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 email@example.com. 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.’
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.