Detailed maps of the routes taken by the poet Robert Burns on his celebrated journeys around Scotland in 1787 have been produced by the Library.
Burns was at the height of his powers at the time and kept a journal detailing the places he stayed and the people he met along the way, along with reflections on Scottish society, history and culture.
The journal and the accompanying maps have now been published in a joint project between Glasgow University and the Library.
Professor Nigel Leask of Glasgow University said the journal and maps “offer us an insight into the life of a poet who was operating at the peak of his powers and reaping the benefits of his new found fame.”
A television documentary, Fergusson: Burns’ Forgotten Hero, was screened on BBC1 Scotland last Sunday.
In this documentary marking Burns Day, writer Andrew O’Hagan goes in search of the poet who inspired Burns: Robert Fergusson. Fergusson died young but his legacy was a love song to his native city, Edinburgh. Andrew tracks down his story in the streets and wynds of the Old Town. Fergusson’s vivid use of Scots led Burns to declare him his ‘forgotten hero’ and to pay a lasting tribute to this neglected Scottish poet.
Over the last three weeks ELISA has been pleased to showcase a series of guest posts by Edinburgh’s Maker, Christine De Luca. In this final instalment Christine tells us about an unusual link between Scotland and Poland…
And finally …
In late October 2014, I was invited as Edinburgh Makar to join a small Scottish contingent at the Conrad Literary Festival in Krakow, Poland. This was a wonderful opportunity to visit a city I had long wanted to see, a city which had recently been designated a UNESCO City of Literature.
I told them a little about an unusual link between our two countries, Scotland and Poland.
There are of course lots of living links: Poles living and working here, and Edinburgh and Krakow having been twinned for almost 20 years, since 1995. But this particular link relates to that generation of Poles who escaped to Scotland from occupied Europe during World War II and who made a huge, often secret, contribution to the Allied cause. Many later settled in Scotland.
On a summer Sunday in 1975, I stopped off with my fiancé for afternoon tea at a quiet hotel (The Black Barony) at Eddleston in the Scottish Borders. After our refreshments we took a stroll in the grounds, crossing the Fairy Dean Burn to the other side of the narrow valley. To my surprise I came upon an old man patiently working on a massive, scaled model of Scotland. As a Geography teacher I was transfixed and looked forward to being able to bring pupils to see it as, for many, visualising a landscape from a map is difficult. The old man was checking elevations and levelling and was working with only a quarter-inch map! We got talking to him – he was Polish and was attempting to do something for his adopted country. Little did we know that, not only had he bought the hotel and grounds, but it had been the secret headquarters of the Polish soldiers during the war.
However, I never heard any more about the model and, when I returned several years later, the hotel had changed hands, the grounds were fenced off and no one seemed to know anything about this incredible feature, visible from space!
Until recently, that is… when I was driving nearby and saw a sign pointing to ‘The Great Polish Map of Scotland’. My heart skipped a beat! I was delighted to find that, although it had suffered neglect for many years, it has now been officially listed and is in the care of a trust. Work is on-going to restore it.
I wrote this ‘concrete’ poem by way of celebration and to bring to the Conrad Festival:
Very many thanks to Christine for these delightful and informative tales of Edinburgh, Kraków, poetry, geography, history and bookart. I hope she will choose to write for us again sometime – and that she will inspire other ELISA readers to have a go too! Please contact me if you’d like to contribute to this blog at any time.
Again, many thanks to Christine De Luca, Edinburgh’s Makar
During this month ELISA is privileged to present a series of three guest posts by Edinburgh’s Maker, Christine De Luca. In Part 2 Christine relates the wonderful story of the Mysterious Edinburgh Book Sculptures…
Edinburgh is a city of librariesand organisations which support literature. Libraries are particularly under threat as we become ever more digitised and funding is spread more thinly. The book sculptures were made as gifts in appreciation of libraries, books, words, ideasand placed anonymously, without anyone being aware of the donor, to be uncovered unexpectedly. Surely a perfect gift? At the Conrad Festival [in Kraków, Poland] I was able to show images of the paper sculptures and explain the references to poems hidden within a few of the loveliest.
In 2011, the first mystery paper sculpture was discovered in that home of poetry, the SPL. It was an incredibly delicate gift; a tree (PoeTREE) growing out of a book, an eggshell of poems, and a little card which read:
@ByLeavesWeLive and became a tree…We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books…a book is so much more than pages full of words…This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas…
The leaves referred to the motto of SPL (by Leaves we Live) but the sculpture also referenced one of Scotland’s great 20th poets, Edwin Morgan. The broken egg is LINED with lines from a tribute poem he wrote on the death of a friend, the Modernist poet Basil BUNTING. The poem is a play on his friend’s surname:
A TRACE OF WINGS
Corn Bunting shy but perky; haunts fields; grain-scatterer
Reed Bunting sedge-scuttler; swayer; a cool perch
Cirl Bunting small whistler; shrill early; find him!
Indigo Buntingblue darter; like metal; the sheen
Ortolan Bunting haunts gardens; is caught; favours tables
Painted Bunting gaudy flasher; red, blue, green; what a whisk!
Basil Bunting! the sweetest singer; prince of finches; gone from these parts
Others were then discovered in major libraries and literary institutions. There was one, for example for each of:
the Story-telling Centre – “Dragon’s Nest”
the Edinburgh International Book Festival – a presentation teacup which says in the swirl of milk ‘Nothing beats a nice cup of tea (or coffee) and a great BOOK’. But beside the cake it says ‘except maybe a cake as well!’
Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature – “Lost in a good book”
Edinburgh Filmhouse – “all things magic” … with the film coming alive ‘out of a book’… and with a tiny Ian Rankin, the sculptor’s favorite Edinburgh author, seated in the cinema!
The tenth and seemingly final sculpture (Gloves of bee’s fur, cap of the wren’s wings) was another for the SPL. It was a most exquisitely made sculpture, based on a line in a poem by another of Scotland’s great poets of the 20th century, Norman MacCaig. This poem, Gifts – a beautifully crafted, restrained love poem – is about impossible gifts! It’s from the collection (The Sinai Sort, The Hogarth Press, 1957). It is impeccably rhymed and the rhythm is memorable. It almost hurts to read the pain and extremity of love in it:
GIFTS Norman MacCaig
You read the old Irish poet and complain
I do not offer you impossible things –
Gloves of bees’ fur, cap of the wren’s wings,
Goblets so clear light falls on them like a stain.
I make you the harder offer of all I can,
The good and ill that make of me this man.
I need no fancy to mark you as beautiful,
If you are beautiful. All I know is what
Darkens and brightens the sad waste of my thought
Is what makes me your wild, truth-telling fool
Who will not spoil your power by adding one
Vainglorious image to all we’ve said and done.
Flowers need no fantasy, stones need no dream;
And you are flower, and stone. And I compel
Myself to be no more than possible,
Offering nothing that might one day seem
A measure of your failure to be true
To the greedy vanity that disfigures you.
A cloak of the finest silk in Scotland – what
Has that to do with troubled nights and days
Of anguished happiness? I had no praise
Even of your kindness, that was not bought
At such a price this bankrupt self is all
I have to give. And is that possible?
We thought that was it but, since then, there have been more and more; three recently with the theme ‘Free to Fly’ including one more for the SPL and one more for the UNESCO City of Literature Trust. All are exquisitely crafted and include rich references to the body receiving the anonymous gift. They have been created with care and love. They celebrate more than the tangible word: they commend our values, our hopes and dreams; our belief in the transformative power of books, of literature.
Lauren Thow is Library Resource Centre Co-ordinator at Portobello High School in Edinburgh.
I have always been a regular Library user, whether that be a Public, School or University Library, but I had never considered working in one. After studying History then Law at University, I worked in a variety of advice and customer services roles. Like many humanities students I felt indecisive about my career plans post-University, but increasingly felt that I would be more fulfilled working in education or the arts. I took up volunteer work with Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle, which instantly re-ignited my passion for literature and showed me how rewarding working with young people could be. I was lucky enough to then gain employment as a Senior Library Assistant at Whitley Bay High School in Newcastle. Having had no prior Librarian training, this role involved a steep learning curve…
Happy New Year Bliadhna Mhath Ùr & a Fine New’er tae all!
Over the next three weeks ELISA is very excited to be presenting some guest posts by Edinburgh’s current Maker, Christine De Luca. In Part 1 Christine tells us about her work as Maker and her recent visit to Kraków, another City of Literature…
What is a Makar?
The Scots word Makar means ‘one who fashions, constructs, produces etc.’ (Dictionary of the Scots Language). In a literary context it is the role of the poet or author as a worker in the craft of writing.
Why does Edinburgh have a Makar and how did it come about?
In 2002 four organisations came together in the city to establish the role of Makar (Poet Laureate), to celebrate the importance of writers in the life of the city. These organisations were the Scottish Poetry Library, the City of Edinburgh Council, Scottish PEN and the Saltire Society.
About this time Edinburgh was encouraging UNESCO to establish a worldwide network of Cities of Literature; and to designate Edinburgh as the first. The bid was successful and, in 2014, Edinburgh celebrated its 10th anniversary as the first City of Literature. So now the UNESCO City of Literature Trust is another key body involved in the selection of the Edinburgh Makar.
The criteria guiding the choice of Makar by the five bodies are that nominees must:
be resident in, or have a strong connection with, the City of Edinburgh
have an established reputation as a poet
have the ability to act as the City’s literary ambassador.
It is a civic appointment, an honorary post, lasting generally for a period of three years. The Makar receives a small honorarium from the Council. Previous Makars were Stewart Conn, Valerie Gillies and Ron Butlin. My tenure is from 2014 – 2017
What are we expected to do as Makar?
to act as the City’s literary ambassador: meet & greet; do short talks; take part in events; do a ‘reflection’ for the full Council; occasionally act as a poetry judge; help with promoting poetry
to write the occasional poem for the city
And it seems we can
react to requests which may be relevant. (I am, for example, currently working on a poem for the traders in the Royal Mile.)
proactively engage with citizens through poetry. (I am for example, currently planning a project with primary schools; and creating a dedicated Makar website to help communication.)
Most of my work is in Edinburgh but, in late October 2014, I was invited as Edinburgh Makar to join a small Scottish contingent at the Conrad Literary Festival in Krakow, Poland.
This was a wonderful opportunity to visit a city I had long wanted to see, a city which had recently been designated a UNESCO City of Literature. To welcome us they had projected poems on to a wall in a city centre square. The poem of mine selected was less than flattering about Edinburgh! (But I did write it a long time ago and balanced it with a love poem to the city, written more recently!)
I chose to read these two poems because they are simple, direct and contrasting poems. Also, they are both written in English; not in Shetlandic (my mother tongue):
The Scottish Poetry Library needs to raise £120,000 for the building renovation which will hugely extend our reach.
Your gift helps us to give: to lend books; to send books, poetry postcards and poets around Scotland; to record and send poets’ voices around the world; to bring people and poems together in care homes, schools, hospitals…