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
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.