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.

Way out of my depth at an Electric Car Event

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!

Electric car

Just one of the lovely cars on display

Edinburgh’s Riding of the Marches

The flags raised on the Mercat Cross

The original Blue Blanket flag was brought back from Flodden with news of defeat

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!

Edinburgh’s inaugural Makar, Stewart Conn, to give 2016 John Masefield Lecture

 The Poetry Association of Scotland & The Muriel Spark Society


the 2016 John Masefield Lecture


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.

‘Reading the City’ at EIBF

Christine, Ron and James

Christine with Ron Butlin and James Loxley

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!

Edwin Morgan Poetry Award at EIBF 2016

EMPA -Winner and runner up

Winner Penny Boxall, 2nd from right, with runner-up Miriam Nash, organiser/trustee Hamish Whyte and me.

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.


Response poem to the Paolozzi-inspired mural at Leith Walk Primary School

Paolozzi-inspired mural

Handing over the poem in front of part of the Paolozzi-inspired mural

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.