Edinburgh Makar

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Edinburgh Alphabet – an A-Z Exhibition of the City’s collections

For the first time hundreds of items from the City’s collections are on display at the City Art Centre. Many of Edinburgh’s poets have been inspired to write a poem based on one of the exhibits. There are readings in the Museum of Edinburgh, Canongate (2pm-2.30pm) on July 15th, 21st,27th and August 3rd; and later at the City Art Centre (11am-11.30am) on September 16th, 22nd and 27th. Do come along to these free events.

Letter to Robert Burns

Earl of Buchan’s letter of advice to Robert Burns

Here’s one of my attempts at a poem in response to an exhibit!

Scaling Parnassus

Letter from the Earl of Buchan to Robert Burns 1/2/1787

That Earl of Buchan who wrote you, Burns,
seems a bit of a blowhard: couldn’t resist
letting you know he’d ordered six copies
of your book from Lady Glencairn’s list.
His advice: Keep your Eye upon Parnassus
and drink deep of the fountains of Helicon.

He didn’t think your little doric pieces displayed
your metal; and your provincial dialect was apt
to trap your talent. He was sure English
would empower you, let you demonstrate
the extent of your genius, attempt works
of greater magnitude, variety and importance.

Did you think to ask the fine Lady Glencairn
‘what’s English for “tha man’s haverin”?’

Wilfred Owen in Edinburgh – centenary celebrations

Welcome to Owen's nephew by Lord Provost

Lord Provost welcomes to Edinburgh Peter Owen, nephew of Wilfred Owen. David Clarke, as Wilfred Owen, looks on.

It was a privilege to play a small part in wonderful event on the 26th June to mark the centenary of the arrival in Edinburgh in June 1917 of Wilfred Owen, a young soldier who would become perhaps the best known of the WW1 war poets. The event was a re-enactment of his first morning in Edinburgh, as described in a letter to his mother. Owen was played by David Clarke. He stepped off the Caledonian Sleeper from London just after 7am, accompanied by Peter Owen, the poet’s nephew.
After a welcome by the Lord Provost and a tune on the Wilfred Owen violin by Thoren Ferguson, I read a poem at the station war memorial. We then processed along Princes Street with pipers to the west end and returned for ‘a hearty breakfast’ at the Balmoral Hotel (formerly the ‘North British’). This was followed by a reception by the Lord Provost.

Leith Swing

Refrain stencilled outside Custom House

Bethany Thompson designed the lovely stencils for the poem

The festival LeithLate is in full swing this weekend and I am delighted that my poem Leith Swing has been used to brighten up the pavements and bring some of Leith’s amazing history to life. I was encouraged to write the poem by Councillor Gordon Munro and, with the drive of Sian Bevan (Edinburgh City of Literature), the magic that is Morvern Cunningham (LeithLate) and the artistry of Bethany Thompson (Out of the Blueprint), the project has come alive on the streets of Leith. Today we took two groups on the poem trail and everyone was able to bring some knowledge to the shared experience.
You can follow it from Custom House, down by The Shore, up Constitution Street, then through the Kirkgate to the foot of Leith Walk.

Verse stencilled on The Shore

Verse stencilled on
The Shore, near Timber Bush

Honour the great peace-worker Sri Chinmoy

Makar with fellow poets at statue unveiling

‘Unveiling’ of a statue of Sri Chinmoy at Saughton Park – poets Aonghas MacNeacail, Alan Spence, Gerda Stevenson and Christine De Luca

There was a wonderful event at Saughton Park on Sunday 4th June, attended by the Consuls of both India and Bangladesh. It was in honour of the great Swami Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007) who worked tirelessly for peace. A statue of Sri Chinmoy, holding a torch for peace, now stands in the park. It was created by Kaivalva Torpy. The event was organised by Alan Spence. I had the honour to participate, along with other poets Aonghas MacNeacail and Gerda Stevenson. Good news is that Saughton Park is about to be completely transformed.

Launch of the Edinburgh Alphabet: an A-Z of the city’s museum collections

Makar and Ken Cockburn

With Edinburgh poet Ken Cockburn at launch of the Edinburgh Alphabet Exhibition at the City Art Centre

18th May saw the opening of the summer exhibition at the City Art Centre – three floors of exhibits drawn from all the city’s many museums. It is a fascinating and eclectic mix, bound to stir the memory and imagination. The exhibits are organised on an A-Z basis. It’s a lovely airy space to wander around.
Several Edinburgh poets have offered poems linked to the exhibition (and/ or the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology). Come and hear them read their poems, 11am- 11.30am, on Saturday September 16th, Friday September 22nd and Wednesday September 27th.

Scottish PEN at 90 – plaque unveiling at The Writers’ Museum


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.