Thali Katori

Continuing the recap, in October I organised  a reading at Citadel Books to promote Thali Katori, a new anthology of Scottish / South Asian poems. Other poets taking part were Bashabi Fraser and Alan Riach (editors of the anthology) and former Makars Christine De Luca and Valerie Gillies, along with Indian-born poets Shampa Ray and Jameela Muneer.


I’m not an animal, I’m not a man,
I am a god – I Am since time began.
God of Beginnings, Guardian at the Gate,
I’m Lord of Thresholds, transcend time and fate.

What you see is the form that I assume.
Here I am, the elephant in the room –
proboscis, tusks, pot belly, flapping ears.
Light on my feet, I’ll dance away your fears.

Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles,
performer of everyday miracles.
Your children know me well, each avatar –
I’m Horton, Dumbo, Kala Nag, Babar.

But yes, those obstacles – who put them there?
Now, offer me your mantra, homage, prayer.
Aum Ganeshaya Nama – chant my name.
Aum Ganeshaya Nama – chant my name.



Makar appointment

Some catching up to do, posting my Makar-related activities over the last 9 months. We’ll start back in October with my appointment, which was confirmed in a ceremony at the City Chambers by Lord Provost Frank Ross. Here, below, is a photo from the event.

Also there were friends from the worlds of writing, art, publishing and diplomacy, including previous Makars Christine De Luca, Valerie Gillies and Stewart Conn.  (In the left foreground of the picture is the Japanese Consul General, Mr Daisuke Matsunaga)


Here’s a poem of mine I read out – a sonnet no less – not written for the occasion, but appropriate in terms of the season, the sense of passing time.



Sometimes you hear a perfect sonnet line,
spoken in passing, the word on the street
fall easily but as if by design
into that good, old, pentameter beat.
So on this late September afternoon,
summer winding down, shading into fall,
the day, the year, this life, passing too soon,
I almost hear the meaning of it all
as a young mother calls out to her son
running daft in this scrap of city park.
She calls, knowing this time will soon be done,
but as if love might yet hold back the dark,
‘Just play a while and then we have to go.’
Just play a while, and then we have to go.


More to follow, soon. Watch this space!

Alan (Spence)




Hello there…

At last! I’m in! Only 9 months after my appointment as Makar, I’ve managed (technophobe though I am) to open this web page and start talking to you about what I’ve been up to. (Many thanks for technical support to Rebecca at Edinburgh City of Literature office, where I’m writing this…)

My predecessor, Christine de Luca, did a wonderful job in her time as Makar, and I’ve been following in her footsteps and also taking wee diversions of my own.(Making-it-up-as-I-go-along!)  Over the next couple of weeks I’ll do a retrospective, letting you know about the various ploys I’ve come up with, or been co-opted into, and the amazing opportunities that have come my way.

Right now I’m gearing up for the Edinburgh International Book Festival where I’ll be reading with another former maker, Ron Butlin (3.45pm on 16th August).

Most afternoons I’m to be found at my wee bookshop, Citadel Books, in Abbeyhill. (41 Montrose Terrace). I’ve organised some events there too, and will let you know as more come up.

On we go…




A-Z Poems at the City Art Centre

Poetry at the City Art Centre

Booklet of poems by local poets for the exhibition

The final poetry reading to coincide with the Edinburgh Alphabet Exhibition at the City Art Centre took place today (27th September 2017).   There were lovely poems by Jenni Daiches, Dorothy Lawrenson, Patricia McCaw, LesleyMay Miller and a reprise from Jane Aldous.  We had beer & boots, the Forth Railway Bridge, makers of airships, ceramics and the Washerwomen on Calton Hill among other subjects.  The poems definitely captured the Z is for Zeitgeist!   Thanks are due to all the local poets who took part in these July and September readings in our wonderful city museums.

A-Z Poetry at the City Art Centre

Poetry at the City Art Centre

City Art Centre poetry reading

There are three short poetry events in September to highlight the current exhibition (Edinburgh Alphabet) and the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology: half an hour of gentle promenading round the exhibition at the City Art Centre, stopping here and there for a poem.   Gallery stools available if you need a seat.  Entrance is free and there’s a bonus – a free copy of lots of themed poems by local poets.  All welcome!

Dates and times are: Saturday 16th 11a.m – 11.30am;  Friday 22nd 11a.m – 11.30am;  Wednesday 27th 11a.m – 11.30am

The photo shows poets Jane Bonnyman, Kevin Cadwallender. Anne Connolly, Joy Hendry and Anita John with audience at the first reading.  We all enjoyed it!


Poem to celebrate 70 years of the Edinburgh International Festival

I was delighted to be asked to write a poem to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival and the involvement of the British Council in the special programme of events (Spirit of ’47) to mark this occasion.  The poem was recorded in the derelict (and atmospheric) Leith Theatre.  It has a wonderful acoustic.  One day … it will spring back to life!

Launch of The Café Review – Scottish Poetry Issue

Cafe Review launch

Launch of Café Review

The launch of a Scottish issue of The Café Review took place at Blackwell’s Bookshop on Friday 28th July.  The Editor of the journal, Steve Luttrell, came across from Portland, Maine for the event.  I had the joy of guest-editing the journal but the unenviable task of selecting around 30 poets to represent the contemporary poetry scene in Scotland.  Given we have so many gifted poets, I found this really difficult.  It would have taken the whole year, four issues, to do a half-decent coverage.

However, select I did, and they all sent in wonderful poems.   Nineteen of the contributors were able to attend the launch and read a poem.   Two of the three artists also attended.

The photo shows, among others, poets Jane McKie, Patricia Ace, Ron Butlin, Christie Williamson, Gerry Cambridge, Chrys Salt, Andy Jackson, Anna Crowe and Yvonne Gray.

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”?’