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Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

Everyone's Coming to Edinburgh this August

Edinburgh International Book Festival at night 01 by byrony2, under a Creative Commons licence

Edinburgh International Book Festival launched its programme in the grand surroundings of the Signet Library, with the SPL there to witness it. As the programme was announced, we got caught up in the Book Festival’s  customary infectious excitement. We’re glad to report that the EIBF continues to put poets in the spotlight – though perhaps not enough of them for our taste!

A wealth of homegrown and international talent will come together this August in Charlotte Square. Scottish poets are well represented, not least by two national poets, Scotland’s Makar, Liz Lochhead and the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.

Ron Butlin is also a Makar, of the capital, and his new collection, The Magicians of Edinburgh, brings together poems written about the city. Aonghas MacNeacail continues to celebrate his 70th birthday in style with an appearance at the EIBF; if his event is half as good as the show he put on for us earlier this month, Festival-goers are in for a treat. Aonghas has a new selected poems out, Laughing at the Clock, as does Don Paterson, who will be performing a ‘greatest hits’ show. Tom Pow’s new book, In Another World – Among Europe’s Dying Villages, is an intriguing combination of reportage and poetry that explores disappearing communities on the continent – we were at the book’s launch and his accounts from Spain and Russia are both entertaining and very poignant.

It’s not all elder statesmen and stateswomen at the EIBF. Fresh talent takes a bow in the shape of William Letford, whose debut collection, Bevel, is in part inspired by his work as a roofer.

Bashabi Fraser’s poetry encompasses Scotland and India in her new collection Ragas and Reels. In that sense, her book is perfectly in tune with the spirit of the EIBF itself, which brings to Scotland poets from around Britain and further afield. Paul Durcan, a noted performer of his own work, comes to us from Ireland. Also from Ireland and now teaching at Edinburgh University as well as editing Edinburgh Review, Alan Gillis appears alongside England’s Tony Lopez and Fiona Sampson. Alice Oswald stages an extra-special event when she reads in its entirety Memorial, her version of The Iliad. The SPL is delighted to join hands with the Poetry Trust and EIBF to bring American Marie Howe to the Festival – she is paired with Lavinia Greenlaw in what will be one of the best breakfast sessions of the programme.

Half a century ago, the Edinburgh Writers’ Conference took place, a starry gathering of the best and best-known writers of the day, including Norman Mailer, William Burroughs, Henry Miller and Mary McCarthy. The true star, however, was a poet who came from nearer to home. Hugh MacDiarmid battled his way through the 5-day event, pugnaciously defending his vision of poetry, infamously denouncing Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi, another guest, as ‘cosmopolitan scum’. The Edinburgh Writers’ Conference is the ancestor of today’s EIBF. ‘The Edinburgh Writers’ Conference, 1962: The Legacy’ will feature the original Conference’s organiser, John Calder, no doubt remembering some of MacDiarmid’s saltier remarks.

They say if you want good prose, ask a poet to write it, and 2012’s EIBF goes some way to proving it. A number of poets will be discussing their new prose works, including three recently featured in the SPL’s Best Scottish Poetry 2011 : Jackie Kay on her short story collection Reality, Reality, John Burnside on a death-row prisoner , and Kathleen Jamie on Sightlines, her follow-up to her collection of nature essays, Findings . Simon Armitage talks about walking the Pennine Way, and Kapka Kassabova puts on her dancing shoes to talk about a tango odyssey.

Seamus Heaney is in town not to discuss his writing, but essayist Karl Miller’s; together with Andrew O’Hagan, the trio travelled around Britain. Their latest journey ends up at the EIBF. Ben Okri reverses the trend as a novelist who will be reading poetry and in an unmissable twosome, Liz Lochhead interviews novelist James Kelman.

Can we mention that the Scottish Poetry Library will be staging a number of its own popular Nothing but the Poem events at the EIBF? We’ve chosen a number of themes as a starting point for an in-depth discussion of poetry we think you will enjoy: ‘Classics Revisited’ looks again at some old favourites and we’ll be looking at recent poetry with ‘A Taste of the New’; we mark the 450th anniversary of The Book of Common Prayer with ‘Poetry as Prayer’, while ‘Poetry of War’ looks at the verse born of bloody conflict.

It only remains to remind you that the 2012 winners of the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Prize will be announced on Saturday 18th, The SPL hosts the Edwin Morgan Archive and we’re sure he’ll be there in spirit in Charlotte Square that evening, cheering on the victor and commiserating with the other nominees. Now that it’s all laid out, there seems to be quite a lot of poetry after all!