Through the traffic of tongues by Christine De Luca

A poem to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Edinburgh’s
designation as UNESCO’s first City of Literature

Ten years we’ve had of trafficking,
of keeping borders open through words,
through discerning conversation,

the hospitality of books. Seven citadels
of literature, all fostered from a dream;
seven hills and heavens, cities of possibilities.

Edinburgh: first to light up with literature,
spelled out its heritage and future. That night
in Paris was a consummation, a delight.

We passed the flame to Melbourne:
an ancient meeting place of sign and symbol,
built on gold, a rush of writing, a wealth.

Then Iowa City made the cut; told the world
it had made the sentence behave
and misbehave
, recast our myths.

Dublin followed with its Book of Kells,
its four Nobel literary laureates
and a daft Bloomsday every June.

Reykjavik was standing in the wings,
holding its ancient tongue; weighing
its Edda and Saga, its poetic forms.

But Julian of Norwich was stirring in her grave.
Across 600 years we still need the solace of words
that tell us that all shall indeed be well.

Kraków is the seventh hill, the seventh dream:
its word hordes, bulging libraries, its bookshops;
the deep lines on its literary face.

All outward-looking places, all generous,
all built on the topography of words.
Open the book, read, translate, pass on the gift.

This poem, including the title, includes snippets – italicised – from poems by Edinburgh’s three previous Makars; Stewart Conn (Emissaries), Valerie Gillies (To Edinburgh) and Ron Butlin (Reclaiming St Andrew’s Square). Also a quote from the Iowa City of Literature website.

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