Stevenson's Edinburgh

Stevenson's Edinburgh
‘this dream in masonry and living rock’

Robert Louis Stevenson,
the author in his jimjams,
wrote about the New Town,
its draughty parallelograms

(the parks, squares, and avenues
in which RLS grew up,
the Georgian grasp on the New
that ever shall erupt),

decrying what he saw,
the Enlightenment’s modernity,
our man reserved his awe 
for the Old Town’s identity:

the wynds and black, volcanic rock;
the tenements, their ghosts;
Burke and Hare, the mortuary block;
the Covenanters’ host.

In doing so, dear Stevenson
was sticking with the plan:
Romance over reason,
the monster over the man,

and building up the Scottish pash
for what we call duality,
that what is flame will soon be ash,
odd thoughts about mortality,

the Otherness that brands us;
we are the Otherhood,
haunted by the unconscious,
with a tendency to brood.

He was a storyteller,
the finest of the lot.
But he was another fella
who helped fuck up the Scots.
Andrew Neilson

from New Writing Scotland 35 (Edinburgh: ASLS, 2017).
Reproduced with the permission of the author.

Andrew Neilson

Andrew Neilson was born in Edinburgh in 1975. His poems and reviews have recently appeared in New Writing Scotland, The Poetry Review, The Dark Horse, Magma, Under the Radar, Canada’s New Poetry and the Glasgow Review of Books. A long essay on the American poet Anthony Hecht and his relationship with W.H. Auden was published in The Dark Horse in 2017.

He lives and works in London.

Read more about this poet
About Stevenson's Edinburgh

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2017. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2017 was Roddy Woomble.

Author's note:

I was active as a poet in my twenties and then fell silent, before returning to poetry in early 2016. As it happens, I started writing again after attending an event at the Scottish Poetry Library, where I experienced what can only be described as something of an epiphany. Well, it involved writing a poem—after twelve years of thinking I was no longer a poet. I wrote 'Stevenson’s Edinburgh' a few months later, in a flurry of composition that seemed to be making up for lost time. RLS is perhaps the quintessential Edinburgh writer, and has always been an important figure for me, although I tweak his tail in this poem. I think you should only tweak the tails of writers you really love.