Christine De Luca
i dy stridePrunk in bronze, du’s stendin doon
da Canongaet, cott tails flaagin.
Naeboady wid jalouse a Bedlam endin.
Touries daander up ta dee, pose
for der pictir. Du sood hae a page
in Facebook. Maybe du dis.
Ee lass cups dy shin ithin her haands
while her laad snaps her; anidder een
claps dy cheek; dey sheeks wi dee,
der wirds catcht on camera.
Anidder wife, for her album, harks
i dy lug; hit’s on her mobile, nae doot
half-gaets roond da wirld bi noo.
A man tries to place his feet
in exactly dy step; tooms up, snap,
snap again. Some lean fornenst dee,
pit a airm aroond dee. A bairn plunks
her saaft toy, her peerie dug, i da crook
o dy airm. Click. Hit’s lik as if du’s
faider, lover, pal. Ee halliget lass loups
apö dy back. Wir faert shö’ll rive dy cott,
boofel dee. But du’s mair bördly
as du luiks. Stend on, man. Wir still
staandin apö dy shooders, dy wirds.
In your stridePoised in bronze, you’re striding down
the Canongate, coat tails flapping.
Nobody would suspect a Bedlam ending.
Tourists wander up to you, pose
for their picture. You should have a page
in Facebook. Maybe you do.
One girl cups your chin in her hands
while her boyfriend snaps her; another one
strokes your cheek; they blether with you,
their words caught on camera.
Another woman, for her album, whispers
in your ear; it’s on her mobile, no doubt
half-way round the world by now.
A man tries to place his feet
in exactly your step; thumbs up, snap,
snap again. Some lean against you,
put an arm around you. A child pops
her soft toy, her little dog, in the crook
of your arm. Click. It’s as if you are
father, lover, pal. One wild girl leaps
on your back. We’re frightened she’ll tear your coat,
pummel you. But you’re more strapping
than you look. Stride on, man. We’re still
standing on your shoulders, your words.
Through the Traffic of TonguesA poem to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Edinburgh’s designation as a UNESCO 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, Valerie Gillies and Ron Butlin. Also a quote from the Iowa City of Literature website.)
Role of Poetry in a City’s Life – Christine De Luca
Our sense of identity can be deeply affected by literature; and by poetry perhaps in particular. We experience this not only at a personal level but as citizens, whether locally or nationally. Poetry is very much part of this city. It is woven into its physical fabric, its continuing culture and into its soundscape.
The fact that UNESCO recognised Edinburgh as its first City of Literature was an amazing achievement. This was brought about by a creative working together of several cultural bodies that could quite easily have seen themselves as rivals. And the fact that the city council decided to appoint a Makar and has continued to support this role, working with these other bodies, is an indicator of the value it places on poetry in the life of the city.
We have a wonderful poetic heritage on which to build: the great Scots Makars of the 15th and 16th century (Henryson, Dunbar, Douglas); the 17th and 18th centuries Enlightenment & Romantic poets (Ramsay, Fergusson, Burns, Scott); 19th and 20th centuries (Geddes and Stevenson); and then the Scottish Literary Renaissance of the 1920s – much of it happening in Edinburgh – with MacDiarmid, Muir and later MacCaig, to name but a few. The achievements of all these poets reverberate in the very stones and fabric of the city.
We also have a long tradition of publishing in Edinburgh, both books and poetry magazines; and more recently a burgeoning of poetry pamphlets with the annual competition in memory of Callum MacDonald who helped bring poetry into print – never an easy or very profitable task.
The built environment we live and work in is as inspirational as the physical backdrop. And poetry is part of it: the Scottish Poetry Library – that gem in Edinburgh’s Literary quarter; the poetry set into the walls of our parliament building; Makar’s Court with its flagstones and the Writers’ Museum. (While there has been a bias towards male poets in the past, June has brought the unveiling of a flagstone to an important early 17th century female poet, Elizabeth Melville. She was the first published female poet in Scotland, if not in Britain.) As well as busts in the National Portrait Gallery, we have statues of Scott, Burns, Ramsay, Stevenson and, more recently, one of Fergusson. Perhaps surprisingly, Edinburgh Park – the business centre on the outskirts of the city – as part of its public art programme, commissioned bronze heads or herms of twelve 20th century poets. While some are dead (e.g. Hugh MacDiarmid, Naomi Mitchison, Sorley MacLean, Edwin Morgan, Iain Crichton Smith), some are very much alive (including Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay, Douglad Dunn and Tom Leonard.)
Even more arresting perhaps is the sudden appearance of poetry where least expected. We all enjoyed the words to celebrate St Valentine’s Day lit on the castle rock and occasional poetry popping up in St Andrew’s Square. It may be a struggle, but it would be good to have poetry moving around the city on our buses and trams.
Our soundscape is equally alive with poems. Edinburgh hosts a huge range of poetry events. Our libraries (both national and local) are genial hosts to poets; we have a range of festivals where poetry features; and week by week there are events organised by small groups of enthusiastic volunteers. Some events are quiet and reflective; some are full of energy with the emphasis on performance; some are linked with music, some with art; some are held in libraries, tents, bookshops, cafés, bars, universities and to this mix has recently been added the Summerhall Centre. There are a myriad of opportunities to read, write and appreciate poetry, and the listing of all events is now the norm.
We are indeed a city of literature, a city of poetry.