The front page of the Edinburgh Evening News for May 31st was headlined ‘Ode to the Poo Patrol’ above a photograph of Environmental Wardens. The article exhorted readers to ‘see pages 12-13 for details’. So now we know what it takes to get poetry into the local newspaper: a bit of dog’s dirt. Not only did it secure a double page spread, the Evening News printed three poems in full.
The newspaper article gave details of the recent launch, at The Writers’ Museum, of the online anthology Edinburgh Unsung which I, as current Edinburgh Makar, put together. You can find it here. It showcases 26 poems, gifted by 23 poets from in and around Edinburgh.
As Makar I am sometimes called on to write a celebratory poem about the city or for a citizen who has brought honour to Edinburgh. This is a privilege. I’ve also been writing poems about some of the ‘greats’ of the city’s past: John Knox, David Hume, Adam Smith, Robert Fergusson, James Clerk Maxwell, Robert Louis Stevenson and, more recently, Eduardo Paolozzi. However, I thought it would interesting to explore another side of Edinburgh: the contemporary world of work; work largely unseen and unsung but often vital to our well-being as citizens.
I tried out the idea on the unsuspecting staff at the Seafield Waste Water Treatment Works (which led to the poem ‘Gardyloo’). After two hours talking to them I was left in no doubt that this was a worthwhile project. But could I write a poem which paid tribute to such skill without being patronising or prosaic? They seemed pleased with the result and that was all that mattered.
The next stage was to find some kindly-disposed poets and draw up a list of potential services that might be likely ‘targets’ of such regard. I was amazed how generous poets were and how quickly they set to the task. The Edinburgh Unsung website has links to the poems, the poets and the service providers. Do look them up! It may make you pause when next you visit a care home, or turn on the tap, or find your path blocked by work on gas mains or cobbles. Or check your watch against a city timepiece.
At the launch of Edinburgh Unsung, it was obvious from speaking to the various service providers attending how much they had appreciated the work of ‘their’ poets. The show was stolen by Beata, a lollypop lady, and subject of the poem by Elspeth Murray. Beata had rushed from her post to attend. She entered wearing her uniform and, as the line in the poem goes, shook out her lovely hair!
I see from upstairs at the end of a shift,
she puts the yellow coat in the back of her car,
from high vis hat, shakes out long red hair.
The word ‘Makar’ focuses our attention on the crafting of a poem. These poems were all crafted with respect and care. They paid tribute to people who craft things and who make things work. We have a lot in common.
Outside in Makars’ Court I like to think the dead poets were applauding!
Christine De Luca
You can read Edinburgh Unsung here.