We’re past the halfway mark now with our Commonwealth Poets United project. Just in case you’re unaware of what it is – Commonwealth Poets United is an international exchange between six Scottish poets and poets from six Commonwealth nations: Canada, India, Jamaica, New Zealand, Nigeria and South Africa. The idea is to establish relationships between artists, organisations and communities. While in Scotland our Commonwealth visiting poets take part in book festivals, visit schools and get to know their exchange partners. They also get to visit parts of Scotland they always wanted to, to get to know us a bit better.
So far we’ve been visited by Tanya Shirley (Jamaica), Toni Stuart (South Africa), Salma (India) and Louise B Halfe (Canada). Each poet recorded a podcast with us and wrote for our blog.
The first poet to arrive was Tanya Shirley in March. In her blog for our Commonwealth Poets United website, she wrote:
“Poet and host Kei Miller made sure I got on the right train (I’m directionally challenged) to Ayr. Had great conversation with Scottish poet Rab Wilson and was introduced to his poetry. We toured the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum and I was chuffed that the Director, Nat Edwards took the time out of his busy schedule to be our tour guide. Both his and Rab’s passion for Burns’ work was contagious.
“In St. Andrews stayed at a quaint bed and breakfast with the friendliest owner. Felt like a queen. Met the best festival organizer on the planet, Eleanor Livingstone, festival director of StAnza. I want to be like her when I grow up. Got lost a bit in St. Andrews but with only three streets to choose from, I made it back to the inn in one piece.
“I read as a replacement for Carol Ann Duffy because her train was delayed I believe. Poor me having to fill such large shoes but the students were attentive and gracious & on a Saturday too. Saturday night I got to hear Carol Ann Duffy read. What a treat! Best of all, she heard that I was her replacement earlier so she signed my book saying “I owe you one.” How cool is that?!”
You can hear the podcast we recorded with Tanya here.
Toni Stuart was next to arrive, touching down in Glasgow after a long flight from South Africa. She blogged:
“I landed in Glasgow to a crisp spring day, with beautiful sunshine – which I’m told is a rare occurrence in Scotland. Work started straight away – that first night I performed at Rally and Broad Glasgow, hosted by poetry duo Jenny Lindsay and Rachel McCrum, my exchange partner. That night, the other features were fiction writer Kirstin Innes, and poet Colin McGuire. All of the performers were incredible, but it was Colin who stood out for me particularly. It was my first experience of hearing a contemporary Scottish poet’s work. I was intrigued by how the rhythm and music of the way the Scots speak English comes through in Colin’s work. There is a natural rhythm, a richness in the way he delivers his work that is utterly refreshing.
“As we made our way up Buchanan Street towards Queen Street Station, I looked up and saw a street a sign on a building saying Nelson Mandela Place. I was happily surprised to see a little bit of home on Glasgow’s streets.”
Salma, an Indian Tamil poet, has an incredible story: she was confined to her home upon reaching puberty, she struggled to educate herself and then to be a poet. Our director Robyn Marsack wrote up Salma’s account of coming to Scotland for the CPU blog:
“I’m writing this blog rather than waiting to have her write it and then get it translated from Tamil and checked. She spent 10 days in Scotland where she loved the old buildings most, their age and their cultural significance. Travelling down to Ayr was like ‘seeing a painting’; she kept thinking of her teenage reading of Wuthering Heights, too. She was very happy to see that a poet could be honoured by a society as Burns is at his museum – she felt that only Tagore had similar status in India.
“She was astonished by the idea of a women’s library, and struck in Glasgow Women’s Library by the deep engagement of the staff: ‘They treat the books and archives like their children!’ The support for women’s writing was inspiring; Salma felt that this would be so enriching for Muslim women especially. The matter of women’s education and empowerment is understandably her greatest concern.”
Finally, we are delighted to be playing host to Canadian poet Louise B Halfe at the moment, who wrote us a great poem ‘Glasgow’ especially for the CPU blog:
Trees burst into song
Shower the sidewalk
In pink white softness
A confetti spring wedding
Bells stand the elegant warriors
Of the Glasgow city forest
While a great blue heron
Stands on one leg
Beneath the bridge
The fresh dew fragrances
As we crane in search
For the conductors wand
Of this city forest.
Keep checking our CPU blog for new blogs and recordings!