I’m just back from a very varied three days in Moray, and I’m delighted at how well the programme went.
On Wednesday afternoon I met S1 and S2 pupils from Forres Academy in the Falconer Museum in Forres. Hugh Falconer was a 19th century medic who worked in India. He was exactly the kind of man I had in mind when I wrote my poem ‘Here for the Company’ for the Royal Museum of Scotland a few years back. He was a polymath, studying the geology of the Siwalik Hills, and commissioning botanical illustrations of plants new to science. I remember encountering, in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Library, copies of Falconer’s prints of different varieties of cinchona bark. He encouraged the cultivation of the cinchona tree to extract the anti-malarial drug quinine from the bark. (That’s where the tonic in yer G&T comes from).
Anyway, in the Falconer Museum we managed to produce a group poem. Inevitably in such large groups you find one or two individuals who have much better language skills than others, so it’s crucial to make every pupil feel part of it.
In the evening I did a haiku workshop in Buckie Library – great fun.
The next day I went back to Forres to do a workshop with a group of adults with learning difficulties in the Towerview day centre. We talked in very general terms about their favourite things, creating a word picture of each of them. Then we moved on to the world outside, to the seasons, and made more word pictures. Finally, I asked them what were their hopes for the future. It was a very special session.
In the evening I went to the launch in Elgin of Gillian Philip’s new novel for teenagers – Bad Faith. Gillian’s a member of Elgin Writers, and I liked the extract from the book she read that night. Then it was off to Lossiemouth to read contemporary Scots poems to the Scots language group.
On Friday I was back in Buckie for a ‘Drifter’s Haiku’ session. A group of us went into shops and offices in the town, asking people to say in 17 words what they were doing at that particular moment. Then I went back to the library and converted the words into a series of haiku, which will be displayed in the library. It was a great way of creating a snapshot of the town and its people, who I found to be cheerful and very welcoming.
Almost forgot: another good thing that happened in Elgin was that I finally started a commissioned poem I’m due to read at a dinner later this month. I’m always scared of these commissions as the deadlines approach. Am I going to be inspired? Will I manage to write something appropriate? I know at the back of my mind that somehow it will happen – it always has before – but still it’s a bit scary. This one is to celebrate the centenary of the Scottish Library Association and the International Federation of Library Associations, so it’s rather prestigious.