by Sean Wai Keung
One of the first things I learn is that Arbroath Abbey can be seen from most parts of the town. Combined with its age and grandeur, this gives the structure a towering presence. I’m here as part of a joint residency with the Scottish Poetry Library, the Arbroath 2020 committee, and Hospitalfield’s New Scriptorium, and I have a singular plan: to recycle paper.
Over the next five days I will walk through Arbroath talking to people about their lives and associations with the Abbey, and as I do I will ask if they have any paper to scrap, and if so, if they would be willing to donate it instead to my recycling project. I will then take all that paper and pulp it before making fresh new sheets, which will be gifted back to the community as a thank you for having me.
Throughout my time I am consistently surprised by the friendliness and openness of people. In Caffe Barista I’m asked if I could write a poem to go on their wall. At a smokie house in the Fit O’ The Toon I end up in a twenty minute discussion about recipes. One of my most memorable visits is to The Learning Tree, a book/toy shop near the Abbey which supports people with a learning disability to gain skills and experience in customer service. There, I’m donated several damaged books to pulp down, which I do, alongside out-of-date leaflets from the library, peoples shopping lists and more. At least twice I have to remind myself that I actually have to do the paper-making itself, and must tear myself away from conversations. Even at the end of the project, when I pop back into The Learning Tree to give Development Worker Morag McKenzie a few sheets of the paper, new stories illuminate. Morag begins to tell me about her own connections to paper-making, and once again I feel like I could stay and talk all afternoon.
My original plan had been to use a sheet of my new Arbroath paper to write a poem during my stay. However, the more I talked to people the more I felt it would be better to offer those who donated a chance to write their own poems (or shopping lists!) on the paper themselves. At the same time I must admit that I did take a sheet back to Glasgow with me. On it, I plan to write something I can take back with me the next time I visit this special place.