Big words, bigger picture, fine detail. A grand scheme for poetry writ large on a scaffolding banner on a building site in Edinburgh’s Canongate reveals the more adventurous side of the capital city. If you hurry – and I type faster – you might just be in time to vote for whose words adorn the site.
This is a collaboration between the Scottish Poetry Library and New Waverley and it shows shrewd and creative business sense on both sides. Culture meets commerce in a development which promises the new Royal Mile site will be ‘vibrant and cool’. The Scottish Poetry Library, in case you haven’t already found it, is the best of hidden treasures (currently closed for renovation) in Crichton’s Close, which should be on everyone’s city map.
There has been plenty of public disquiet about development plans in this part of town over the last few years but a healthy by-product is the blossoming street art (a new experience for Edinburgh city centre) which flickers and flares across construction hoardings. The arches in Market Street burst into life with Grafjam led by Work In Progress Edinburgh (WIPE), a community arts partnership made up of local residents and city artists.
I love the New Street Boards, a legal graffiti wall in New Street, a constantly changing gallery of mischief, comment and pure exuberant colour. Bold Reekie, as one striking cityscape piece declared earlier this year.
And now poetry:
On the morning of National Poetry Day (8 October), the Scottish Poetry Library, the team from New Waverley and the Edinburgh Makar Christine De Luca will unveil a poem on a 25 x 12 metre printed scaffolding sheet that will cover the front of the Sailor’s Ark building, found on the Canongate stretch of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. This poem will stay up on the building until summer 2016, greeting all those who pass by. We’re calling the project Big Words.
The clock is ticking even as I type. By the time you read this it may well be too late to vote – the deadline is midnight on 24 September – but we can all look forward to the great unveiling. I’ve made my choice. Which one did you pick, or would have chosen? Which one of these poems will be revealed on 8 October?
‘Why don’t you take my question seriously – ?’
‘ – a black hole, a dream, a conceptual universe,
By Edwin Morgan, the Glasgow boy who became the first Scots Makar, constructs a foundation stone of limitless proportions, melding what Scot Poetry Library eloquently calls ‘ ephemera of the day with the very stuff of dreams.
I had to get nearer the sky,
For the city was too full of rooms
By Margaret Tait, experimental filmmaker and poet, born in Orkney, A beautifully succinct expression of personal yearning that would fit well on the building
beyond the turning earth
and up into the whirling stars
by Elizabeth Burns, the poem’s imagery begins with the spinning of the potter’s wheel sweeping us upwards. Elizabeth Burns spent much of her life in Scotland but lived and worked in Lancaster where she taught creative writing.
spires and tenements stacked on your spine,
the castle and the palace linked by one rope.
by Valerie Gillies, second Edinburgh Makar (2005-8) pays tribute to the ‘spatchcock town’ which is both home and festival centre with ‘windy mazes’, ‘crooked close and crowded mile’.
They are all fine works which could work well on the wind-battered sheeting. But for me there is only one choice.
sweat the felt screed the cement
pack the joist level the cleat
eat the piece hammer the nail
by William Letford, roofer and poet, who won a New Writer’s Award from the Scottish Book Trust and an Edwin Morgan travel bursary which took him to Italy where he spent three months helping to restore a mountain village in 2008. I can picture both William Letford (piece half eaten, hammer in hand) and his words working on the Canongate building.