Author Archives: Ken Cockburn

About Ken Cockburn

Ken Cockburn is an Edinburgh-based poet, translator, editor and writing tutor.

Edina Europa

Edina Europa map light

I’ll be leading poetry walks as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe again this year. Edina Europa looks at the Scottish capital’s links with Europe over the centuries. I’m still compiling poems and working out the itinerary, but the walks will start and end at the Scottish Poetry Library, just off the Canongate near the Scottish Parliament.

The map above (taken from an old historical atlas, and showing Europe after 1815) links Edinburgh with cities it’s been compared to: it’s well known as the ‘Athens of the North’, but it’s also been compared favourably, and alliteratively, with Paris, Palermo, Prague and Potsdam.

Today I’ve been looking at James Hogg’s portrayal in The Queen’s Wake of the Italian David Rizzio, the ill-fated favourite of Mary Queen of Scots. I also discovered that the well-known ballad ‘Mary Hamilton’ (‘Yestreen the queen had four Maries’) has its roots in Russia…

 

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Poets at Edinburgh Park

These are the twelve herms of Scottish poets, overlooking the grandly named Loch Ross just by the Edinburgh Park Central tram stop, to the west of the city. On the sides of the plinth you can find some information about, and a poem by, each poet, though only Edwin Morgan wrote a poem specifically for his herm.

A human head would never do
under the mists and rains or tugged
by ruthless winds or whipped with leaves
from raving trees. But who is he
in bronze, who is the moveless one?
The poet laughed, it isn’t me.
It’s nearly me, but I am free
to dodge the showers or revel in them,
to walk the alleys under the stars
or waken where the blackbirds are.
Some day my veins will turn to bronze
and I can’t hear, or make, a song.
Then indeed I shall be my head
staring ahead, or so it seems,
but you may find me watching you,
dear traveller, or wheeling round
into your dreams.

Paolozzi at Large in Edinburgh

 

To coincide with the launch of a new book about the artist in his home city, I’m leading two walks featuring poems by Christine De Luca about works by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924–2005). Paolozzi was born in Leith, and while as an adult he lived away from Edinburgh, he was commissioned to make a number of works here during the last twenty years of his life. He also bequested work to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which houses a reconstruction of his London studio.

The walks are South and East (Friday 2 November, 14.00–16.30) and West and North (Saturday 3 November, 10.00–12.30).

‘South and East’ takes in three groups of sculptures: ‘Egeria and Parthenope’ at King’s Buildings, ‘Early Peoples’ at the Museum of Scotland, and ‘The Manuscript of Monte Cassino’, originally sited at Picardy Place and now temporarily re-located at London Road.

‘West and North’ takes in ‘Wealth of Nations’ at the Gyle Business Park, stained glass windows in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, and works at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art.

Tickets (£6 / £4) and details of the routes are available via Eventbrite.
‘South and East’ (Friday 2 November, 14.00–16.30)
‘West and North’ (Saturday 3 November, 10.00–12.30).

Paolozzi at Large in Edinburgh (Luath, 2018), edited by Christine De Luca and Carlo Pirozzi, is the first book to look at the artist in his home city. It includes poems written by De Luca, the former Edinburgh Makar, in response to some of Paolozzi’s iconic works which can be seen around Edinburgh, as well as work by many involved in the art world: researchers, archivists and practising (RSA) artists. The book is part of the Eduardo Paolozzi Project created and developed by Carlo Pirozzi (University of Edinburgh). Paolozzi at Large in Edinburgh is to be launched at Blackwell’s Bookshop, South Bridge, Edinburgh on 31 October.

These walks have been developed with the help of funding from this Eduardo Paolozzi Project with the support of Edinburgh World Heritage.

Images, from top: Egeria (detail), Wealth of Nations (detail); MS of Monte Cassino; Paolozzi’s studio (details); Wealth of Nations, Master of the Universe, Egeria.

Dunbar’s Close gardens

This year’s Fringe walks take in Dunbar’s Close gardens. Earlier this week I found, on one of the stone benches, cuttings of various plants with name-labels attached to them. Here is a selection, with thanks to whoever made them.

Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Cotton Lavender  Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Jerusalem Sage  Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Samask Rose

Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Sea Lavender  Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Wormwood  Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 St John's Wort

Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Chinese Forget-Me-Not  Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Common Rue

Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Goat's Rue  Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Great Burnet

Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Hedge Germander  Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Honeysuckle

Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Lesser Calamint  Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Rose Campion

Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Rose gallica  Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Southernwood

Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Tree Mallow  Canongate Dunbar's Close 180820 Wild Peony

 

Cotton Lavender    Jerusalem Sage    Damask Rose

Sea Lavender    St John’s Wort    Wormwood

Chinese Forget-Me-Not    Common Rue

Goat’s Rue    Great Burnet

Hedge Germander    Honeysuckle

Lesser Calamint    Rose Campion

Rose Gallica    Southernwood

Tree Mallow    Wild Peony

Reading the Streets: Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018

Canongate SPL 4

Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh

I’m presenting poetry walks on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe again this year, after doing so in 2016 and 2017.

Burns Monument

Burns Monument, Regent Road

As in previous years the walks start and end at the Scottish Poetry Library, off the Canongate near the foot of the Royal Mile. This year’s itinerary includes some sites visited in previous years, including the two nearby graveyards (havens of peace amid the roar of the festival!), while adding new locations, including the Burns Monument on Regent Road. I’ll read some poems I’ve read in previous years, while adding new pieces, including Coleridge’s ecstatic letter to Southey describing his visit in 1803.

Canongate Panmure House from Dunbar's Close garden 2

Panmure House seen from Dunbar’s Close garden

I’m grateful to Valerie Gillies and James Robertson for their permission to include poems they have written about the city. (You can read Valerie’s ‘To Edinburgh’ here.) As well as the linking script, I’ve written a new poem about the philosopher and economist Adam Smith, who lived in the area for the last 12 years of his life, and is buried in the Canongate Kirkyard. (Panmure House, where he lived, has just been renovated by Heriot-Watt University.)

rls-two

Stevenson, from The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)

This year’s walk has the title Reading the Streets, and has as its focus some of the contrasts Edinburgh keeps throwing up. The Old Town / New Town divide is the most obvious and present one, and we’ll cross from one to the other. But there are many others, including at this time of year City / Festival, Residents / Visitors and Local / International. The poems are written in two languages, English / Scots, and since I  include some extracts from diaries and letters there’s a Poetry / Prose contrast too.

Palace Park Parliament

Palace and Paliament against Arthur’s Seat

The new cheek-by-jowl neighbours Palace / Parliament form a contemporary divide, though they’re on the same side in the Historic Time / Geological Time contrast as they look out onto Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags.

NCBG Stevenson vault 2

Stevenson family vault in the New Calton Burial Ground, Edinburgh

I’m also grateful to the Scottish Poetry Library for including the walks in its Fringe programme. They run from Saturday 4 – Monday 27 August, daily (not Thursdays, Fridays) starting at 11.00, and lasting 90 minutes.

Tickets are available from the Fringe box office, and from the SPL via Eventbrite.

The Stuarts’ Memorial in Rome

 

As a follow-up to two earlier posts about the Jacobites in Edinburgh (here and here), these photos from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome show the memorial created in 1819 to three Stuarts: James, and his sons Charles (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, the only one of the three who set foot in Edinburgh) and Henry.

St Peter's Stuarts 06

On it James is styled James III (of Great Britain), and while he was recognised as such by many European states he never actually sat on the throne. After his death in 1766 some contemporary Jacobite diehards liked to refer his sons as Charles III and, following Charles’ death, Henry IX, but diplomatically and realistically the Roman memorial foregoes such  numerical aspirations.

St Peter's Stuarts 01

The text above the door between the angels attempts to offer some consolation for their exile and failure to ascend a throne they believed was rightly theirs: it translates roughly as ‘blessed are the dead who die in the Lord’.St Peter's Stuarts 04

Immediately opposite it, above a doorway, sits an elaborate memorial to Maria Clementina Sobieska, daughter of the Polish king Jan III, who was unhappily married to James, was the mother of Charles and Henry. She died aged 32 in 1735.

St Peter's Maria Clementina

 

Postcards from Edinburgh (1)

I’ve been tweeting some quotes from about Edinburgh, and here’s a wee collection of the first few.

EPT Wordsworth 02

 

EPT RLS 10

 

EPT DBM 02

 

EPT Garioch 02

 

EPT Piozzi 01

Dorothy Wordsworth recorded in her diary arriving in Edinburgh with her brother William on 15 September 1803. – Robert Louis Stevenson’s Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes (1878) still speaks to the city today.– Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir, or in English Duncan Ban MacIntyre, was a Gaelic poet from Argyll who was a member of City Guard in the late 18th century; the lines, from his poem ‘Oran Dhun Eidann’ (‘Song of Edinburgh’), first published in 1804, translate as ‘Edinburgh is beautiful / in many diverse ways…’. – In ‘To Robert Fergusson’ Robert Garioch (1909–1981) imagines rattling the ‘rigg-bane’ or spine of the Old Town in the company of the energetic earlier poet. – Hester Piozzi, aka Dr Johnson’s confidante Mrs Thrale, visited the city in the summer of 1789, anxious she would encounter ‘a second hand London’, but found something quite different.