Edinburgh Makar

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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.

Poems inspired by one of Edinburgh’s great artists -Eduardo Paolozzi

Big foot!

Part of the Manuscript of Monte Cassino

Lately I have been writing several poems inspired by the work of the late Eduardo Paolozzi, one of Edinburgh’s foremost 20th century artists. We are fortunate to have several of his best known sculptures in our city (for example The MS of Monte Cassino) as well as the stunning stained-glass window designed by him for St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, in Palmerston Place.  This project is being orchestrated by Dr Carlo Pirozzi of St Andrews University.



Paolozzi playground mural

Part of tribute mural at Leith Walk Primary School



Besides these, his recreated studio at Modern 2 and the playground mural in his honour at Leith Walk Primary School, his alma mater, have been inspirational.

Art College students find inspiration in Royal Mile poem

Tunnel book

One example of a tunnel book in a star shape

Recently a group of second year Illustration students from Edinburgh College of Art undertook a project which involved working in teams to produce 3D ‘tunnel books’ based on the Royal Mile.   They were led by the artist Brigid Collins.

They used the poem A Month on the Mile  (written by myself and Ingrid Murray) as a jumping-off point to discover more of the history as well as the contemporary feel of this famous street.   They made a lovely job of their books!

Edinburgh’s Unsung – they keep the gas flowing safely

Morrison St gas main replaced

Replacing a major gas main in Morrison Street, city centre

On 17th March I spent a happy morning with staff of Scotland Gas Networks (SGN).  They were replacing a major mains pipe in Morrison Street in the city centre.  I was intrigued by the complexity of what lies beneath our streets; and how skilled they have to be to work safely while keeping both the gas and the traffic flowing.

In the Orchard Brae area, where they are also replacing the old cast iron mains, I was shown how they detect the pipes.

Now for a poem …