I travelled up to Elgin by train yesterday for my first session as Poet Partner. It was a beautiful journey to Aberdeen, with the sun shining and the scenery doing its best to pretend it was Spring. I crossed over the Forth Bridge lots of times when I was young, but it occurred to me that I hadn’t previously gone over the Tay Rail Bridge. It was a really interesting experience – which will be remembered for a very long time, – as someone once said. You’re much closer to the water than on the Forth Bridge, and it seems a longer crossing, although I don’t know the actual distances involved. We arrived in Aberdeen with three minutes to spare to catch the connection to Elgin, but that was fine; the train was close by. Arriving in Elgin I met up with Alistair Campbell, who whisked me off to the Elgin Library and a meeting with Sheila Campbell, who is managing the partnership with the Scottish Poetry Library. It was great to meet up with my friends again – I hadn’t seen them for such a long time. And the Elgin Library is a busy, user-friendly place with enthusiastic staff.
The reading was a session on contemporary Scottish poets, under the envelope of ‘The heirs of Burns’. In this I pick up some of the themes Burns wrote about, and demonstrate how today’s poets tackle the same subjects. So I have humour, nature, philosophy, language, love and so on. I usually do this reading for adult audiences, so when I saw a youngster in the front row I made an instant adjustment to the reading list – seamlessly I hope.
Here’s the set list:
Tom Leonard: The voyeur
Sheena Blackhall: Doric’s no dodo
Edwin Morgan: King Billy
Dennis O’Donnell: Even Solomon
Robert Crawford: Scotch Broth
Kathleen Jamie: The Queen of Sheba
Angus Calder: Haymarket sunset
Roddy Lumsden: Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
Anne MacLeod: Persephone’s daughter
Colin Will: Pomegranate
Carol Ann Duffy: Warming her pearls
John Burnside: Anstruther
Gerry Cambridge: Foxgloves
Alastair Reid: Scotland
Janet Paisley: Sarah: Stranger Danger
W N Herbert: Why the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Elgin
Colin Will: Satori in Fauldhouse
Norman MacCaig: My last word on frogs
In the audience was another friend, Rhona, with whom I’d worked in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Library, so it was a very warm and friendly gathering. The reading was in the Gallery, part of the same building which houses the Library, and it was good to read the poems surrounded by paintings – many of botanical subjects. Also good to meet up with the School Librarian from Buckie, where I hope we can arrange some poetry sessions with school pupils.
After a discussion on how we might develop the partnership, Alistair took me back to the station, and I boarded the train for Inverness, where I was due to change to return to Edinburgh. That was where the day took a nosedive. Little did I know (or care) beforehand, that a certain well-known Edinburgh football team was playing a certain well-known Inverness football team that afternoon. The train was crowded with football fans, all the way back to Waverley. Not that their behaviour was bad – with two policemen in every carriage and drink confiscated it couldn’t be – but the singing and chanting was bad and incessant, only alleviated when voices began to be lost toward the end of the journey, and the language was unneccesarily and incessantly bad too. I got back to Edinburgh about 10:15, picked up my car at 11, and arrived home just before midnight. A very long day.
Next time I’ll drive up – at least that way I’ll be able to choose my company and my music.
A message this morning from George Simmers to say that one of my Tibet poems – Iron Road To Lhasa – is published in the March issue of Snakeskin, and a pleasant surprise to find that Andrew Shields also features in this issue.