Read Aloud

October 7, 2011


Last night Read Aloud (a project with Edinburgh City Libraries and SPL) won the Get Up and Go Awards category for ‘products or services that make a difference’ to older people in Edinburgh. Huzzah to Lilias, Annie Bell from the Edinburgh City Libraries and all the volunteers! Below, Lilias explains more about the project.

We know how much pleasure people can have from hearing and recognising poems; lines and phrases seem to be hardwired into the brain, and remembered long after other things are difficult to recall. Annie Bell works at Edinburgh libraries, and she wanted to set up some way to bring the pleasure of reading to people who can’t borrow and read books themselves, particularly elderly residents of local carehomes.  So about a year ago, we sat down together and started to figure out what the Scottish Poetry Library and Edinburgh City Libraries would need to begin reading in carehomes.

A few months later, we had the active support and interest of our colleagues, and of three carehomes willing to try a visit once a month for three months.  We had a choice of different kinds of poems about gardens and flowers, and things like flowers and big fat runner bean seeds and some stalks of lavender for people to hold or smell or see. And we arrived at the first carehome, looked at each other thoughtfully, and rang the bell.

Since the first visit, we’ve been in no doubt that reading poems and talking is A Good Thing to do. Care workers note that some residents who are normally quite detached can suddenly respond to a few lines of a poem or even recite verse after verse, word-perfect.  Some residents like to add their own memories:  we pick poems to a theme that we hope will provide plenty of reminiscence, like Hallowe’en or Days Out or Growing Up in Edinburgh.   Some residents just like to hear poems that sound good.  Moods change, health varies:  I’ve had somebody shouting, ‘I’m no havin’ this! I’m awa hame!’, and somebody hold my hand to stop us leaving;  Leith ladies teaching me risqué playground rhymes, tips on how to fake a tan stocking, and often somebody murmuring ‘I’ve not heard that since I was..’.

After three months, we were ready to ask for a few volunteers; we were cautious about taking on many people to start, realising we would like to support volunteers as well as we could.  We currently have ten extraordinarily well-suited volunteers, who go out in pairs accompanied by a staff member to five homes.  The only apparent limit to how many volunteers we can take on is just how fast we can reasonably grow. Their company makes a huge difference to how many homes we will ultimately be able to visit, and to how much pleasure each listener can get from listening and talking. It’s early days. But a Good Thing? Leaving a carehome at the end of a session, it often like The Best Thing I’ve done all month.

If you would like to find out more about volunteering to Read Aloud in Edinburgh carehomes, please contact Lilias Fraser at the Scottish Poetry Library,, or Annie Bell at the Edinburgh City Libraries, or 0131 242 8046.



Prizes: a round up!

May 30, 2011

The Breakfast Room (Bloodaxe) by Stewart Conn has scooped the poetry award of the  Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Awards, in partnership with Creative Scotland. Stewart’s collection was one of four long-listed titles: Eddie Gibbons – What They Say About You (Leamington Books)Kei Miller – A Light Song of Light (Carcanet) and Robin Robertson – The Wrecking Light (Picador). As one of the four category winners, Stewart receives £5000. One of these books will be crowned Scottish Book of the Year, giving the author a total prize of £30,000. The overall winner will be decided by a public vote: have your say!

Anna Crowe‘s Figure in Landscape won the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award from a shortlist of six pamphlets, with publisher Hamish Whyte of Mariscat Press accepting a cheque for £750. The publisher also holds the Callum Macdonald Quaich for 12 months. Anna will be the Michael Marks Poet in Residence at the prestigious Harvard Center for two weeks in July. The residency is a new prize this year for the poet of the winning pamphlet in the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award. Runner up JoAnne McKay was awarded a cheque for £250 for her self-published pamphlet Venti.

The winners of the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets 2011 will be announced at a reading and awards ceremony at the British Library on 13 June 2011. Tickets are now on sale from the British Library box office, here or in person from the British Library main building at St Pancras.

The seven short-listed pamphlets chosen from over 100 entries are:
Neil AddisonApocapulco (Salt)
Simon ArmitageThe Motorway Service Station as a Destination in its Own Right (Smith/Doorstop Books)
Sean Burn, mo thunder (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press)
Olive BroderickDarkhaired (Templar)
Ralph Hawkins, Happy Whale Fat Smile (Oystercatcher)
James McGonigal, Cloud Pibroch (Mariscat)
Sophie Robinson, The Lotion (Oystercatcher)

And the five short-listed publishers are:
The Crater Press
Kater Murr’s Press
The Knives, Forks and Spoons Press
Mariscat Press
Roncadora Press

Congrats to Stewart and Anna, and good luck to all involved in the Michael Marks Awards!

Having noted the tiny number of subscribers to Ambit Magazine in Scotland, following the celebration of the 200th issue at the CCA Writers’ Centre in Glasgow last Thursday, HappenStance publisher Helena Nelson has cooked up a plan to give them a helping hand: she’s giving away three subscriptions for free, which would increase the subscriber base in Scotland by 60% overnight.

You should read Nell’s full post on the HappenStance blog, but in short:

“If you live or work here, and you’re reading this, email me ( with up to 150 words about yourself and why you’d like a gift subscription. You don’t have to apply as an individual. I’m particularly interested in members of reading or writing groups, who might read and pass round a copy.”

Yesterday the Forward Prize and the first ever Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry short lists were announced:

Forward Best Collection (10,000):

Seamus HeaneyHuman Chain (Faber)

Lachlan MackinnonSmall Hours (Faber)

Sinead MorrisseyThrough the Square Window (Carcanet)

Robin RobertsonThe Wrecking Light (Picador)

Fiona SampsonRough Music (Carcanet)

Jo ShapcottOf Mutability (Faber)

Best first collection (£5,000):

Christian CampbellRunning the Dusk (Peepal Tree Press)

Hilary MenosBerg (Poetry Wales Press)

Abegail MorleyHow to Pour Madness into a Teacup (Cinnamon Press)

Helen OswaldLearning Gravity (tall lighthouse)

Steve SpenceA Curious Shipwreck (Shearsman)

Sam WillettsNew Light for the Old Dark (Jonathan Cape)

The best single poem award (£1,000):

Kate Bingham – ‘On Highgate Hill’

Julia Copus – ‘An Easy Passage’

Lydia Fulleylove – ‘Night Drive’

Chris Jones – ‘Sentences’

Ian Pindar – ‘Mrs Beltinska in the Bath’

Lee Sands – ‘The Reach’

The winners will be announced on Wednesday 6 October – the day before National Poetry day – in London

Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry (£1,000)

Anne BerkeleyThe Men from Praga (Salt)

Sian HughesThe Missing (Salt)

Lorraine MarinerFurniture (Picador)

Tom MathewsThe Owl and the Pussycat (Dedalus)

Andrew PhilipThe Ambulance Box (Salt)

The winners will be announced during the British and Irish Contemporary Poetry Conference being held in Belfast on 15 – 17 September

Edwin Morgan wrote in his poem ‘At Eighty‘ ‘Unknown is best’. And so it may be for the winners of this year’s Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition 2010; though their names have been published – in alphabetical order – details of placing won’t be revealed until the now annual prize-giving event and reading at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, this year on Wednesday 18 August at 7pm.

In with a chance of bagging first prize of £5000 and lesser prizes of £1000, £500 and £50 (x 2), the winners are:

Fiona Benson is an Anglo-Scottish writer who currently lives in Exeter with her husband James. Some of her work was anthologised in Addicted to Brightness and her pamphlet is Faber New Poets 1. You can read Fiona’s poem ‘Unaccompanied’ on our Best Scottish Poems 2007, chosen by Alan Spence.

Marianne Burton was awarded a year’s mentorship by the poetry magazine Smiths Knoll and the resulting pamphlet, The Devil’s Cut, was a Poetry Book Society Choice. She has been widely published in the UK, US and South Africa, and earlier this year won second prize in the TLS poetry competition. Her first full collection is forthcoming from Seren.

Abigail Curtis teaches at York St John University. Her poetry collection Unexpected Weather won Salt Publishing’s Crashaw Prize and was published in 2009.

Susan Grindley has had poems published in many online and printed magazines including Limelight, Nth Position, Magma and Rising and also in the anthology Gobby Deegan’s Riposte (Donut Press), for which she wrote the title poem. She is a landscape architect and lives with her husband in Hackney, London.

A.B. Jackson was born in Glasgow, raised in Cheshire and Fife, and studied English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. His first book, Fire Stations, was published by Anvil Press in 2003, and won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection that year. Donut Press will publish a limited edition pamphlet, Apocrypha, in October 2010.  He works for the NHS in Glasgow.

Richard Lambert was born in London. He has a poetry pamphlet, The Magnolia published by The Rialto, and this year won first prize in the Yorkshire Poetry Competition and in the Kent & Sussex Poetry Competition, and was runner-up in the Wigtown Poetry Competition. He is currently doing the MA in Creative Writing in Fiction at UEA.

Nick MacKinnon is a teacher of Maths and English at Winchester College. He spent his teenage years in Ardrishaig on the long finger of land that points at Ireland which is made into an island by the Crinan canal. He was runner up in the 2009 Bridport Prize and a major prizewinner in the 2007 and 2008 McLellan Festivals and the 2009 Plough, Hippocrates and tall-lighthouse competitions.

The competition is organised by Vital Synz and sponsored by the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the University of Strathclyde.

Last night the winners of the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets were announced at a readings and award ceremony at the British Library. Selima Hill won the Michael Marks Poetry Award for her pamphlet Advice on Wearing Animal Prints, while Scottish press HappenStance won the Michael Marks Publishers’ Award.

Chair of the judges Ali Smith commended the winners, saying “Selima Hill’s Advice on Wearing Animal Prints is a courageous work; startling, strange and unforgettable, it’s a piece of disciplined wildness which grows in power with each re-read.” She admired HappenStance for “the elegance, thoughtfulness and clarity of their design, and the infectious interaction, open-mindedness and energy of their publishing ethos.”

Both winners, selected from over 150 entries, were presented with a cheque for £5,000 by Lady Marks.

We want to offer our warm congratulations to all shortlisted candidates and both winners, and are particularly delighted for Helena Nelson, HappenStance founder and publisher, and long time supporter of the work of the SPL and the poetry of others. Just last week we were pleased to play a part in a successful and rousing 5th birthday party for HappenStance here in the library. Above is the impressive cake!

Judges in the 10th Callum Macdonald Memorial Award praised the standard of 41 pamphlets they have seen from across Scotland. The 7 shortlisted entries show ‘a spirit of adventure in every aspect’, said Tessa Ransford OBE, widow of literary publisher Callum Macdonald.

The winner and two runners-up will be announced at a ceremony at the National Library of Scotland on Wednesday 19 May. The shortlist is:

Hugh Bryden of Roncondra Press, who is one of the judges, won the competition last year. The award is supported by the Michael Marks Charitable Trust.

You can see Tom Pow’s in residency with his Dying Villages project and exhibition here at the SPL from tomorrow, Thursday 22 April, 12 – 4pm.

Our latest podcast went live. It features Literary Editor for the Scotland on Sunday, author and cultural commentator Stuart Kelly chatting with our Ryan. They discuss the poet John Berryman and muse upon the current state of modern poetry, its future, the purpose of the critic and chew the literary cud.



The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry shortlist has been announced:

Jackie Kay for Maw Broon Monologues (performed at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow). A full-length performance combining rhythmic verse, music and theatre.

Dannie Abse for New Selected Poems 1949-2009: Anniversary Collection (published by Hutchinson 2009). A celebration of the 60th anniversary of Dannie Abse’s first collection After Every Green Thing.

Paul Farley for Field Recordings: BBC Poems (1998-2008) (published by Donut Press 2009). This work brings together Farley’s broadcast poetry for the BBC over a ten-year period.

John Glenday for Grain (published by Picador 2009). Fourteen years in the making Grain is at times delicately lyrical and at times playful or surreal.

Alice Oswald for Weeds and Wild Flowers (published by Faber and Faber 2009). This is a magical meeting of the visionary poems of Alice Oswald and the darkly beautiful etchings of Jessica Greenman.

Chris Agee for Next To Nothing (published by Salt Publishing 2009). Next to Nothing records the years following the death of a beloved child in 2001.

Andrew Motion for The Cinder Path (published by Faber and Faber 2009). Motion’s collection offers a spectrum of lyrics, love poems and elegies all exploring how people cope with threats to and in the world around them.

The winner will be announced at a prize giving ceremony in London on the 30 March. The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry seeks to recognise excellence in poetry, highlighting outstanding contributions made by poets to our cultural life. Members of the Poetry Society or the Poetry Book Society are invited to nominate a living UK poet, working in any form, who has made the most exciting contribution to poetry in the past 12 months. The £5,000 prize has been donated by Carol Ann Duffy, funded from the annual honorarium which the Poet Laureate traditionally receives from H M the Queen.

Now in its second year, the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets, run by the Poetry Book Society and the British Library, will be accepting submissions from 1st February 2010.

There are two awards worth £5,000; the Poetry Award recognises an outstanding work of poetry published in pamphlet form in 2009, and the Publishers’ Award is for a publisher to reward their endeavours in promoting poetry pamphlets in 2009.

The judges this year are Ali Smith (Chair), Richard Price and Jo Shapcott.

Please visit the Poetry Bookshop Online website at or email for further information including submission guidelines and forms. The submission deadline is 12 March 2010.

Robyn muses upon the Costas

January 27, 2010

So four poetry collections have won the Costa – formerly the Whitbread – Book of the Year and oddly, except for Heaney’s Beowulf, they’ve all been written by husbands about their late wives: Douglas Dunn’s Elegies, Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters, and now Christopher Reid’s A Scattering. I think it’s because the narrative of human relationships in these books is one that novel-readers are comfortable with; the subject is immediate, heart-rending, intimate. The awards are for ‘the most enjoyable books’; Josephine Hart, Chair of the judges, said that Reid’s collection is ‘a devastating piece of work and all of us on the jury felt it was a book we would wish everybody to read’.  In these books, the poets make of distressing subject matter, the most personal of experiences, something that wakes recognition and a kind of comfort in a wide range of readers. We’re not taken out of ourselves, but more deeply into ourselves, to a place of chaos and dread (and inadvertent humour, sometimes) that becomes, in the poet’s words, a place where these feelings are articulated and ordered. Elegies remains one of the most borrowed books in the library. Perhaps A Scattering will contain a poem that you’ll want to keep close and carry.

~ Robyn