Christine De Luca

  • i dy stride

    i dy stride

  • In your stride

    In your stride

  • Through the Traffic of Tongues

    Through the Traffic of Tongues

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.

The morning after: Scotland, 19th September, 2014

Read more of Christine’s poetry.