Author Archives: Ken Cockburn

About Ken Cockburn

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

Edina Europa: after the Fringe

These are a few photos from the Edina Europa poetry walks, which took place during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last month. They were taken by Alison Lloyd; my thanks to her for letting me use them here.

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In the Canongate Kirkyard, looking towards the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill and the Old Royal High School.

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At the grave of Johann Friedrich Lampe (1703–1751), a composer and bassonist who came to Edinburgh in 1750 to play at the recently opened Canongate Playhouse. I read from Robert Fergusson’s poem, ‘On the Canongate Playhouse in Ruins’, written after the theatre closed in 1769, and which includes the lines evoking the sounds of the playhouse:

Here shepherds, lolling in their woven bowers,
In dull recitativo often sung
Their loves, accompanied with clangour strong
From horns, from trumpets, clarinets, bassoons;
From violinos sharp, or droning bass,
Or the brisk tinkling of a harpsichord.

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Reading from Burns, with the Burns Monument emerging from the trees in the background.

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Reading another Burns poem at the grave of Adam Smith.

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Taking advantage of having the poet on hand, I asked Angus Reid to read his ‘split sonnet’ about the Scottish parliament building, dedicated to Donald Dewar and beginning with the question:

And with what sign should     the gathering place
be shown…

Thanks to everyone who came on the walks – it was as ever a pleasure to share the poems with you, and the unfolding conversations.

 

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Making POETRY for the Inspiration Machine

Thanks to Angus Reid for helping me make a 10-second video for the Edinburgh Fringe’s Inspiration Machine. It takes work to make something that short!  We used an old poem of mine, POETRY, which is based loosely on a Pepsi ad from the 70s. These are Angus’s drawings that we used in the video, throwaway style, like Dylan in ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. (Nothing like showing your age…)

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Edina Europa: before the Fringe

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…

 

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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.