Monday, 27 August 2012

Day 5: Surprise links from across the Atlantic, Poetry in the Persian Tent

    Marie Howe, Mandy Haggith, Eunice Buchanan, Carole Clarke, Stewart Conn and George Wilson.

It's extraordinary how distinctive each morning of these five poetry events has been and today proved to be no exception with a surprise American thread. Carole Clarke, with her accompanist, George Wilson, could have had no idea that their inclusion of a Bernstein song, and a poem, 'Little Rose' by Emily Dickinson put to music, would be the perfect echo to a  last minute addition to the line-up- the acclaimed  American poet, Marie Howe.  How Marie Howe came on board is a long story, involving trans-Atlantic links, the Aldeburgh Festival and John Glenday so many thanks to them for this wonderful surprise.

                                                        Carole Clarke, mezzo-soprano

The event started and ended with Burns' songs from Carole, so the Scottish-American balance was maintained.  Our first Scottish poet was Eunice Buchanan from Arbroath who lives part of the year in Australia now, following her grand-children but is back in Scotland for the summer (what summer?) My favourite was a suitably rainy poem from the point of view of  Noah's Wife in her characteristic dry wit and in Scots, made it clear the wifie would have a deal to say to the All Mighty about those floods.

Next, a poet who lives in the far Top Left Hand corner of Scotland, Mandy Haggith  brought the salt-water and winds of Assynt into the room with dramatic poems personifying trees- reminiscent of Alice Oswald's poems about wild flowers.  These were a sample of the  18 poems about the trees of Scotland, each one also a letter of the Gaelic alphabet,  that Mandy will be publishing shortly with illustrations  so I'm looking forward to that.

Marie Howe's poems proved as stunning as I had been told.  Her poems are sensuous and wise, about love and loss in that everyday American speech that can be cool and seemingly casual, but hits you with its truth and simplicity.  It sounds so different from the more heavily laden iambic we do over here.  I was particularly taken by 'After the Movie' when she and a lover debate what they mean by the word 'love', quoting Simone Weil, Meister Eckhart and Janis Joplin.  That's a great example of her range - issues tackled by great philosophers and  theologians but in the context and voice of the contemporary world too.  I was smitten and will buy her latest book, 'The Kingdom of Ordinary Time' at the EIBF whilst it's still there. Because, of course, I have to admit it wasn't just our event she had flown over the pond for- but for her event with Lavinia Greenlaw the day before at the festival across the road from us in Charlotte Square.  Great that she could fit us into her tight schedule though.

Our last poet, Stewart Conn, needed no introduction to a Scottish audience, especially in Edinburgh, as he is the former Edinburgh Makar (poet laureate).  Also as former Head of Scotland's BBC Radio Drama, his poems proved to be little dramas too, and no surprise, he was a terrific performer too. The audience made it clear how well-loved he is.  I particularly enjoyed  'Early Morning' about two doves billing and cooing outside his bedroom window and the title poem of his latest collection 'The Breakfast Room' inspired by a painting by Bonnard of a woman (whether the painter's wife or maid is unclear) merging into the curtains.  Stewart's poem is in three parts: the p.o.v. of Stewart himself, Marthe, the painter's wife and the painter. As in the painting and poem, things or people on the periphery are often the most important just as in Stewart's poems, where he knows how to bring out the drama of  everyday occurences.

Sadly it was our last event. It all passed in a dream-like haze for me, partly due to paracetamol and flu but I think my euphoria was really due to the superb performers - both poets and musicians who created such a wonderful atmosphere, and the lovely responsive audiences.  But I have to thank the small army of  wonderful volunteers,  and FoSP backstage staff, and in particular the Sound and Technical support, Wezi, who kept calm at all times...considering the changes to the line-up which seemed to occur every day either due to cancellations due to unforseen problems, or planes unable to take off or land due to fog, or planes bringing us surprise newcomers.

Will I do it again next year?  I need time to think about that one.  A hot bath and early night or rather several early nights are needed.  Some very happy memories though. Thanks to everyone involved.
I'll post up on Oxfam's Just Giving site for Old MacDonald had a Farm for Africa project how much we made when it's all worked out.

More photos, see our Facebook Poetry in the Persian Tent event page

Day 4: Rural themes and Celtic tunes: Poetry in the Persian Tent

Aonghas MacNeacail, Jim Carruth, Niall Campbell and Patsy Seddon

A dreich morning of harvest- end rain and cold did not keep a good crowd from coming to the penultimate PiPT event- the performers handed a glass of hot Persian Tea, with mint and honey from Yousef's Persian Tent cafe to warm them up. And it was a terrific event, warmly received by the audience, a  loyal band of supporters but also others who had loved previous days of our events and came along to sample something new.
I asked Jim Carruth to begin his set by speaking a bit about the charity, since all 5 of these events are in aid of  Old MacDonald had a Farm for Africa, which he devised with the backing of Liz Lochhead.  As a farmer, Jim was particuarly inspired by Oxfam's idea of start-up farms - so that people could become self-sufficient.  A call was made for others to contribute by their own fund-raising events too - it doesn't have to be poetry - anything from sponsored walks to cake stalls. Become a 'Young MacDonald' and part of the effort.

Jim then began his reading and  harvest was a theme that was touched on. Though largely billed by me as a 'Celtic' flavour event, with Aonghas MacNecail originally from Skye and Niall Campbell from Uist accompanied by the Celtic harpist, Patsy Seddon, we also had a lowlander, Jim Carruth who started the readings with poems about rural life- people and animals. From poems about hay-baling as a youth with hay allergy (dressed up in balaclava, boiler suit and gloves in the heat)- a great way to lose weight, he quipped,  to a rollicking narrative poem about a young gal forced to dance with all the ageing farmers at a ceilidhe and being birled about by all of them, with humourous character sketches of each one - the warts, literally, n all. A tour de force, reminiscent of George Mackay Brown's Hamnavoe Market characters, but with the hirpling rhythm of a wild reel.

The theme of farming life nicely balanced Niall Campbell's , who comes from a fishing family background so the rural theme continued- the copper of rusting fishing ropes like 'ampersands.'  But we also had poems inspired by Niall's sojourn in France where he spent several weeks on the Robert Louis Stevenson Writers' Fellowship and particularly evocative, a poem about the tepid water there in contrast to memories of cool water from Scottish taps. His  lyrical and sensuous poems have an elegance in their brevity and he has  a fine-tuned ear. A young poet starting his career, who will be someone to watch.

Aonghas MacNeacail in his 70th year, our leading Gaelic poet, also read in English and Scots. The trouble with Gaelic poems, he said, is they take so long, as you have to read the English translation too! This self-mocking sense of humour was evident in all his asides and also in his delightful poems.

                                                         Patsy Seddon

It was also clear why Patsy Seddon is considered one of our leading Celtic harpists and singers.  She certainly gave the whole event a special atmosphere and lift. And it was very illuminating  to learn about the difference between a clarsarch and a Celtic harp. (If you're interested, a clarsarch has metal strings and is played with the finger nails. The Celtic harp has gut strings. The one she played was the latter.)

A Review on the Scottish Poetry Library's Blog/Sweet Etceteras:
Sweet Etceteras

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Marie Howe, American star, to read at Poetry in the Persian Tent

Amazing news.  I am so thrilled that the acclaimed American poet, Marie Howe, will be reading at PiPT tomorrow, Sunday, at 11am.   Marie, who read with Lavinia Greenlaw at the EIBF, has managed to fit us into her tight schedule on her flying visit to Edinburgh.

Her poetry is deeply moving and in particular, the elegy she wrote for her brother who died of an Aids-related illness in 1989.  Margaret Atwood has said that Howe writes 'poems of obsession that transcend their own dark roots.'  Her reading at the Aldeburgh Festival some time ago went down a storm and I sure she will tomorrow too.

Along with Stewart Conn, former Edinburgh Makar, Mandy Haggith and Eunice Buchanan, it will certainly be an event with a variety of voices.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Days 1, and 2 and 3 : Tears and Laughter at Poetry in the Persian Tent

                        Liz Lochhead, John Sampson, John Glenday, Stephanie Green and Ryan Van Winkle

An amazing three days of events have gone by like a wonderful dream.  Each day has had a distinctive feel and been amazing in its own way. Day 1 had a great mixture of voices:  John Glenday's meditative poems a great contrast to Ryan's edgy, Kinda Blue, my own poems inspired by Shetlandic landscape and  Liz Lochhead's variety of moving and funny poems, ending with her hilarious  'ootloud' poem 'Men Talk' (Women natter, chatter) which was her BBC Poetry Slam entry the night before (I think some of the younger contestants got a shock not realizing Liz was a seasoned Performance Poet star in her Art School student days)  before she dashed off for her own Assembly Rooms performance - what a trouper!

                                                                    Liz Lochhead

  John Sampson on crumhorn, a cow's horn and several instruments in his mouth at the same time (see photo) lifted the whole event  by his staggering virtuosity.

                     Jackie Kay, Billy Letford, Liz Lochhead, John Sampson, and Stephanie Green

Day 2 had  a disappointment in that Helen Mort had to cancel but Liz stepped in to help with a longer slot so we were treated to a greater variety of her range.  Liz and Jackie Kay, both terrific performers, both brought the house down.  I had tears in my eyes from Jackie's moving poem about her friend, the poet, Julia Darling's death, how friends are still in our memories, and are only finally dead, when we are. Then later tears of laughter from her uproarious 'Ma Broon has Colonic Irrigation.'  Not the usual subject matter in a church hall! Hey, it's a Persian Tent for the duration.

                                                                    Jackie Kay

 William or Billy Letford was as stunning as word had said.  He recites by heart poems of great directness and strength with an equally no nonsense, strong delivery, about the world of a roofer, a life of hardship and work.  The integrity and moving simplicity of his poems knocked me out.   What a privilege to hear someone who is the real thing, so talented, at the beginning of what will surely  be a great career. His first collection, published by Carcanet, was  launched the day after our event, so we also had the pleasure of a sneak taster.

A disappointment was a message from Lise Sinclair, fog-bound, with no planes able to land or take off from Fair Isle but John Sampson, the hero, stood in and gave us another amazing series of flourishes and tootles.


Day 3 a rainy day added atmospheric sound effects from outside, whilst inside the half-notes and close harmony of some mournful Bulgarian and traditional songs from 'Just Voices' were perfect as an introduction to a less uproarious than the day before, but evocative and lyrical poetry of Patricia Ace, Jane McKie, with the seemingly gentle but  fierce, visceral bite of Vicki Feaver's.
                                                                Vicki Feaver

                          Patricia Ace

                                                                                                              Jane McKie

                                                                      Lise Sinclair                                            

A wonderful surprise was Lise Sinclair's appearance - fog finally clearing from Fair Isle - and we were treated to a sample of evocative poetry in Shetlandic followed by her song about her daughter being taught to spin by her own father, the child's grandfather.

 More Photos and articles on our Facebook Event page  Poetry in the Persian Tent   Scroll down to Press Officer, James T Harding's entry with link to the Photo Collection and articles in The Skinny and Broadway Baby.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Kilims, lanterns and mezze, oh and poetry and music too: Poetry in the Persian Tent 1.

Today's first of five Poetry in the Tent events was fabulous - though I say it myself. Poets Liz Lochhead, John Glenday, Ryan VanWinkle and myself and the brilliant virtuoso on crumhorn and other weird wind instruments, John Sampson kick-started the series of poetry and music with an exotic Persian Tent background, lanterns winking,  kilims on the floor. And afterwards we indulged in mezze and delicious honey and mint tea in the persian tent cafe next door.

Tomorrow's line-up is just as starry with the beloved Jackie Kay and others.  The only disappointment is that  the folk singer, Lise Sinclair is fog-bound up in Fair Isle and won't be able to make it.  John Sampson has heroically agreed to stand in.

Here's a taster of what's to come in The Skinny online:

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