Hankering for a haiku or starving for a sonnet? Then look no further than the Scottish Poetry Library. Situated just off of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, it’s filled with people to help you find just the thing! Even if the thing you want is an opaque verse from childhood.
Finding missing poems is all part of the service, as the Poetry Library’s Communications Manager, Colin Waters, explained.
“People tend to call or email with a few lines of a poem they wish to track down, then our librarians call on our collection, before searching lines, trying variants and consulting colleagues to find it.”
Often people remember poems from milestones in their lives, but forget the title or the author.
Waters explained: “People often want a poem read at a wedding, funeral or indeed at a political meeting. In Scotland, when we experience important moments in our lives we like to hear what the poets have to say about them.”
This vice for verse is, Waters recons, the reason the country has produced so many world class poets.
He said: “The mature generation of Scottish poets – such as Don Paterson, Kathleen Jamie and John Burnside – have won every prize going; and the Scottish Poetry Library is the best place to discover more about this wonderful heritage.”
While Scotland’s poetry is centuries old, the Scottish Poetry Library is young, having been founded in 1984. A brain child of the poet Tessa Ransford, the library first inhabited rooms within Edinburgh’s Tweedale Court, before outgrowing this space.
Waters recalled: “The Library’s collection grew, so in 1999 (after extensive fund raising) the Scottish Poetry Library moved to its current building at Crichton’s Close.”
But the work didn’t stop there; in 2015 the library underwent refurbishment to include a new entrance, sheltered terrace, further storage, recording room and event spaces.
Now the SPL is the only poetry library in Europe housed in its own specially-constituted building.
“The Library has evolved beyond bricks-and-mortar and we are exploring ways of making its poems easier to access beyond the building. We offer postal loans, our catalogue is online and people can download our poetry posters wherever they live,” Waters said.
The library has also increased its interactivity with fortnightly podcasts; as well as email, Facebook and Twitter campaigns. In 2011, the SPL’s Twitter feed was judged to be the fourth most influential in the library world.
Waters quipped: “The virtual door is always open.”
In fact, the Scottish Poetry Library website plays a vital role in recruiting its volunteers. Those interested in helping at the library can fill in an online form describing the skills they could contribute, as well as those they wish to gain.
The library also has a lot to offer recreational visitors.
Water said: “In July the Saltire Prize-winning poet Ryan Van Winkle will be hosting a SPL event at Jupiter Artland.”
He added: “The Scottish Poetry Library has a reputation for experimenting; in the past year its events have featured drag queens, throat singing, and film-poems. So far this year’s events have been somewhat more restrained, but we have interesting shows to announce this autumn.”