Author Archives: Ken Cockburn

About Ken Cockburn

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

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.

 

 

TradFest 2018: Jacobite Edinburgh

Jacobite Minstrelsy 1829 title page

I’m running two walks for Tradfest 2018 on a Jacobite theme. Dates and times are Thursday 3 May at 2.30pm, and Saturday 5 May at 11.00am, each lasting about 90 minutes. The starting point is the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the High Street, and we’ll walk down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace, pausing on the way to look at sites associated with the Jacobites and those who wrote about them.

Hogg Jacobite Relics 1819

I’ll read extracts from works by writers including James Hogg, Tobias Smollet and Walter Scott, describing the drama of Edinburgh’s occupation by the Jacobite army in autumn 1745, the decisive Battle of Culloden, and the long, painful aftermath which gradually gave way to the romantic myth of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Hogg Jacobite Relics Song 81

For more details, and to book a ticket, click here.

Jacobite Minstrelsy 1829 frontispiece

What is Roman Edinburgh?

EPT KC FtW Roman Edinburgh

Like Rome, Edinburgh is a city built on seven hills.

My new collection, Floating the Woods, published by Luath Press, includes ‘Seven Questions’, which considers Edinburgh’s links with Ancient Rome – there’s an extract above.

The book also includes ‘Pandora’s Light Box’, which describes the University of Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery, which today shows contemporary art but which began life as natural history museum.

Other poems move further afield, to Loch Ness, Orkney, Flanders and Rome itself, where in the 1750s a young Scottish architect, Robert Adam, is beginning to find his way.

Floating the Woods 03

 

Burns Night

A little collection of Burnsiana for 25 January. Working backwards, chronologically, a couple of posters currently on show Edinburgh’s Rose Street; a first day cover from 1966; pages from an early Penguin book; the grave of ‘Clarinda’ (Agnes McLehose), and a line from ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, written for her by Burns; and the Burns monument on Calton Hill.

Rose St 2018 01Rose St 2018 02

Burns Stamps 1966

Burns Penguin 1946 1Burns Penguin 1946 2Burns Penguin 1946 3

Burns Clarinda

Burns Monument

 

An Edinburgh Alphabet, T–Z

T is for Triduana

Triduana_Chapel Triduana_Statue Triduana_KClabel

In the 19th century, and into the 20th, the main industry in the Canongate was brewing. There were a lots of springs and streams, now channeled underground, providing a good supply of water. Walking into Holyrood Park you soon come across St Margaret’s Well, a spring which has long existed, but whose well-house, as the sign says, was installed here in 1860s, after being moved from Restalrig, about a mile to the east. It’s a miniature copy of St Triduana’s Aisle, a 15th century chapel badly damaged at the Scottish Reformation in 1560, but restored in the early 1900s. I was very struck by it when I first visited 20 years ago, and wrote a poem about it, ‘Intercession’. In the extract below, the first verse gives Triduana’s story; the second describes the well-house.

The unusual hexagonal chapel was built for James III
above a spring, and the floor-slabs, laid below ground level,
would have been underwater: became, much later,
linked with Triduana, an ‘obscure Pictish saint’,
who gifted a princely suitor enamoured of her eyes
those eyes on thorns; was granted her desired seclusion.

*

… Where a well-house stands,
the chapel’s miniature double,
exact down to the floral bosses,
but pumpless: mosses thrive,
and a pipe dribbles water
into a pool of water.

U is for University

University_MesosticInterleaved University_MesosticInterleaved_COCKBURN University_MesosticInterleaved_MORGAN

University_MesosticInterleaved_AFcircle_credit University_MesosticInterleaved_AFcircle

Mesostic Interleaved was a project by Alec Finlay for the The University of Edinburgh Library when it was renovated in 2009. It features 100 mesostics by Alec, myself and other poets on the names of authors held in the library, which were was realised as a book, as a set of bookmarks, and as coloured shelf-ends within the library itself. The two shelf end mesostics pictured are:

rustiC gOds reloCated, craigcrooK’s Bucolic satUrdays inspiRe frieNdship

Man, gO Roam amonG An aNagram

The first is for Henry Cockburn (1779–1850) (no relation), whose friend Francis Jeffrey moved out of Edinburgh to then country district of Craigcrook; the second is for the poet Edwin Morgan (1920–2010), and nods towards Bob Cobbing’s extensive list of anagrams on EDWIN MORGAN, which begins:

AM WONDERING
NOW DREAMING
WORD MEANING
WANDERING ‘OM’

Alec also wrote a circle poem incorporating a mesostic, here shown in its printed form, which was installed as steel text in stone outside the entrance to the library. You can read his account of the project here.

V is for Vailima

Vailima_RLS_SNPG Vailima_RLS_NewCaltonBuryingGround_1 Vailima_RLS_NewCaltonBuryingGround_2

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94) bought the estate of Vailima in January 1890, having arrived in Samoa the previous month. He wrote the poem ‘The tropics vanish…’ about the same time. In it he imagines he is high on the Pentland Hills just south of Edinburgh, looking over on the city, before he zooms in on the family vault in the New Calton Burying Ground, where his grandfather and other relatives are buried. Many of them were engineers, and the family became known as ‘the Lighthouse Stevensons’, for all the lighthouses they built around the Scottish coasts. The poem was published posthumously in Songs of Travel (1895), a volume prepared by Stevenson before his death.

Far set in fields and woods, the town I see
Spring gallant from the shallows of her smoke,
Cragged, spired, and turreted, her virgin fort
Beflagged. About, on seaward-drooping hills,
New folds of city glitter…

There, on the sunny frontage of a hill,
Hard by the house of kings, repose the dead,
My dead, the ready and the strong of word.
Their works, the salt-encrusted, still survive;
The sea bombards their founded towers; the night
Thrills pierced with their strong lamps. The artificers,
One after one, here in this grated cell,
Where the rain erases, and the rust consumes,
Fell upon lasting silence…

There are photographs of RLS at Vailima at https://www.capitalcollections.org.uk (search for ‘Vailima’).

W is for Waverley

Waverley_Scott_04 Waverley_1814 Waverley_Scott_03

Waverley_Scott_05 Waverley_Scott_02 Waverley_Scott_01

Walter Scott (1771–1832) published his first novel, Waverley; or, ‘Tis Sixty Years Since, in 1814. He was already famous for such poems as The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) and The Lady of the Lake (1810), but the novel was published anonymously, and Scott didn’t admit publicly to writing this and the many novels that followed until 1827. Waverley is set during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, and narrates the adventures of a young English nobleman who finds himself in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army. But he’s never quite sure which side he wants to be on, hence his name. The railway station at the east end of Princes St which opened in 1846 was named after Scott’s work. In 2014, to celebrate the 200th annversary of the novel’s appearance, and the re-opening of the line between Edinburgh and the Scottish borders, quotations from Scott’s works were installed around the station by Edinburgh City of Literature.

X is for Charles X

X_HolyroodAbbey X_AFrenchKingAtHolyrood

In the past the area around Holyrood Palace was a debtor’s sanctuary. One man who took advantage of that sanctuary was Charles Bourbon, Comte d’Artois (1757–1836), the youngest brother of Louis XVI, guillotined after the French revolution. Charles left France and raised an army to fight the revolutionaries, which lost the first battle it fought. The now heavily indebted Charles fled to Britain; to protect him from his creditors the government sent him north to Holyrood, where he lived from 1796 to 1803. He later returned to mainland Europe, and to France itself after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. In 1824 he became king, but his unpopularity led to his overthrow in 1830 and, given those still outstanding earlier debts, his return to Holyrood.

A year before his fall, he had met the young poet and playwright Victor Hugo (1802–85). Hugo’s play Marion de Lorme had been banned by the censor; his appeal against the ban surprisingly led to a private audience with Charles. But the ban remained, and some years later Hugo wrote a poem about their meeting, contrasting the sumptuous surroundings of Saint Cloud, the palace to the west of Paris where they met, with Charles’ residence at Holyrood, which had suffered from decades of neglect. Hugo never visited Scotland, so he wrote from imagination. He titled the poem ‘Le Sept Août 1829’ (‘7th August 1829’), which was the date of their meeting.

Holyrood ! Holyrood ! la ronce est sur tes dalles.
Le chevreau broute au bas de tes tours féodales.
Ô fureur des rivaux ardents à se chercher !
Amours ! — Darnley ! Rizzio ! quel néant est le vôtre !
Tous deux sont là, — l’un près de l’autre ; —
L’un est une ombre, et l’autre une tâche au plancher !

Holyrood! Holyrood! The bramble is on your flagstones. / The goat grazes beneath your feudal towers. / O fury of the ardent rivals who seek each other! / Loves! — Darnley! Rizzio! what void is yours! / Both are there, — one next to the other; — / One is a shadow, the other a stain on the floor!

cf A.J. Mackenzie-Stewart’s book A French King at Holyrood (1997).

Y is for Chiang Yee

Yee_Silent_Traveller_in_Edinburgh

Chiang Yee (1903–1977) was a Chinese poet, author, painter and calligrapher who lived in Britain from 1933–1955, then spent 20 years in the USA (at Colombia University) before returning to China shortly before he died. He wrote a series of books as The Silent Traveller, including The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh, written during the war years and published in 1948. In it he pairs his own translations of classic Chinese poems with places and people he encounters in the city. In the New Calton Burying Ground he sees the Burns monument, and writes:

When I looked up at it from the lower level of the New Calton Burying Ground it seemed to me singularly beautiful and serene… My thoughts on Burns went further… I began to wonder about his nationality… Recently I read ‘Shakespeare’s Legacy’ by the late Sir James Barrie in which the wife asserts to her husband that Shakespeare was a Scot from Glen Drumly, so why should I not claim Robert Burns as a Chinese by birth, particularly as I can quote the following poem from a collection of Chinese love-songs from twenty-five centuries ago?

Bonnie is my quiet lassie, supposed to be
Waiting for me at the corner of the city wall.
I love her but know not where she is.
Scratching my head I pace to and fro.

Fair is my quiet lassie,
Who gave me a crimson reed.
This crimson reed glows
And reflects her beauty that I love.

From the pasture she brought back for me a tender blade,
So beautiful and rare.
It is not that you, the blade, are beautiful,
But you are the gift of my love.

I do not wish to start an argument, nor to claim that I know anything about Christianity, yet it seems to me that Robert Burns’ life and thoughts are more Confucian than Christian.

Z is for riZZio

Murder of David Rizzio in the presence of Mary Stuart Z_Rizzio

David Rizzio (to use the more common spelling, though the plaque in the Canongate kirkyard opts for Riccio), came to Scotland from his native Turin in 1561. A good musician, and a Catholic, he found favour with Mary Queen of Scots, lately returned from France. In 1565 Mary married a Protestant noble, Lord Darnley, who soon became jealous of Rizzio. On 9 March 1566 Darnley and other Protestant lords burst into her chamber at Holyrood Palace and murdered Rizzio in front of her. Within a year Darnley too was dead, and the country descended into civil war; Mary was forced to abdicate and fled to England. In Hogg’s The Queen’s Wake (1813), Rizzio is the first poet to recite his work to the court.

Short was the pause ; the stranger youth,
The gaudy minstrel of the south,
Whose glossy eye and lady form
Had never braved the northern storm
Stepped lightly forth, — kneeled three times low, —
And then, with many a smile and bow,
Mounted the form amid the ring,
And rung his harp’s responsive string.
Though true the chords, and mellow-toned,
Long, long he twisted, long he coned ;
Well pleased to hear his name they knew ;
‘Tis Rizzio!’ round in whispers flew.

And the beginning of that performance seems as good a place as any to end.