On Burns’ Night, at its base in The Writers’ Museum, Scottish PEN celebrated its ninetieth year. Councillor Lewis welcomed everyone, President Carl MacDougall gave a short speech and I had the honour to unveil the simple, but effective plaque and read a specially commissioned poem. There was a beautiful cake for us all to enjoy, emblazoned with the words Liberty, Language, Literature.
I spent an interesting morning recently with some staff from the Waste and Cleansing Department. Here’s a poem which touches on their day to day work.
Pupils at Currie, Nether Currie and Juniper Green Primary Schools wrote hundreds of little poems about their streets for several lovely displays in the local area as part of the Pentlands Book Festival. It is hoped some of them will appear on the computer-based map of earlier ‘Tweets’.
I rashly accepted an invitation from Professor Tariq Muneer of the Transport Research Institute at Napier University to read a few poems at their Electric Car Event on 12th October. A hall full of engineers and motor enthusiasts was a novel experience for me, but I found them to be a receptive audience. One poem even had the word ‘car’ and ‘throttle’ in it!
Reading can take us to places even beyond our dreams! On 5th October the Scottish Book Trust launched an ambitious programme of events for Book Week Scotland which this year will run from 21 to 27 November. It was fun to be part of the launch with other authors.
Look out for free books and for events near you!
Having missed Edinburgh’s Riding of the Marches last Autumn I was delighted to witness all the pageantry of this spectacle. It took place on Sunday 11th September. About 250 horses riding up the Royal Mile behind the Lord Provost and a pipe band was a sight worth seeing! I hope this poem captures some of the history of the event we enjoy today.
Raising the Blue Blanket
Edinburgh’s Riding of the Marches
It’s quite a spectacle these days: all those horses clattering
up the Royal Mile; pipes and flags and banners waving.
No need now to check the corners of our common land,
inspect our borders. But good to keep alive the memory
of earlier times: swathes of young men who fell at Flodden;
their long spears didn’t save them. Safe oot but not safe in.
And of the men who formed the Trades and Guilds, built
the city. Led by baillies, they rode out to mark boundaries:
the Barber-Surgeons with their razors and their lances,
the Goldsmiths – assaying, marking quality;
the Incorporation of Hammermen – you wouldn’t mess
with armourers and sword-makers! Horse-shoes and harness
were also their domain. Wrights and Masons – all
the building trades; even Upholsterers were there.
And Skinners, Furriers, Hatmakers: curing, tanning,
stitching, fashioning; attesting all their skills.
The Tailors must have cut a dash: a long apprenticeship
before they joined their Guild. Baxters guaranteed the flour,
Fleshers had to demonstrate a grizzly competence,
the Cordiners, their shoes. Websters, Bonnetmakers
and Dyers are still around and Candlemakers have
once more lit their flame, been recognised again.
In the past, Guilds had their Council Deacons;
and with their Chaplains, Charters, Seals of Cause,
Coats of Arms and banners it was a heady mix.
See them riding out and you’d be impressed!
They still take pride in their vocation, hone their skills.
Their boundaries are only what they set themselves.
They ride out recessions, harness new ideas,
mark out new territories of trade, intimidate no one.
So we, in good heart, salute them at the Mercat Cross.
Let’s raise again the old Blue Blanket and a glass!
The Poetry Association of Scotland & The Muriel Spark Society
the 2016 John Masefield Lecture
MISTRESS OF UNEASE : THE POETRY OF MURIEL SPARK
by Stewart Conn
Wednesday 14 September 2016 at the Scottish Poetry Library,
5 Crichton’s Close,
Edinburgh EH8 8DT
Tickets at the door (£5 or £4 concessions). Wine reception from 6.30 – 7 pm. The talk will begin at 7 pm.
Gearing up for an EIBF event on Sunday 21st August with Edinburgh’s previous Makar, Ron Butlin and Professor James Loxley of Edinburgh University. James chaired the event skilfully and we read poems from Sir Walter Scott to Muriel Spark, from Stewart Conn to Angus Calder and from Robert Garioch to Valerie Gillies, as well as a few of our own. Surprising how many folk are ready for a poem first thing on a Sunday morning!
We had a delightful evening on 18th August at the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award event at the 2016 Edinburgh International Book Festival. The winner was Penny Boxall and the runner up was Miriam Nash. Congratulations are due to all six who were short-listed. The others were Claire Askew, Sophie Collins, Harry Giles and Stewart Sanderson. The judges – who had had a tough job deciding – were Jackie Kay and Stewart Conn.
Edinburgh-born artist Eduardo Paolozzi attended Leith Walk Primary School. The children there responded to his art with a striking playground mural, reflecting his styles and themes. Encouraged by Dr Carlo Pirozzi, I recently wrote a poem about their mural and, on Monday 20th June, handed it over to their head teacher Ms Anne Houliston. I was accompanied by Carlo and by Paolozzi’s sister, Yolanda.