September 21, 2021

Stand by! Program incoming

September Newsletter (originally published 3 September 2021).


It is somehow already September which means that our inaugural festival programme is imminent. For environmental reasons, we've chosen not to publish a printed programme, so details of all of our shows, our amazing roster of poets, and all the other weird and wonderful festival delights we've lined up for you, will be at your fingertips, online, in a matter of days (September 8th to be exact).

We know you will be on tenterhooks! But in the meantime, mark your calendars for Push the Boat Out 2021 for October 15th - 17th, and please forward this email to the friends you're bringing to the festival so they can sign up and see the programme too. Go on, even the ones that say they don't like poetry. We're going to change their minds.

Festival Accessibility

While we're thrilled about the prospect of hosting in-person events come October, and while we are planning for most of our events to be held in the 'traditional' way, we realise that online and distanced events made arts and culture more accessible to people with certain disabilities, chronic conditions, and other limitations. We lament that this increase in inclusion was brought about as a side effect to so much global suffering, but understanding these lessons and maintaining accessibility is important to us.

So, although we're a small and new outfit, we will be streaming and BSL-interpreting as many events as we can. Some will be streamed live during the festival and others will be made available after the fact.  We're working with our venue Summerhall to make sure accessibility in-person is very high on our priority list - information is available here and will be detailed alongside ticketing information when our program is released on September 8th. We've also worked hard to try and keep the ticketing cost of our festival as low as we can, and included free events and activities where possible; these events will be clearly marked in our programme.

If you have further ideas or requirements to make our festival more accessible, please email us at We would like your feedback on other things we can do to make your participation in Push the Boat Out International Poetry Festival a reality.

Pàdraig MacAoidh / Peter Mackay

We're very excited about the final stages of our putting together our lineup, and a number of poets have provided some poem excerpts from pieces to be included in our program with which us to tantalise you. This first piece, in Gaelic then English, is from poet, lecturer and broadcaster Pàdraig MacAoidh / Peter Mackay:

Am Bùrach


Dhèanadh na Ròmanaich bùrach agus theireadh iad fois ris,
ach uaireannan chan eil dad a dhìth ort ach bùrach:
am faireachdainn ’ud gun robh thu seo uaireigin roimhe
ach gun chinnt’ cùin no ciamar no carson.


Dh’fhàg sinn dùthaich dhuibh agus rinn sibh bùrach dheth.
Air neo: dh’fhàg sinn bùrach dhuibh agus rinn sibh dùthaich dheth,
ach chan eil e gu dìofar cho fad’s a tha bùrach gu leòr air fhàgail
gus tè bheag a ghabhail. O Thìr nam Beann ’s nam Bùrachan,

gus am bi sinn beò am bùrach seo a-rithist: slàinte!
Isd - cha robh am bùrach a-riamh air bhruidhinn an seo.

The Bourach


The Romans would make a bourach and call it peace,
but sometimes all you need is a bourach,
that feeling of having been here, before, though
not sure when or how or why.


We left you a country and you made a bourach of it.
Or we left you a bourach and you made a country of it –
ach, it doesn’t matter as long as there’s enough bourach left over
for a wee dram. Slanj va! Land of hills and bourachs,

lang may your bourach reek!
Wheesht: the bourach was never spoken here.

Ellen Renton

The second excerpt we *need* you to read is from poet, performer, and theatre-maker Ellen Renton: 

The Mound 


   / I was told that the streets show themselves / patterns on a dropped
roll of cloth / only stopping for the sea / and I saw it / in my own way /
grey and blue / glass and headlights /   / I recognised the car’s rude
swerve in the dark /   / A friend visited and did what I’ve been
holding in / as if we were living in the film version of the city / where
anything could be said / he clutched his chest as if the view might just
see him off /

Michael Pedersen

The third and final excerpt is from Michael Pedersen, poet, playwright, and pop song composer of Neu! Reekie! infamy. He is also the capitano of the PTBO project all these poets have in common. Here's a tasty morsel of his poem, 'Edinburgh's Fallen':

Edinburgh's Fallen


From undefeatable gladiators flaunting
weaponry to clapped-out greyhounds
hiding a limp. When they blew-up
the Power Station thousands revelled,
climbed hills, took to beaches & boarded boats
with picnics; countdowns swelled, misfired
looped back—the beans kept jumping until
BOOM. First fire-dust rifled its gut
like popping candy fed to the swans,
then the chimneys crumbled inwards,
embraced like drunk friends falling
laughing. We surveyed from a verdant
summit, toasted it as Hogmanay,
snogged, watched again on YouTube
with a soundscape in slow-motion—
spectral voices mooing as the bricks
unzipped, disappearing behind a powder.
The last opal of smoke the dragon issued
saw it choke on its own ash.

The High School met a more shameful demise,
stripped down in stages over an aeon:
robbed of its cape, finger bones broken.
Gouged by metal claws until lower
than a double-decker bus,
loose wires fraying in wind ugly
as unfair grief. All the dignity of a tiger
in a cage at a cocktail party;
a crab launched at a rock.


Cockenzie was handed a queen’s sword
to fall on. Portobello died a death of
a thousand cuts. I’m not saying
I’d switch them, who am I to condemn
the heart of a heretic, it’s enough
to be here when they’re not.

Horizons in Poetryland

The Scottish Book Trust has made a wonderful list of opportunities for writers in Scotland and we've whittled it down to what is most relevant to your poetic genius: 

  • MONO. is looking for poetry submissions on their theme 'sanity' to do with dark humour, satire and brutally honest reflections on ordinary life. Deadline (midnight) 1 September.
  • Submissions for Gutter Magazine are now open. Deadline 24 September.
  • Verve will be back for 2022 with submissions on the theme 'beginnings'. Deadline 30 September.
  • Scottish PEN has opened submissions for poetry and prose for their 'diary' issue. Deadline 30 September.

Scottish Book Trust's full list can be viewed here.

August 4, 2021

A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky

August 2021

It's August and we are just a month away from launching our festival program, so it's been busy times in the boat. While we can't reveal anything just yet, a raucous poetry clamjamfrie in person is feeling more and more within our reach, and with the festival taking place October 15th - 17th, there's not much longer to wait now...

In the meantime, there's plenty to dig into in this month's newsletter  - our call for volunteers, a thinkpiece from one of our most dedicated volunteers, an introduction to another of our team members, a gorgeous poem from Sam Tongue, a list of August poetry events, and more.

The beautiful weather may be slowing your reading eyes, but we assure you, you don't want to miss this!

*A Lewis Carroll poem. Check it out.

On green conversations and the poetry of the earth: Sustainability and Edinburgh's Festivals

by Mariachiara Sica

PTBO volunteer Mariachiara Sica has been working hard behind the scenes for PTBO since February. She has worked closely with Engagement & Sustainability Manager Esa Aldegheri and has critical thoughts about the role festivals play in hindering and helping sustainability efforts. Here's an excerpt of her excellent thinkpiece:

"As I’m writing this piece in the middle of July 2021, the peak of Edinburgh’s festival season is at our doors. After the mess of last year, it has been a breath of fresh air to see festival programmes being released, tickets being sold, people looking forward to enjoying the arts and culture again, albeit on a much smaller scale.

However, as our world hopefully begins to spin in the right direction again, it is also impossible to ignore the news of the past few days of natural disasters happening all over the world, of flooding episodes in the middle of summer, of heatwaves and wildfires. 

With all this in mind, I cannot help but wonder the impact that going back to ‘normal life’ will have on our planet, especially now that the pandemic has given politicians the perfect excuse to repeat their favourite catchphrase – ‘there are far more pressing issues to worry about at the moment’ – in response to everything they don’t want to deal with. ...

As John Keats once wrote, ‘the poetry of earth is never dead’. As a result of the environmental crisis we are currently experiencing, an increasing number of writers are dealing with the environment in their works. It is only after Esa, PTBO’s Engagement and Sustainability Manager, told me about this festival’s aims to include sustainability in their programming choices that my world opened to ecopoetics.

For those who are as I was and are unfamiliar with the concept, ecopoetics is a genre of poetry that emphasises the connections between human activity and the environment that produces it. While much of ecopoetics are substantially different from the peaceful musings of the Romantics, ecopoets are witnesses who create records of how much is at stake for all of us if we don’t try to rekindle the connection with the environment that surrounds us, not only in terms of pollution and the climate crisis but also in terms of who we are as a society.

As someone who is deeply interested in the power that art has within activism, having had the chance to get involved with PTBO, and seeing sustainability included in an ever-growing manner in festival programming and curating practices gives me hope that there is a chance, for us, to keep the poetry of earth alive."

You can read the rest here. Look out for events within our main Push the Boat Out festival program when it launches A MERE MONTH FROM NOW!

Call for Volunteers - Compañeros, we need you!

We will be hosting a three-day poetry festival brimming with poetry performances, installations and discussions in the intricate and maze-like venue of Summerhall. We are looking for volunteers to help us put up, (wo)man, and take down events at the direction of Summerhall staff; greet and direct poets and audience members around the venue; and help out our core PTBO team as needed. We welcome volunteers of every background and ability. No experience is necessary and the rota will be assigned well in advance.

If you’re interested, please send us a note with a brief description of how you’d like to be involved and your availability over the course of the weekend to If you've already been in touch, trust that we've added you to our list and we'll get back to you.

Otherwise, we look forward to hearing from you!

You can find the full call here

Introducing: Tuesday McPhail

With our program plans firmly taking shape, realising them as a 3D festival is an art as well as a challenge. We're being ably assisted on this front but the excellent Tuesday McPhail, who has joined our team with a raft (sorry! so many possible puns) of producing and festival experience.

Tuesday is a Freelance Producer and Project Manager, and has worked with notable Scottish companies such as The Tron Theatre, Vanishing Point, Brite Theatre, Company of Wolves and internationally with the Abu Dhabi Science Festival and Adelaide Fringe.  Prior to this, Tuesday worked as Underbelly’s Operations Manager delivering operational planning for their Edinburgh Festivals. Tuesday came to her career through her background as a cellist, and still enjoys the odd concert performing with orchestras and at weddings.

She does everything program production at PTBO, lining up all of our artists and scheduling and keeping us ducks in our rows.

Samuel Tongue

Samuel Tongue of the Scottish Poetry Library lends us a hand with our programming by day and is part of our programming by night. We wanted to give you a taste of his stunning work since you will certainly be seeing more of him come October, so please enjoy 'Emergent Properties', graciously shared by Sam: 


Emergent Properties

a church is enveloped by a forest and the forest
            is the creator and redeemer of the church. the hermits
who disappear into the trees, are trees. every time
             a tree moves it is a brustling prayer.
susurration as supplication. the habit of the tree is its form in the world.
             Heidegger was wrong. no, the stone is not worldless;
no, the animal is not poor-in-the-world; no, man is not
             only world-forming. the stone can be ground and
underground – a negative capability – and the animals are adept at dwelling.
             neahgebur they who dwell nearby. try not to think that clearing
the forest is a clearing for thought. leave it dark for all the neighbours;
            they are essential. My life and death are in my neighbour and
a church is enveloped by a city and the city
            is the creator and redeemer of the church. the anchorites
who disappear into their cells, are cells. every time
            the bus doors hiss open, it is a shushed prayer.
pneumatic pneuma. the habit of a tenement is its dwelling in the world.
            Le Corbusier was wrong. no, the house is not a machine for living in;
no, the streets do not belong to the automobile; no, ornamentation
            is not a religion of beautiful materials. The tenements can be forest and
bewilderment – a negative capability – and the streets can be recovered.
            différance – that iterative, unrepeatable stranger. try not to think that expanding
the city will end emergence. leave it dark for all the strangers;
            they are essential. My life and death are in each stranger and

August Poetry Events

How we've missed those living, breathing airwaves. We imagine you may be as excited as us to see events starting up again! With August being the height of festival season, we wanted to make sure you're aware of poetry events big and small that will help get you excited for our poetry festival in October.

Music, Poetry, and Silence for Healing - Edinburgh Fringe - Greyfriars Kirk - August 8, 12, 19, 22, 26 - Free

Neu! Reekie! @ Fringe by the Sea - presenting Liz Lochhead, Callum Easter, and more - North Berwick - August 7, 2-4:30pm - £15

Love Poetry along the Royal Mile - independently organised walking tour - August 15, 11:30am-12:40pm - Free

A Toast to the People - a series of brilliant line ups, featuring Hollie McNish, Saul Williams and more - Edinburgh International Festival - August 23-27 - £14 (concessions available)

Horizons in Poetryland

The Scottish Book Trust has made a wonderful list of opportunities for writers in Scotland and we've whittled it down to what is most relevant to and accessible for your poetic genius: 

  • Briefly Write Poetry Prize is looking for submissions 10 lines or shorter. Deadline 8 August. 
  • RSL Literature Matters and Elspeth Wilson are running Un/Natural, a series of workshops for D/deaf, disabled and/or neurodivergent participants which will run in September and October 2021. Deadline to apply is 12 August. 
  • The Adriatic is looking for submissions on the theme of 'sci-fi'. Deadline 22 August. 
  • Crow of Minerva, who focusses on supporting student and emerging artists, is accepting poetry submissions until 31 August.
  • The Poetry Archive is looking for video spoken word submissions. Deadline 31 August.

Scottish Book Trust's full list can be viewed here.

Have you heard our most recent episode?

Listen to our podcast, "A Break in the Waves," on Soundcloud or Spotify for introductions to or reminders of our favourite poets and to chew on wee morsels of their work.

July 2, 2021

Compañeros – get in the boat!

We've got a jam-packed newsletter for you this month. An announcement about our first community project, an interview with the poet who ran it, a call for volunteers, and more!

Read on. We dare ya.

Poetry in the City: 'Here'

Key to our philosophy is the idea that poetry doesn't have to be squirrelled away - in fact the more opportunities we can create to make poetry more visible, and more part of the everyday fabric of our lives, the better. So, we've been working with Parabola, who are building a new urban quarter in Edinburgh Park and have an impressive strategy to put artistic projects at the centre of their plans. Our community engagement plans are focused on Edinburgh West too, so together we've created a brand new program which places local children's poetry right at the heart of the new development. 

Colin McGuire – poet, teacher and facilitator extraordinaire – led P5s at Murrayburn Primary, right next to the new development,  in a series of four creative poetry workshops which resulted in a beautiful group poem. 'Here' will be displayed on giant hoardings within the Edinburgh Park development, as well as on a banner for the school to keep and display. Poetry! In public places! Exciting stuff!
The next phase of this project will see Colin meet the kids again as they start P6 for more workshops, this time to make a film-poem which will be shown as part of Push the Boat Out Festival in October. It's summer already, and there is more to look forward to when it's over (though we're certainly not in a rush to get there!). 

Interview: Colin McGuire

We also interviewed about the workshop process and his own poetic practice. Below is the full interview:

Can you give us a recap of what the programme looked like? What were the specifics of the process?

The project was with Parabola. They’re doing a building development in Edinburgh Park, and they wanted poetry to be displayed on a hoarding board to symbolise connecting with the community. They worked with Murrayburn Primary School, and so I ran four Wednesday [poetry workshop] sessions where we had four themes and four techniques of poetry that we looked at.

Session 1 was acrostics, which is where you take a word down the left-hand margin and you can spell it out and then use each letter [as the beginning of each line of poetry]. Often the word is defined in the poem. We looked at like the city, the environment, so their acrostic might be the names of bits of nature—I think it was nettles, and houses—they’d use that word and go down and generate lots of ideas. That was Session 1: Acrostic, and alliteration. I just got them to play around.

Session 2 was concrete poems and shape poems. We looked at Edwin Morgan, and just found poems that I’d seen online using words to take on shapes where the words become an object. It’s almost like art, I think, blurring the line between art and shape [and poetry]. It was also about connecting it with place, the outside world.

Session 3 was my favourite, and theirs, I think. It’s an idea taken from another poet’s book of ideas. It’s a praise yourself poem, a big yourself up poem, designed to rid yourself of your modesty. You just say ‘you are…’ and compare yourself to like objects in the world. Proper nouns and objects and phenomena. You become all the phenomena in the world. So it’s a kind of self-esteem, but it’s also playful, and I think the kids really liked that. Compare yourself: ‘you are the Edinburgh Playhouse’, ‘you are the Forth Rail Bridge’, ‘you are the sun, the moon and the stars’, ‘you are a warm cup of tea’. And it’s just… when you become these things, it seems to elevate it a bit into a metaphor without doing so, actually. Although you’re directly the object, it seems to heighten it.

So that went really well, and these workshops were separate, but they all led up to the finale which was a group poem, a kind of list poem. For the finale they had phrases, like ‘where I live is, …’ ‘living here is, …’, and they came up with lots of ideas. They might have used alliteration [or acrostics], use Praise Yourself poetry, so taking elements from previous sessions, and tying them together. Yeah. Those were the four sessions we had: The object poem, which was acrostic, the concrete shape poems, Praise Yourself poems, and the list poem.

Can you tell us a bit more about the outcome?

Every week I reiterated with this slideshow that took us slide by slide through it. Always, the start was, ‘why are we doing this? What are we here for?’ I reminded them about the Parabola project, how we’re going to have this board with a poem that we created and how we were working toward it. I would show them a billboard, say, ‘this isn’t the exact one’, but they’d remember that this is the outcome, this is why we’re doing this. And I’d always give them examples of what we’re doing then get them to produce their own [iterations] and then give them a time to come up to the camera and read it out loud or the teacher would read it out loud or they would show me their concrete poem. So there was a nice structure as well a, ‘why are we here? Here’s today’s theme, here’s examples of that theme, on you go’. I’d give them a bit of a time to then generate their own, and then share with us what they’ve produced. And often the teachers would then take that and run with it into their next lesson.

You write poetry and run poetry workshops. What is your personal practice compared to your workshopping practice and how do those two things intermingle?

In some ways they feel quite different. When I’m writing privately, it’s much more murky—it’s less clear, it’s less procedural. Whereas when I run workshops, it’s very exercise-based, particularly with kids. It’s very theme-based, with simple ideas that allow for a lot of range of responses. Privately, my work is intricate, takes time, but workshops are often broad-ranged, and there’s often one aim or objective, and we explore it.  

One thing that I think particularly about workshops I run in general… When we read a poem and analyse it—I’ve been doing that so much over lockdown, running creative writing workshops—the amount that it’s improved my reading of poetry [is huge]. We do shared readings where we read a poem and just discuss it, ask, ‘what does this mean? I don’t have a clue!’, or ‘what does that word do’. I think I’m learning a lot more through these shared groups. The amount of detailed reading—I’ve never really been in a book group before, and now I sort of am.

What was something that particularly surprised you about this workshopping process?

I mean, there’s many, but mainly that it was all done online. It was one group of two classrooms, so I had 25 students—it varied because some people weren’t there—but yeah, so two different classrooms of 25 students, two different cameras… And there were only technical problems on the last session, none prior to that. [Initially] I just thought, ‘how is this going to work?’, so it was good that it worked, and it was surprising that we could do it that way.

But I think you do lose a lot, because it’s a class. I would normally be standing and physically engaging. To just be at a desk, going ‘hi everybody’… And I couldn’t really see them all [on the camera], so that kind of remoteness, it’s a bit fragmented.

Why do you think programmes like this are important? Maybe a no-brainer, but it’s nice to have it articulated.

I think it’s a great way to communicate. It’s a great way to work with young people, and get them engaged with language in way that is a little bit different. It allows them to maybe reconsider words. And also, what I used—I didn’t use lots of poetry examples, it was a lot of my produced examples that I came up with and it was just like making language much more playful. There was no right or wrong way to do anything, so I think that it does encourage literacy. It encourages young people to just give it a go. There’s something to be said for this community-based writing projects. There should be more of them.

What do you think the tangible benefits for kids to see their poetry up somewhere is?

I think it does breed a sense of connection, but also, it’s a shame that it’s so rare. This is one little project. I’m curious how it’s gonna be displayed and what it’s gonna look like, but surely there’s scope for doing something like this on a much bigger, wider scale on a regular basis. There’s all this talk as well about sustainable development and everything, and one little poem is great, but it’s kind of tokenistic. Wouldn’t it be interesting if it was a regular occurrence and the built environment of schools or playgrounds or play parks was to involve young people in engaging with the environment through words? Should that be a much more common occurrence? It should be—why not?

Can you say anything else about how you think programmes like this should look in the future? How do you think stuff like this can best serve community?

Permanency, adaptability, working in more schools, and even having deliberate spaces. Imagine projects for more schools that also had space for more words than we had. We had a limit of 65 words, so therefore a lot of kids might think, ‘oh mine isn’t there’, or ‘oh I was there in spirit, but not literally in words’. If you had more space… Couldn’t you put it about in loads of different spaces in the area? You’ve got areas for good quality graffiti, you can allow young people to have good quality writing! Y’know what I mean? There’s definitely scope for that and we don’t do that. There’s always this one niche thing that gets done and then forgotten about, but there could be [more ongoing] spaces.

Podcast Highlight:
Bedtime Stories for the End of the World

If you haven't heard, some of our favourite poets, including Andrew McMillan, are also the favourites of podcaster Eleanor Penny and the rest of the Bedtime Stories for the End of the World project team.

Bedtime Stories for the End of the World asks some of the UK’s top poets to re-imagine their favourite myths, fairytales and legends. The stories want to seal up and protect against rising waters, from nuclear disaster, and from the mundane tragedy of human forgetfulness.

What kind of stories do we want to leave the future? How might they differ from the stories we’ve inherited? Bedtime Stories for the End of the World begs important, complex questions with poetic frameworks. We 100% recommend checking it out!

Compañeros - We need you!

Our plans for our 2021 14-17 October Festival at Summerhall are shaping up nicely, but we need your help to make it a reality!
We will be hosting a three-day poetry festival brimming with poetry performances, installations and discussions in the intricate and sometimes maze-like venue of Summerhall. We are looking for volunteers to help us put up, man, and take down events at the direction of Summerhall staff; greet and direct poets and audience members around the venue; and help out our core PTBO team as needed. We welcome volunteers of every background and ability. No experience is necessary and the rota will be assigned well in advance.
Your involvement will span mostly over the weekend of the festival, but we will have an short orientation in early October to make sure we all have our ducks in a row. If you’re interested, please send us a note with a brief description of how you’d like to be involved and your availability over the course of the weekend to If you've already been in touch, trust that we've added you to our list and we'll get back to you! You can find the call here

We look forward to hearing from you!

Rainbow Logos vs. the Art of Shutting Up: Pride in the time of COVID-era

by Julia Sorensen

Since Pride Month is now officially over and corporations are back to pandering to 'normalcy', we thought that Julia's piece on organisational responses to Pride is especially relevant. Here's an excerpt:

'Poetry has always been inherently queer to me. Coming of age as a queer person and as a poet happened simultaneously for me. My high school poetry club and many of the poets in it were queer in a matter-of-fact way, in a way we could discuss if we wanted but could also just exist in without mentioning. It was as definitive as we wanted to make it. Through spoken word, I can express myself as a queer person without having myself be observed or interrogated as queer unless I intend to be. I can also articulate my queerness through poetry when this aspect of my identity is invisible under heteronormative relations.

'Yet, since this aspect of my identity was quite visible during my coming of age, I was also othered as a queer person and othered as a poet simultaneously. In this way, poetry as a mode of expression naturally seems to make room for a sort of functional anger, an articulate grief almost inherent to queer existence. No one can have peace all of the time, but the antagonisation and alienation that queer people experience is entirely preventable by human decency. In the face of it, I’ve found that the unnecessary and vicious hurt which comes out of the vilification and abuse of queerness can often be expressed and made functional by poetry.'

You can read her full piece here

Re·Creation: Call for Submissions

Re·creation: a queer poetry anthology developed by Alycia Pirmohamed and Éadaoín Lynch is now looking for submissions! 

They invite you to experiment with being radically personal, confessional, honest and evocative of your queer experience. Re·creation aims to explore nurturing, incisive alternatives to the poetic detachment and impersonality more available to positions of privilege and power.  

The submission deadline is 31 July. Be sure to send in your work here!

Horizons in Poetryland

The Scottish Book Trust has made a wonderful list of opportunities for writers in Scotland and we've whittled it down to what is most relevant to your poetic genius: 

  • The James Berry Poetry Prize is looking for poets of colour aged 18 and over to submit 10-12 pages of poems. Deadline 1 July (get in quick!).
  • Shoreline of Infinity is looking for disabled and/or neurodivergent writers to submit sci-fi relevant work. Submit between 11-13 July.
  • Amberflora, an online magazine focussing on eco / world poetry, is looking for entries. Deadline 15 July.
  • Nine Arches Press is looking for poets to submit to Primers: Volume Six for the chance of publication and mentorship. Deadline 25 July.

Scottish Book Trust's full list can be viewed here.

Have you heard our most recent episode?

Listen to our podcast, "A Break in the Waves," on Soundcloud or Spotify for introductions to or reminders of our favourite poets and to chew on wee morsels of their work.

May 31, 2021

June Newsletter

June 2021

We know we're a little ahead of the game to be calling this a June newsletter, but since we have a job posting closing at 5pm today, we thought we'd send it out a little early! 

Scroll on to access our Program Producer post, get updates on our current projects, help us introduce a new team member, learn a bit more about a new anthology called Re·creation, and of course, read some truly breathtaking poetry. 

Employment Opportunity:
Program Producer

We are seeking an exceptional candidate to join our team to support the development of our program for Push the Boat Out. We are a small, new, organization at a very exciting time in our journey and are looking for a collaborative, flexible, proactive colleague to work with our festival management team to deliver our first iteration to the highest possible standard.

Our ideal candidate is resourceful, practical, and loves taking an idea and making it happen. With a focus on getting things done, we’re also looking for a team member who has exceptional communication skills, understands the importance of administration in delivering complex projects, and is a flexible and resilient team player. As the festival is new we are keen to work with people with a broad, adaptable skill set and attitude. The role is focused on the development and delivery of the program and supporting the participation of our poets, but also on supporting the overall evolution of the festival as we deliver our first piece.

Read more and apply by 5pm on 31 May here.

Excerpt from "Clean Sheets"

Rachel McCrum

Rachel recently performed this phenomenal piece on our podcast and we had to ask for the written version to publish here, just in case you missed it. 


I am standing in a corner of our bedroom
with a white sheet over my head
reaching down to my ankles.
My feet are bare and quiet.
I am watching you sleep.
I am pretending to be a ghost.
In the last days, we’re already living
in the past, nostalgic
and impatient for a future tense.
In the present, there is a wide black sea in my chest.
Best not to go fishing there my love
and yet how I want you to.
I open my mouth, say nothing.
Suck polyester and bog cotton.
I dreamed last night of a wedding
and there was no one left to invite.
The fibres are rough against my tongue
and feel like company.
I am pretending I am swimming.
I would like, please, the full immersion option.
Jealousy ripples across your chest like a squid.
Let me rub my c*nt up your belly,
reassure me that you are mine.
Who are we kidding?
Your back is a threshold
I cannot cross tonight.
We stand on sheets
feet planted like militia.
The page becomes the territory.
The foot becomes the word.
The words march over the threshold
the mouth is a
the ear is a
our words

our feet
we stumble
we hold



the thresh-
old be-




ary be-

a bord-

across the border
clean pages
white pages
blank slate
a fresh start is as much a myth as new world
the city a palimpsest in any season
I hide into the wardrobe, bite down
on paper, cotton and contour lines.
Reach for a future tense.
Your back twitches and settles
prepares to go fishing.

You can read more about Rachel and her work here

Funding Update:
Witherby Publishing Group

We are thrilled to have the support of the Witherby Publishing Group Charitable Trust who will be helping to make tickets to Push the Boat Out as accessible as possible this October. A huge thank you to them for their work in supporting participation in the arts.

Our newest crew-member: Julie Amphlett

We're setting ourselves some high standards here at PTBO and are thrilled to welcome Julie Amphlett to our team to keep the operational side of what we do absolutely ship shape.
Julie Amphlett started her career as an auditor and accountant and has come to specialise in charity accounting. Since leaving auditing fifteen years ago, she has been a theatre technician, venue manager, managed the Live Literature Fund at the Scottish Book Trust, and was Head of Operations and Finance at Edinburgh International Book Festival for five years. As a strong problem solver, Julie thrives in finding creative financial and operational solutions and enables artists and producers to make their visions a reality.
Julie is making sure all PTBO events and people have everything we need and that our numbers all add up. Not an easy feat, so help us extend a very warm and grateful welcome to Julie! 

An Anthology of Queer Poetry

"Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence."
- Audre Lorde

Alycia Pirmohamed and Éadaoín Lynch (pictured above) have an exciting new project we just need to share with you! Re·creation, inspired by the Audre Lorde poem of the same name, will be an anthology of poems by queer poets. 

This is not only a publishing venture: the editors will be commissioning & selecting poets from a call for submissions, and all contributors will also be offered free 1-to-1 mentorship, workshops, roundtable feedback discussion with the editors, other selected poets, and external facilitators. 

Learn more about this exciting new project here.

Podcast: Kevin MacNeil

Kevin MacNeil is a multi-award-winning author (novelist, playwright, screenwriter, poet), editor, lecturer. Born and raised in the Outer Hebrides, he has translated and published internationally. He's been an External Examiner for various university Creative Writing courses and vivas and has made numerous radio and television appearances nationally and internationally.

Kevin writes in multilingually and has graced us with our first ever Gaelic podcast! Check out our latest episode of A Break in the Waves to hear his poem, 'On A Plane That Is Like a Finger Pointing at The Moon.'

Horizons in Poetryland

The Scottish Book Trust has made a wonderful list of opportunities for writers in Scotland and we've whittled it down to what is most relevant to your poetic genius: 

  • BBC Words First is a talent development scheme running through 2021. Deadline 11 June.
  • Speculative Books is looking for creative writing pieces in response to the paintings and drawings of Joan Eardley. Deadline 28 June.
  • Mist and Mountain Creative Residency, in collaboration with Gerard Rochford’s Literary Executors, are delighted to launch The Gerard Rochford Poetry Prize with this year's theme of 'family'. Deadline 30 June. 

Scottish Book Trust's full list can be viewed here.

May 3, 2021

A-May-zing things are happening

May 2021 Newsletter


As lots of our readers will know and experience first-hand, having great ideas and the resources to make them happen are two very different kettles of fish. We've been financially supported by some brilliant, quiet individuals in our journey so far, without whom we would never have got this far. However, we're delighted to say we've now also secured Creative Scotland funding which is a game-changer for us, and will allow us to realise our ambitions in a completely different way.

First up, we can properly engage (pay! it's been a labour of love for a wee while now) some of the fabulous folks who've been rowing us along (shout out to the wonderful Julia Sorensen, our newly confirmed Digital Comms Manager, who makes this newsletter every month, among many other things). 

Secondly we can get our festival poets, the ones we've been reading and discussing and whose names we've been shuffling around spreadsheets for many many months, officially confirmed for our October extravaganza.

So, busy times ahead on all fronts. And just as the pubs are open again too.

Jenny Niven
Festival Co-Director

Creative Scotland Support

For several months, our team has been "keep[ing] good watch always / for that last passage of blue water / we ha[d] heard of and long[ed] to reach", as Edwin Morgan would say.

In plain terms, we've been waiting with baited breath to hear back about our core funding application. Late last week, we finally got the good news! 


"Who says we cannot guide ourselves
through the boiling reefs, black as they are,
push it all out into the unknown!
Unknown is best, it beckons best,
like distant ships in mist, or bells
clanging ruthless from stormy buoys."

Thanks to our namesake poem, "At Eighty," for helping us express our excitement, and a great many thanks to Creative Scotland for their core support. Festival 1 is a go!

We're delighted to say we'll be recruiting new part-time contract staff to help us deliver Push the Boat Out shortly - please keep an eye on our website and socials for more details. 

So long, farewell, auf Wiederseh'n, adieu!

There's a sad sort of clanking / From the clock in the hall / And the bells in the steeple too. / And up in the nursery, an absurd little bird / Is popping up to say... That Beth's headed to the National Library! 

Beth Cochrane has been seconded by the Scottish Poetry Library to PTBO since last summer, coordinating programming and volunteers and bringing all sorts of poetry knowledge to the team. She's starting a new chapter, though, with the National Library of Scotland as Events & Learning Co-ordinator AND taking up a well-earned residency as Scottish Emerging Writer with Cove Park, so we're waving a fond farewell.

Huge thanks to Beth for everything she's brought to the boat in the last few months; please give her a grateful wave when you see her at Summerhall in October.

Poetry in public spaces

One of the big drivers for Push the Boat Out is to see more poetry more 'at large', and it's been interesting to see how often the last year that has been linked to mental health and wellbeing, and processing and coping with what covid has thrown at us. 

Nature writer Elizabeth-Jane Burnett developed a  crowdsourced poem, Spring, an Inventory, to celebrate the currently-in-full-swing spring we're enjoying. She writes optimistically, yet the pandemic weighs on the writing, as it has on everyone for over a year now:

Fifty-four hopes in the hardwood held   
slow, the hour brightens.

The Francis Crick Institute has spearheaded COVID-19 vaccination research and responses, and it will now house a major poetic exhibition responding to the pandemic. Anyone coming through the building has been invited to write to their experiences of the disease and the role of science in addressing it on postcards which will inspire poets in residence to write work displayed at the Institute and online.

On a different tack, we're also big fans of poetry colliding with other artforms. Award-winning poet Jay Bernard has collaborated with sound designer Mwen to create an amazing soundscape and game, Tombland, based in Dragon Hall, at the National Centre for Writing. Check it out and hear a conversation with them and PTBO's co-director Jenny Niven, as part of Norwich and Norfolk Festival, here.

Henry Bell

In the spirit of poetry-sharing, Henry Bell, a freelance writer, editor, and producer based in Glasgow who has won the New Writers Award for Poetry from the Scottish Book Trust and is Managing Editor of Gutter, has given us permission to include some of his work. A big thank-you to him for the following: 

Rat Caught in a Manhole Cover

Rat caught in a manhole cover
you have rolled a natural 1.
Too fat but not quite greasy enough
you are suspended between the sewer
and the stars: easy prey for dogs, cats
or motor-bikes. Dear rat
I do not offer you pity but fellow-feeling,
how rat-like, how human, to dream
of an open road, but find yourself
chained to your dankness. I bet the other rats make fun of you.
Here, have this poem, it is about your courage
your hope, your triumph, the way we see you
full gut stuck in a manhole, straining
and all round the world say ‘aah
that brave rat is me.’

To read more, order his upcoming pamphlet, Inner Circle, which is due out with Stewed Rhubarb in November 2021!

Horizons in Poetryland

The Scottish Book Trust has made a wonderful list of opportunities for writers in Scotland and we've whittled it down to what is most relevant to your poetic genius: 

  • Razer Cuts is looking for short stories and poetry, 1200 words max, for their next issue, Edition X. Deadline 8 May. 
  • The London Reader is looking for stories, poetry, or art reflecting on the moon. Deadline 9 May.
  • Poeyum, a new monthly newsletter, pays £20 per poem. Send in your work and your bio! Deadline 21 May. 
  • Bridport Prize has contest calls out for poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and novels. Deadline 31 May. 
  • Out-Spoken Press is looking for full collections and pamphlets of poetry. Deadline 31 May. 

Scottish Book Trust's full list can be viewed here.

Have you heard our most recent episode?

Listen to our podcast, "A Break in the Waves," on Soundcloud or Spotify for introductions to or reminders of our favourite poets and to chew on wee morsels of their work.

Thanks for getting and being here.

We'll be back next month with more, but if you're still hungry now, visit us at our socials!

Feel free to get in touch more directly at

April 1, 2021

Push the Boat Out – Canal Dreams

April 2021 Newsletter

Hello! We’re a collaborative bunch at Push the Boat Out and are very hot on the idea of bringing lots of creative people under our roof / sails to do what they do best. This month we bring you a sneak peek at Stanley Odd’s new shenanigans by way of an interview with the excellent Solareye AKA Dave Hook, a key voice in the hip hop aspects of what we’re doing at PTBO.

Elsewhere we’re forging on with our creative engagement work with younger audiences (we’re looking forward to sharing what we’re up to in West Edinburgh soon), beginning commissioning plans with some brilliant poets, and playing a slightly interminable game of chess with our program grid for Summerhall while the restrictions remain ‘fluid’. Our model is built on offering lots of opportunities to engage with poetry that don’t necessarily require sitting in a room with other people though, so fear not! There is poetry coming your way whatever the weather.

An extra round of applause to us please for not theming this entire newsletter around that boat stuck in the Suez. Was something Ever Given to better puns for us? Ahem.

Jenny Niven, Co-Director

Introducing: Solareye of Stanley Odd

Interview by Julia Sorensen

What drives you as an artist?

An irrepressible compulsion to make stuff, which is probably quite universal across people’s reasons for making things. I make music and I write words because I can’t stop doing it, so I’m constantly trying to find reasons and excuses and outlets to do so.

What would you say your practice is for? What do you like to discuss and why? Do you think you have a responsibility to say certain things or not say certain things?

From a lyric perspective, I guess I’ve got multiple motives for writing, one of which is a real love for words and for playing with words. Other aspects we can talk about in terms of cultural commentary, and community interaction, and some of these other things… One thing for me which has come through engagement with hip hop for so many years is revelry in the sort of construction of words and the way words go together. I think hip hop and rap writing is like extreme sports poetry. Many aspects of hip hop involve taking a good thing and then obsessing about it and concentrating it to the extreme, partly because hip hop, I reckon, has a competitive culture. There’s a built-in element of hip hop that is about competition, and in a healthy way that competition, I think, has led to a sort of extreme sports poetry idea, y’know, where rhyme schemes are insanely complex. Rhyme is such a core element of rap, and the way rappers construct these sorts of rhyme matrices of internal rhymes and chain rhymes and multisyllabic rhymes and how this matrix appears across the page… So the first thing I really love about writing is wordplay itself and the beauty of language. The joy of playing with words. And then, some of the other reasons are the more cultural factors of telling stories, and sharing stories, and telling something that resonates with other people. Again, probably a lot of my impetus for writing comes from my experiences within hip hop culture of hip hop being a vehicle to tell stories, an opportunity to voice experiences that might not otherwise get heard, but also telling true, authentic stories about communities and spaces and places and all those things also inform some of the writing that I do.

Especially when it comes to hip hop and rap, do you feel yourself affected or motivated by external societal and/or political pressures? 

Rap has always been a useful medium for providing alternative perspectives and alternative narratives. It’s a dichotomy because hip hop has a global culture but only works if it’s localised, so it’s both a world culture that in its authentic form can only be local. That’s a really interesting thing about how you practice it and how you create it. It’s always provided, from its inception as an African American cultural vehicle for talking about and representing experience, opportunities to challenge power structures and to provide alternative narratives and to repackage existing narratives and reposition the power structures as you go. Hip hop has an innate ability to do these things because of some of the cultural purposes it’s served since its beginning, so I think that’s why you see it being used as a socio-political tool, in Scotland and all around the world. It’s why you see, from Aboriginal Outback to Palestinian hip hop to somebody writing hip hop in a wee village in Scotland, the local aspect and the sort of challenge to mainstream narratives being quite a regular or recurring theme across all these different spaces and places.

What are you looking forward to about Push the Boat Out?

I’m excited about how radical it already feels, how rebelliously non-conformist it feels in its outlook and ideology. I’m excited hearing from Kevin and Jenny about what their plans are for it. I love the ideas they’ve mentioned in terms of the chess sort of games taking place between poets and discussions—I like the idea of unusual and less-tread paths and structures, around anything, and I think the unusual circumstances and spaces that have been created sound really exciting. I’m excited to see how much rap and hip hop, obviously, from my perspective, seems to be a part of that conversation, because I personally don’t distinguish between poetry and rap. I just like seeing what people are doing with words, so it’s nice to see that, from a historical perspective.

The cultural value, broadly speaking, of rap and hip hop isn’t always necessarily recognised, and I’m interested in why we ascribe cultural worth to one art activity over another, or even beyond art, why we ascribe more cultural value to some things than other things. So again, from a hip hop perspective, it’s very exciting to see that it’s clearly planned to be a part of an international poetry festival. Jenny and Kevin have such a track record of doing innovative, exciting, unusual things to a very high standard, so that in itself means that the boat’s being steered by two very capable folks. All those sorts of things are exciting. I’m also excited about the community aspects that we’ve had a blether about so far, and again I think that side of it’s so important, that we continually ask questions about who culture’s for and about why a lot of us feel that certain aspects of culture aren’t for us. Anything we can do to make that more accessible and inclusive is great.

World Poetry Day was 21 March and April is, at least in some places in the world (not technically the UK), poetry month. Having a poetry day or a poetry month is a pretty mainstream way of recognising things. Do you think that that’s important? Are there limitations to that?

I didn’t know any of the poetry days or months were coming up, to be perfectly honest, but I’m very much in favour of them. I think all these days are important. Whether it’s a music release, whether it’s a poetry day, International Women’s Day… We can look at positives and negatives of these things, you can say we should be highlighting these things every day—and yes we should—but it doesn’t do any harm when we can have an opportunity to speak specifically about it, and if it means it gets everybody else talking about it then great, y’know? And then if it’s an excuse to share your favourite poetry, or something that’s resonated with you, and then for that day it’s amplified by the fact that it’s being talked about more broadly, it reaches a new audience.

From an artist perspective it’s great as well, isn’t it? Because it does give you a reason to post beyond what sometimes seems to people as just repeatedly trying to share your work. I think we’re in a really difficult place at the moment with artists trying to share their work, because we rely almost exclusively on digital and social media means of doing it. We’re all choked by pay-only ways of reaching an audience. The idea of democratised online means of reaching people has sort of gone, and mainstream corporations and large multinationals have regained control of how you can share and reach an audience. Democratisation is a myth again, I think. What we’re left with is smaller and smaller groups of people on your timeline who potentially just see this repetitive sharing of work, which leaves people feeling jaded and oversaturated and all that sort of stuff. So I think any time where there’s a larger movement around it, it gives you an opportunity as an artist to share your work [more widely] and that’s a great thing.

Tell us about recent projects you’ve worked on. Got any shameless plugs to offer?

Hunners. Hah! Yes, particularly two projects. One that I’ve worked on as Solareye in collaboration that came out recently which is Steg G’s new album. I’ve been fortunate to work with Steg on various occasions. He’s a phenomenal music producer, great composer, and really important member of the broader hip hop community for the work that he does in community projects and radio and all sorts of things, and with great artists. This was the second large-scale project we worked on. It’s called “Live Today”. He worked with a series of MCs—myself, the Freestyle Master, Empress and CCTV—we each were given topics to write to in order to create one cohesive narrative across the record, although we didn’t individually know what the other artists were writing on, and then we sort of interpreted them as our own stories. I think it’s just a brilliant bit of work that he’s made. So that came out a couple a weeks ago, and we’re gonna do a live version of it end of April, so that’s just great to be involved in that. Yeah, it’s a brilliant bit of work he’s done.

The other major thing that I’ve personally been working on of late is the Stanley Odd album. That record has been four years in the making or more, and certainly in the last two or three years we’ve really spent a lot of time on it. We started releasing it in January 2020: we released a single, we planned to have a tour through Easter festivals, album out in September, another tour, then that obviously didn’t happen. None of it happened, but it made us have to think about a whole new way of releasing. Instead we’ve put out a new single every six weeks since last July, which has been great, because we’ve had an opportunity to focus on working with a different videographer for every single release. We’ve released seven singles with videos, and we’ve been able to work cohesively with one artist, Matt Sloe, who’s done all the art for all those. You would never normally get that amount of time to focus on so many songs on a record, y’know? End of last year we were thinking, right, we know we’re gonna put the album out in April, so how do we do this? We’ve been fortunate to put out everything so far that we’ve ever released on vinyl and CD, and it’s great to see folks respond to the vinyl and the physical formats, but I was thinking, how many people actually listen to the [physical] record and for how many people is it about having a physical thing to look at, an artifact? So we decided to try something a bit radical and different. Instead of releasing on vinyl, we released a 56-page full colour book that goes with the album, where you get to the certain pages and it says STOP GET YOUR MUSIC NOW, it’s got a QR code, you go there, you get music, and the idea is that it recenters the whole listening experience. Instead of being about that in-and-out on Spotify with mixes and tracks and stuff, it recenters it—it’s got all the lyrics, it’s got handwritten annotations, it’s got artwork, photographs that folks have sent us of their Stay Odd art, and it’s supposed to be a navigational companion for talking you through the record.

I also asked Solareye to read us a wee bit of his work. His piece "Recycling" will be will be released as a full podcast episode on "A Break in the Waves" later this April. Stay tuned!

Poetry Months Galore

While April isn't named National Poetry Month in the UK, some countries take the next thirty days to officially appreciate the art form and communicative mode. On World Poetry Day on March 21, Australian poetry organisation Red Room Poetry declared August 2021 to be their poetry month to increase the profile of Australian poetry, poets and publishers as well as access, awareness, value and visibility of poetry in all its forms and for all audiences.

Of particular interest because of our own sustainability goals at Push the Boat Out is the organisation's Poem Forest project which invites students, teachers and communities to create and publish poems inspired by the natural environment. Red Room will match every submission by planting a native tree in the Australian Botanical Garden to help heal critically endangered habitats!

We fall in love with this kind of work every time we hear about it. Thanks to Red Room Poetry for the inspiration!

Horizons in Poetryland

The Scottish Book Trust has made a wonderful list of opportunities for writers in Scotland and we've whittled it down to what is most relevant to your poetic genius (and added a bit this time as well!): 

  • Arachne Press has three competitions open: Welsh-English poetry; submissions on 'maps and mapping' from BAME UK writers; and submissions on 'movement' from Deaf UK writers. Deadlines are 6 April, 14 April, and 14 April respectively. 
  • Abridged is looking for poetry submissions on the topic 'Apocrypha'. Deadline 28 April.
  • The Federation of Writers Scotland's Vernal Equinox Competition is looking for poetry, short stories, flash fiction, poetry or flash fiction in Scottish Gaelic, and poetry or flash fiction in Scots. Deadline 30 April. 
  • Grey Hens are looking for poetry submissions from women over 60 to their 2021 Annual Competition. Deadline 30 April. 
  • Wigtown Poetry Prize is now open (and doesn't close till end May, but we thought we'd mention it now anyway). Deadline 31 May. 

Scottish Book Trust's full list can be viewed here.

Have you heard our most recent episode?

Did you catch Nadine Aisha Jassat's poem, "29", in our podcast series?

Listen to "A Break in the Waves" for introductions to or reminders of our favourite poets and to chew on wee morsels of their work.

We're also now on Spotify! Be sure to toss us a follow so you can get access to podcasts as soon as they're released. 

These eye-catching covers were designed by Luke Bird | @lukejbird |

404 Inklings

404 Ink has been working for the last six months on their new non-fiction series of eight texts by eight different authors on eight different topics! 

We're unbelievably excited about these bite-sized books about everything from how women came to rule hip hop to Prince's fashion to the queer revolution of Schitt's Creek to exploring and educating on blindness.

You can pre-order these pieces which will publish July-December 2021 and support 404 Ink's participation in Creative Scotland's Crowdmatch initiative.

Thanks for getting and being here.

We'll be back next month with more, but if you're still hungry now, visit us at our socials!

March 1, 2021

Marching On

We've made plans. We've remade plans, and then we've remade those plans, and then we've made other plans for when those ones capsize. But we're ready—ready for March, for the future, for everything the next three-quarters of this year will throw at us!

For now, let's start things off with an update from co-capitano Kevin Williamson. Esa Aldegheri will follow with some of our engagement plans and info on Open Book's ‘Morgan Month’, and then, our highlight, drum roll please...

An extensive and exclusive interview with Eleanor Livingstone and Annie Rutherford of StAnza (yes, that's Scotland's International Poetry Festival in St Andrews) on their upcoming festival! 

We've also attached Caroline Bird's conversation with Dai George and information on horizons in poetryland.

Admit it. You're desperate to scroll. So scroll on, Macduff. 

March Festival Update

Kevin Williamson

When we named this festival Push the Boat Out, we had in mind a metaphorical voyage into uncharted waters, from the sunny calms of an Edinburgh shoreline out onto the high seas. There’s rarely plain sailing with any venture, especially on this scale, but what we didn’t expect was to run into a full blow storm as soon as we left the harbour! 

But here we are, over a year late, getting blown around a wee bit, then surging forward, tacking and jibing, afts to the board, splicing the mainbrace, three sheets to the wind. And I think that’s me pretty much exhausted all my nautical terminology.

Sailing aside, the different strands of this festival are coming together nicely. Despite the lockdown we’ve had a good explore round Summerhall this month to map out the spaces, generate new ideas, see what's possible. You tend to find the best festivals are built around the spaces they occupy rather than squeezed into them.

We’re getting closer by the day to our first Big Reveal and all I can say at this stage is that there won’t be many poetry festivals like this one. Seriously. Edinburgh will know about it. Say no more.

It’s been challenging working out what will be Covid-resistant and what will be Covid-malleable but we’re pretty confident that we’ll have physical audiences in October, even if masks or some form of low-key social distancing is still in place. We’ve built resilient and imaginative layers to this festival. We think you’ll enjoy exploring them and will, hopefully, be surprised at what you see and hear.

One of the things we’ll be working on this month will be the Blog section of our zingy website. The first Blog piece to go up this year will be an essay of mine which explores Seamus Heaney’s thoughts on Robert Burns. Burns isnae just for the 25th of January.

Finally, our regular crew has been joined by some brilliant QMU students in the Arts, Festival & Cultural Management MA. One of the QMU students, Julia Sorensen, is pulling together this very newsletter. Julia is the current Poet Laureate of St Albert in Canada. Her poem, Vivid Dreaming, published in this St Albert’s Gazette profile piece and which she reads here mixes oceanic themes with the current pandemic and seems a pretty good fit for Push The Boat Out.

Big welcome aboard to all the QMU-ers!

‘The Discipline of Getting Lost’: Caroline Bird in conversation with Dai George

What in the world of Edwin Morgan?

Esa Aldegheri

Ahoy! An update on how our sustainability and community engagement plans are faring as we move towards springtime. The wonderful team at Open Book are celebrating ‘Morgan Month’ in March, where their groups across Scotland explore writing by or inspired by Edwin. In light of our partnership plans, they have chosen to focus especially on 'Push the Boat Out'! We can’t wait to see what reactions the groups will have to this theme, and what poems they might create themselves to then be shared during our festival in October.
To make things even more interesting, Open Book groups will be responding to Morgan’s great poem alongside amazing sea-photos taken by Edinburgh photographer Mike Guest. Mike used to travel widely for his work, but when lockdown kept him in Edinburgh, he decided to focus his attention on what was near him: throughout January he took a photo of the sea every morning at dawn, and the results are stunning.

We are also plotting exciting things with our partners at Whale Arts and with primary and secondary schools – stay tuned for more about this soon!

Introducing: StAnza 2021

Interview by Julia Sorensen

Can you describe StAnza’s ethos this year in three words?

Eleanor: It might be easiest to sum it up in the three words of our theme, I don’t know if Annie is thinking the same. The theme is “make it new,” both in terms of us using the opportunity and the chance to do different things because it’s all online—things we couldn’t have done in the same way for a in-person festival. We’re making it new that way, but also we’re working out how to take a lot of the popular, familiar elements of StAnza, which I think for a lot of our regular audiences will hope for, and transfer them into an online format. So we’re making what would carry over new, and then we’re introducing different things.

Annie: I’m hopeless at three-word prompts, but I think I’d say, “cross-arts, communal, and digital.” We’ve always been a festival with poetry at its core, but working with a number of different genres, with music, film poems, and visual arts that intersect with poetry is actually quite exciting when going digital because we’re doing things like poetry games for the first time, and little interactive digital installations. We want to both keep what people love about StAnza and make sure that that is really very much still at the heart of the festival, but we don’t want to just take something analog and plunk it into a digital format. We want to really play with this and see what the possibilities are. And that’s been really exciting.

One of the big things that people love about StAnza is the connections between events, and being able to chat to folk when you come out of the theatre. We’re a very non-hierarchical festival normally, so poets and audience members and volunteers are all mingling in the same spaces and that’s really magical. We’ve got a number of collaborative poetry projects going on where anyone can get involved and either send in their own poetry or be part of creating a group poem. We also have a number of festival café socials via Zoom, some of which are just sort of morning coffee chats and others of which are after our main events in the evening so that people can come out of the virtual theatre and still have a conversation about what they saw and what they enjoyed about it. That was really important to us from the beginning, for us to at least somehow have that communal element, even when people aren’t together.

What events excite you the most about this year’s festival? Why?

Eleanor: One of the things I’ve been getting so much out of already is the WindowSwap project because that engages with where we are globally, where we are this year, in this pandemic, and this lockdown. It picks up the kind of context in which we’re living and in which poets are writing, and it does so in a really warm and engaged way. I was inspired by the wonderful app called WindowSwap, who I’ve been in touch with and they’re happy for us to use the name and want to see the poems, and what the app is, is people are invited to upload short videos of the view from their window. If you go on the app, you can just hop from window to window around the world and see, while so many people are in lockdown, the view they have. What we’ve done for our WindowSwap project is we’ve invited twelve poets from around the world to send us a photograph of the view from their window, and we’ve paired them up and swapped them so that they then write a poem responding to the view from the window they’re sent. And the poems as they’ve been coming—we have them all now—they just, really… it’s one of these things we get while Annie and I are busy, frantic with all the admin, and when one of them comes in, we both kind of go, ‘ah’, and it just gives us that pause.

Annie: I really love our Poets at Home event. We had the idea of well, everyone is filming at home anyway, so why don’t we sort of try and take advantage of this and ask people to show us their bookshelves or their desk, show us their writing set up and how it influences their writing process? We have four poets doing it, and one of them has very much done that, which is great. She has a hammock. We get to see her lying in her hammock and it’s just very chill. One of them Caroline Bird who talks us through the different faces she pulls while she’s writing poetry, which is just really delightful. And then Will Harris and Ella Frears have actually taken it in a completely unexpected direction and have made these really beautiful, short, very artistic kind of films about their writing process and their creativity process. It was really lovely just seeing where they ran with it, and I think because it was slightly different, it wasn’t just a ‘read us a poem for a few minutes’ thing; people really had fun with it.

I’m excited about our lecture as well, I think mainly because I get to watch the lecture for once. Normally the lecture happens, and I’m running around like mad, and afterward everyone else comes out and talks about how interesting it was. But now I’ve seen it twice! Jacqueline Saphra, who is a fantastic poet, talks about form and revelation and how recognising the way in which poetic tradition is often talked about is as this very white, male canonical tradition, and how to approach that if you’re not a white straight man with a certain amount of privilege. She’s really really looking at how very different writers engage with form and how that is also political. So it’s just a really interesting way of considering the politics of poetry. And she’s a fantastic speaker.

More of a big-picture question: As you’re gearing up in anticipation and stress, can you name a couple things that you’re grateful for?

Eleanor: Getting glimpses of readings. Annie’s been carrying most of the load of the technical processing the videos, but she’s been sending me things and saying, ‘you must watch this’. So I’ve been getting these glimpses, and that really does help. It is always very useful when you’re working to just keep being reminded about the poetry, and that’s what it’s about. Being brought back, that always helps.

Annie: We were one of the last festivals last year who were able to take place, and we’ve had a lot of messages over the year of people just saying how much that nourished them in the lockdown that then came. That’s been really special, to know that it was so important to people and that the poetry, and again the sense of community, has been something that people have carried with them. I think in a way that was somehow, sort of a talisman, and does carry through to this festival and how people think about it.

Eleanor: One other thing I might say: I do keep reminding myself about how no matter how difficult things get that I’m very lucky to be living where I’ve got the sea. Last year I was very lucky to have the garden, but now we’re near the beach and so I’m able to walk on the beach. We have two poets who have adapted our poetry walks. Earlier on when people were more optimistic about what situation we would be in by March, we had hoped that we would be able to have some more outdoor in-person events, so the two poets we’re working with on the poetry walk have been amazingly flexible and understanding about our uncertainty. To begin with, we would email them saying, ‘we’re not really sure what we can suggest, but we just want you to agree you’ll do something, or maybe do two things, something online in case, and then something live’. It became clear we weren’t going to be able to do it live, so we’ve adapted these, and I think walks have been important for everyone, so I’m really pleased that we’ve been able to have beach walks we’re bringing to the festival so that everybody can get a bit of appreciation of the joys of being able to walk on the beach.

Annie: The recorded walks really sound like the second-best thing, but I’m putting them together at the moment, and particularly one of them, the poet really goes, ‘okay, we’re standing here now, and we’re looking out over there’. She really talks through where you are and what you can see in between reading poems that fit with that scenery, and there’s a slideshow of photos that goes along with that. You really do sink into it. I guess we’ve all become so used to armchair travelling, so maybe it’s a little bit more something for these times, but it actually is really really lovely.

Can you each give me a poet and/or one of their poems that’s been speaking to you recently?

Annie: I am really excited about Ilya Kaminksy who will be reading at the festival. Ilya read at either the first or second StAnza festival I worked at, and this is my seventh festival. He had a book out last year with Faber called Deaf Republic, and it’s very political. There’s one poem that was shared a lot over 2020 which is called ‘We Lived Happily during the War’ and it’s kind of that thing of living your every day life and kind of just getting on with things even though everything is terrible. And recognising that maybe that’s not what we should be doing, so we do need to engage more and we do need to be aware of what’s going on even if it’s not immediately affecting our own lives, not so much with the pandemic but all of the political news over the last year. I think particularly with the 2021 festival emphasis, the former Eastern Bloc and with the demonstrations in Russia and in Belarus at the moment, and the anti-abortion laws in Poland… there are a lot of things to be concerned about, to put it mildly, and I do have to keep coming back to those lines:

in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,

our great country of money, we (forgive us)

lived happily during the war.

Eleanor: I’m gonna opt for Naomi Shihab Nye who’s a poet that I’ve wanted to get to StAnza for many years. I heard her read once a long time ago and she lives in San Antonio, but she’s not connected to a university in a way that would enable her to get travel grants and so on, so it just has seemed very difficult [to get her to StAnza]. That’s one of the wonderful things about an online festival. You’re not constrained by the difficulties of bringing people. We had our second wee festival book group session on Wednesday—we do this each year, where we look at the poems of some of the poets that are coming to the festival. Of course this year it was on Zoom, but usually it’s in St Andrews with the locals, so again it meant we could get a lot more people. I opened this week’s session with my favourite poem of Naomi’s, which is ‘Gate A-4’, and I won’t give you much but it finishes, the last line is a good thing to remember in these difficult times:

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Can you give us any advice as a new festival pushing our boat out, especially in the thick of this, whatever ‘this’ may be in October—the ‘during’ or the ‘afterward’?

Annie: Trust your audiences. Audiences will be a lot bolder and a lot more curious than people give them credit for. I always remember Eleanor once saying that when she had really wanted to push making translated readings—so reading of poets who don’t write in English as their first language—a bigger focus at the festival, a lot of people said, ‘that’s almost gonna be a bit niche, that won’t ever be mainstream’, and now it’s what we’re really known for. It’s one of the things that really, people really appreciate about StAnza, and it was one of the things that drew me to StAnza originally—so trust your ideas, trust your audiences, and don’t be afraid to be bold, and to try out new things.

Eleanor: I suppose on a similar line, I do feel that if you have ideas and you have a kind of vision, go there. And then if you’re lucky, everything will fit into place to make it possible, but if you wait and don’t move forward until you think that everything is in place, and you just take very very small tentative steps… you have to have a kind of confidence and commitment to your vision, and then just push it forward. Push the boat out, and hope that everything else comes in. I mean, that doesn’t happen always; you’ll always get things that you do and then they just fall down and you don’t get it, but it’s great sometimes how we’ve gone ahead with things and then we’re able to get partners and funding to come in to support projects once we’ve got started with them. But if you just start saying, ‘well we won’t do anything until everything absolutely is in place’, you don’t [get anything coming in].

Annie: Given that Push the Boat Out has launched during a global pandemic, we probably don’t need to say that.

Eleanor: *laughs* Yeah.

Horizons in Poetryland

The Scottish Book Trust has made a wonderful list of opportunities for writers in Scotland and we've whittled it down to what is most relevant to your poetic genius: 

  • Gutter Magazine is looking for poetry and prose submissions. Deadline 15 March. 
  • Verve Poetry Press is looking for full poetry collection manuscripts. Deadline 31 March.
  • PENning is looking for poetry submissions for their 'Renewal' issue. Deadline 31 March. 
  • Gutter Magazine is collaborating with the Edwin Morgan Trust for poems inspired by Morgan's life or work by poets over 40. Deadline 31 March.

Scottish Book Trust's full list can be viewed here.

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