1. SPL, Summer 1999 A photograph taken upstairs in the Library of one of your ‘kinetic poems’, the upright rotating bluegreen barber’s pole powered by a geared-down turntable motor (the poet as, and not metaphorically, engineer) on which a few blurred words are visible opening - slowly - surely - glory - morning - this static version I read conventionally from the top, but in motion it led (the direction of growth) the eye up - you could always contrive another way of reading. Beyond the window the building opposite is smashed panes, broken pipes, laburnum sprouting from second-floor brickwork, scaffolding and protective netting the first signs of renovation. 2. May 2003 I knew in the nineties you were involved in the vigil, helped man and supply the makeshift shed outside the old (unoccupied and silent, if earmarked once as a parliament) Royal High, its duration in days seemed then to mark an endlessly-extending wait, seem now a counting down; your party activism I learned of only later, enjoying the story of how you reorganised the leaflet-runs to the tenements, with, it strikes me, a poet’s urge to rework, revise, adjust the gearing so fewest words/actions have most effect. The clinching couplet of dashed and come-true dreams; your man, astonishingly, goes and wins! 3. Early 2005 Not quite spring. You died not long before Miralles’ building opened. I am no more used to its presence than to your absence; wonder what you would have thought. I think you’d appreciate the audacious angles on the city it gives, or not, given that once inside the circling sky beyond the crags and rooftops is a primary view. Today I’m scrolling your Möbius strip où tout dépend du point de vue reading and rereading without a page being turned, as if we’d start, say, at the Library, and circle the parliament, pausing to wander its veined interior, past Finlay’s coble on the stairs to the chamber and return, renewed, back to where we started. i.m. Gael Turnbull
Ken Cockburn works as a freelance writer, translator, editor and writing tutor, based in Edinburgh. His poetic practice often involves collaborators and other art forms, as in his 'Road North' project with Alec Finlay, a Scottish version of Basho's 18th-century journey in northern Japan.
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About this poem
This poem was commissioned by Mike Pringle, MSP for Edinburgh South, in 2005. It was part of the second stage of the SPL’s Holyrood Link project, through which poets and MSPs were partnered and explored areas of mutual interest.
Ken Cockburn comments:
Gael Turnbull (1928-2004) was born in Edinburgh. He spent his working life as a doctor in Canada, the USA and south-west England, returning to Edinburgh when he retired in 1990. He was a member of the Liberal Democrats, and active for them in the South Edinburgh constituency where he lived.
From 1996 he made a number of kinetic, or moving poems, and presented them in various venues including the old Scottish Poetry Library at Tweeddale Court and, from 1999, the new building at Crichton's Close.
He made the Möbius strip poem 'Le Loup du Pic Saint-Loup' following a residency in the south of France in summer 2000. Like many of his kinetic poems, the poem is circular in form, which the reader can start and end at any point, though here the reader, rather a motor, powers the movement of the text, and determines the speed at which it is read. A friend of Ian Hamilton Finlay, his Migrant Press published some of Finlay's early work.
I first met him around 1993. I was looking through a folder of letters and poems by Gael, when I came across three photos of 'Morning Glory'. I linked the idea of its circularity to the story Mike Pringle told me about Gael reorganising the party's leaflet runs to maximum effect, and its location to the new parliament, a building which has no ideal vantage point, but which offers new points of interest as one moves around it.