Edinburgh’s Makar, Christine De Luca writes for ELISA – Part 3: The Great Polish Map of Scotland

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.

mapa scotland - pic
The Great Polish Map of 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:

Mapa Szkocji - a ‘concrete’ poem

To read more about the Mapa Szkocji, visit http://www.mapascotland.org/

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

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Edinburgh’s Makar, Christine De Luca writes for ELISA – Part 2: Mysterious Book Sculptures

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…

Story-telling Centre - Dragon’s Nest
Story-telling Centre – Dragon’s Nest

Edinburgh is a city of libraries and 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, ideas and 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.

Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature - ‘Lost in a good book’
Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature – ‘Lost in a good book’

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:

Scottish Poetry Library -PoeTREE
Scottish Poetry Library – PoeTREE

@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
Edwin Morgan

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 Bunting         blue darter; like metal; the sheen

Ortolan Bunting       haunts gardens; is caught; favours tables

Painted Bunting       gaudy flasher; red, blue, green; what a whisk!

Snow Bunting           Arctic flyer; ghost-white; blizzard-hardened

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:

Edinburgh Book Festival - teacup
Edinburgh Book Festival – teacup

  • 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!

8 Filmhouse cinema
Edinburgh Filmhouse – “all things magic”

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?

SPL - Gloves of bee’s fur, cap of the wren’s wings
SPL – Gloves of bee’s fur, cap of the wren’s wings

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.

Gifted: The fascinating tale of ten mysterious book sculptures gifted to the city of words and ideas
Gifted: The fascinating tale of ten mysterious book sculptures gifted to the city of words and ideas

Do seek them out!

There is a beautiful, well-illustrated book written about them by Robyn Marsack, Director of the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL).  Appropriately titled ‘GiftED’, it was published by Polygon in 2012.

Be sure to watch out for the final instalment in this series – Part 3: The Great Polish Map of Scotland, next week…

Edinburgh’s Makar, Christine De Luca writes for ELISA – Part 1: What is a Makar?

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.

a Polish version of 'Edinburgh Volte-Face' projected onto a wall in the Rynek Główny (main square), Kraków
a Polish version of ‘Edinburgh Volte-Face’ projected onto a wall in the Rynek Główny (main square), Kraków

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):

 

Edinburgh Volte-Face

 

City of seven hills

rivalling Rome: you are

the big sister of all cities,

forever tut-tutting.

 

City of venerable skylines;

each morning you un-do yourself

like someone more anxious to save

the wrapping than enjoy the gift.

 

City of open spaces: for you

no strollers in the forum; merely

a scurry of solicitors, vellum-faced

with long north-facing days,

and little women, worn

from cleaning other people’s stairs.

 

City of the great estates;

you have no outer wall,

but numerous apartheids

charitably maintained.

 

City of seven hills

rivalling Rome: I hold

your negative to the light,

and see your true topography.

 

the poem, projected in english
the poem, projected in English

 

Getting to know you
Edinburgh

 

It was never love at first sight

though my heart skipped a beat:

your fingertips, skyline’s stroke;

your crisp couture, the cut,

the allure; just a hint of the roué.

But there was something reserved

resistant – Namaste, that divine spark –

your self-assurance; respect perhaps,

that made me keep my distance.

 

We took our time getting intimate

lowering our defences bit by bit.

I’ve all but forgotten that coldness,

the standoffishness you cultivated,

a particular view of refinement.

We are still falling for one another.

You’ve opened your arms; I’ve opened

my eyes. You’re under my skin now.

I defend you against all-comers.

 

You can read more from Christine in Part 2: Mysterious Book Sculptures next week…

the Rynek Główny, Kraków
the Rynek Główny, Kraków

flower stalls, Kraków
flower stalls, Kraków