Ken Cockburn was born in Kirkcaldy. He studied French and German at Aberdeen University, and Theatre Studies at University College Cardiff. From 1996 to 2004 he worked at the Scottish Poetry Library, as Fieldworker and Assistant Director. With Alec Finlay he established and ran pocketbooks, an award-winning series of poetry and visual art publications (1999-2002), and was subsequently a director of platform projects, its successor company.
Since 2004 he has worked as a freelance writer, translator, editor and writing tutor. His poetic practice often involves collaborators and other art forms, as in the artist’s book ink (University of Abertay, 2011), his development of a descriptive poem for visually impaired visitors to the Talbot Rice Gallery and his ‘Road North’ project, again with Alec Finlay, a Scottish version of Basho’s 18th-century long journey in northern Japan.
His first collection of poems, Souvenirs and Homelands, was shortlisted for a Saltire Award in 1998, and a collection of his translations of contemporary German poets, Feathers and Lime, was published in 2007, as was a new collection of poems, On the flyleaf. His poems have been published in translation as French, German, Hungarian and Slovakian.
Cockburn has edited various anthologies for the SPL, including the CD The Jewel Box (2000) and Intimate Expanses: XXV poems from Scotland, 1978-2002 (2004). For pocketbooks he edited The Order of Things: an anthology of Scottish sound, pattern and concrete poems (2001), and for platform projects Tweed Rivers: new writing and art inspired by the rivers of the Tweed catchment (2005).
Cockburn’s Edinburgh Poetry Tours, ran successfully until such things were struck down by the pandemic, but they started up in earnest again with the launch of his most recent publication, Edinburgh: poems & translations in October 2021; he has been keeping folk updated through a blog on his website.