the recruitment for this year’s Clydebuilt poetry Apprenticeship Scheme run by St Mungo’s Mirrorball and Glasgow City Council.

This is a scheme which provides free mentoring from an experienced poet for 4 aspiring poets looking to bring out their first full collection. The scheme is now in its fourth year and has a growing reputation. Poets “graduating” from the programme have gone to be showcased in national poetry festivals, read on Radio 3 and won a number of prizes.

All the entry details are attached and the closing date for entries is Friday 25th June.

To be eligible to be an apprentice you cannot be involved in any other writing course or receiving any other structured writing support as of September 2010 and you should not yet have brought out a full length poetry collection.

If you are interested in applying to be one of the four apprentices what we would like from you is the following:

  • Full contact details
  • A brief biography of your writing career to date
  • 5 poems as typical examples of your work
  • A statement of your short term and long term poetry goals
  • An outline of what you hope to achieve from the support over the next 12 months
  • A clear indication of the time commitment you are able to give both in terms of writing and attendance at the tutorial programme

Then send the submission to Clydebuilt – The Verse Apprenticeship Scheme, Heathfield, Horsewood Road, Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire PA11 3AU or e-mail it to | St Mungo’s Mirrorball website

Books most borrowed

February 9, 2010

In 2003, the list of our books most borrowed ran thus:

  1. Iain Crichton Smith
  2. Edwin Morgan
  3. Ted Hughes
    Norman MacCaig
  4. Pablo Neruda
  5. Robert Burns
  6. Sorley MacLean
    Kenneth White
  7. Liz Lochhead
  8. Carol Ann Duffy
    Douglas Dunn
    Kathleen Jamie
  9. Stewart Conn
    Seamus Heaney
  10. Hugh MacDiarmid

Back then, we noted that ‘old friends Iain Crichton Smith and Edwin Morgan are always in the top ten, and change places this year as Crichton Smith is the most borrowed poet for 2003.’ and ‘Pablo Neruda in at number 4, edging ahead of Robert Burns, and Ted Hughes is as popular as Norman MacCaig, at number 3.’

A quick glance at the report for most borrowed books since our circulation system went automatic in late 2006 reveals that the most borrowed book during that time has been Carol Ann Duffy’s Rapture. The most borrowed anthology is Staying Alive. Edwin Morgan’s Collected is still hovering near the top, and Seamus Heaney and John Burnside are pipped at the post by Sharon Olds, whose Selected Poems is the second most borrowed title, not far ahead of Jackie Kay and Jen Hadfield. Old favourites George Mackay Brown, Robert Fergusson and W S Graham are still up there. A more detailed report to follow on more detailed investigation! Certainly lovely to see our own Handfast given a fair few outings, too.

Poetry Reader-tastic

January 6, 2010

Just in from the cold and hot off the press, our Poetry Reader, Issue 6, Winter 2010! Hand-delivered by our bewellingtoned printer, Jamie, it features the usual smattering of goodies, including Reprints and Revivals (a wishlist for those books that have fallen out of print),  by Aldeburgh Poetry Prize winner 2009 J O Morgan, and a piece on the sonnet by Rachael Boast. Also a round up of our forthcoming events, Signs and Wonders by our Robyn, and a closer look at the librarian’s desk by Lizzie MacGregor. Best of all, it’s free!

Poems Aloud Christmas style!

December 16, 2009

Traditionally speaking, we have come to expect a merry band of 5 or 6 people to our Poems Aloud sessions. Traditionally speaking, I rope dulcet Dave and Ryan into reading, and by and by, a few folk will be cajoled into browsing and sharing. They’re always very lovely events, a chance to just enjoy poems aloud in the company of other listeners.

And so 3pm yesterday came, and with it our Christmas Poems Aloud. We put on the fairy lights and boiled the kettle, hustled a few chairs into a semi-circle and awaited the plucky few to join us. Only yesterday, 25 people showed up! The semi-circle became a throng: Dave kicked off, Ryan read one, and thereafter there was no stopping the flow of Christmas poems, cheery and otherwise. The tea had to wait till the end, till the mob dissipated and the tea ladies could make their way through the thirsty. We have no idea why this session captured the imaginations of the many: was it because of Christmas? Because of poetry? Or because, as Ryan claims, they were lured here on false promise of mulled wine…

Rab’s RSVP

December 2, 2009

It’s that time of year when we send out invitations to our wee Christmas soirée. Today, our poet of the month for December, Rab Wilson conveyed his apologies in grand poetical style. We enjoyed it so much that we felt we should share. Rab was more than happy to oblige.

Alas! alack! ah’m writin back,
Tae say ah’d luve tae hear yer craic,
But sadly, ah am in demand,
An ither forays hae bin planned,
That nicht ah’ll be doun in Dumfries –
Whaur cultural ploys they nevir cease!
Twa ither chiels that nicht wull profit
(nemmly Riach an Sandy Moffat!)
Frae Rab’s artistic patronage
(Ma Scottish twang is aa the rage!)
An ah’ll be steept in arty maitters,
Bi makars spoutin clishmaclavers!
But thenk ye fir yer kind invite,
Neist year ah’ll try an pit things right.
Fir nou, ah raise ma virtual glass,
Tae Diamond Lil an aa the staff!