Scottish Poetry Library

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.”


Print and be Damned


A feature on getting fiction published

Alistair Canlin leads a double life. By day he works with retailers in Glasgow, by night he works with strippers, zombies and murders and he’s not alone.

“There are lots of us writers out there.”

Every year hundreds of people take part in the National November Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, all attempting to have drafted manuscripts by the end. Well, they do say everyone has a novel in them.

As if to prove the point, Canlin has written four: Heaven, the tale of a Glasgow strip club, Twisted Love, about a partner turned killer, Black and White, which follows a forensic photographer and Middle Class Zombie.

Yet these are not the fruits of NaNoWrimiMo or any other writing group; instead Canlin’s work comes from an Open University course and self publishing.

“To be honest Lulu is not a proper mainstream publishing deal; I am still pursuing that, along with an agent.

“I have a box filled with rejection letters that one day I intend to paper a room with. Rejection is just part and parcel of being a writer.”

Si – fi author, Tara Harper explained that (in the United States) each year only three out of every 10,000 submitted manuscripts are actually published.

Harper explained this turnover to be a product of the profession’s demands. Work must be well written, edited and commercially popular, to get to print.

With such odds, it is no wonder self-publishing sites have boomed. They give writers the assurance of print and allow them control of production, with some sites offering choice of lay- out and finish.

Despite this democratic effect, the revolution has not been embraced by everyone.

Author Kristine Kathryn Rusch was quoted saying ‘vanity presses are called vanity for a reason. They appeal to the writer’s vanity, not the writer’s sanity. Stay away if you want to be a serious writer’.

Yet, self- publishing can lead to mainstream success, as Canlin found out, when an American producer read Heaven and wanted to adapt it to film.

Another success story of self- publishing is that of Catherine Baird, a writer from Cumbernauld. She replied to Padgett Powell’s book of questions, The Interrogative Mood, with her own book of answers, The Responsive Mood.

As well as selling her book on Amazon website, Baird read it alongside Powell in Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts.

While the novel had finesse enough to gain his endorsement, it was rejected by Cargo publishers, due to its abstract nature.

This concept of style dictating success is one Baird is familiar with, despite writing and editing Valve literary journal, published by Freight, she is not optimistic about her solo work getting the same reception.

“The stuff I write is never going to be in the genre which millions of people will buy. When it comes to literary fiction, or really exciting Scottish literature, publishers don’t give it as much of a push.”

That being said, there are a wealth of literary journals and magazines on the Scottish writing scene looking for such material. One of which is Octavius, a magazine open to submissions from any Scot in higher education.

Octavius editor, Samuel Best, said: “We saw a gap in the market for student writing, and decided that we should create a platform for newcomers to have their work published.

“Within just a week of launching we had a flood of submissions and some of the pieces were incredible: professional-standard writing without the famous name behind it.”

This quality of work is often the product of writing groups, scribes who share and critique each other’s work to get the best finished product. Many of these can be found in central Glasgow haunts, such as the Scotia Bar.

So if you fancy writing but aren’t sure where to start, why not visit: the Scottish Poetry Library to find a group near you. Or to submit work see Books from Scotland’s list of literary journals.