I’ve loved Norman MacCaig since I was at school. His mice, squeaking small hosannahs in the byre, his ‘room size monster with a matchbox brain’ and his tiny, jewel like frogs opening the door to a love of language that has opened every other door for me since. He showed how language could reveal and subvert and celebrate and be joyful all at once; what a revelation – ha! – to see how prosaic things could be raised to holy levels just through words, or how in a handful of expressions we could time travel, shoggling back through the centuries…
Theres a gorgeous interview with Mr MacCaig, with Jenny Brown (of course, who else?) here. https://bukowskiforum.com/threads/norman-maccaig-the-late.7429/
I love when the giants of Scottish literary history reach through into the almost present – amazing to think he was around, digging about in the National Library and drinking in Rose street not twenty five years ago. He talks in that video about how a poem comes knocking at the door, almost waiting to be written. I feel like that about projects sometimes, and this festival is knocking on the door too, a story waiting to be written. We’re keeping the narrative tension high by attempting to write it in the middle of an event-strangling pandemic, to be fair, but you can’t keep a good idea down and though we’ve tried to put this off a few times it keeps coming back. So, we’re just going ahead and getting into the boat.
And it IS a good idea. Between us Kev and I have an absurdly long list of poets we want to work with, discussions we want to listen to, ideas we want to give voice to, ways we want to experience and present poetry and performance. There are pockets of poetry happening all over Scotland constantly, from tightly knit wee knots of reading and writing groups, to noisy nights and platforms (albeit confined to zoom for now), and brilliant writers with international networks reaching around the world. We’re a festival city, we love a party, we’ve got things to say.
There’s been a few poetry beefs of late, of course. I don’t suppose it’s ever been any different. (Norman famously loved an argument, and he didn’t start the trend). But shared spaces and collective experiences help build trust, I hope, and we’d like to be part of creating something that allows for creative dialogue and disagreement about the poetry. Somebody tipping up the table for instance in dispute over the difference between a prose poem and a novel in verse, would be fully encouraged in our boat.
I admit to a certain anxiety about claiming the cultural real estate of ‘Edinburgh’s international poetry festival’ up front. On one hand it can be read as pretty colossal privilege to hoover that up and claim it; I hope we are acknowledging that element, and that we’ll construct the festival in ways that share the space widely and democratically, and that we’ll ‘heize others up’ as much as we can. But I think there’s a gallus-ness in there too, which has fuelled other projects Kev and I have independently been part of, and which is a sort of creative arrogance that you need to get ambitious things off the ground. Rebel Inc would never have happened without it, The Bookworm festival in Beijing wouldn’t have either. I think there’s something in there that Norman MacCaig, with his archness and his confidence, would have grudgingly admired.
So, while 2020 serves up its last few weird plot twists – Scotland qualifying for the Euros? we’ll take that one, thanks – we’re busying away on working out what version of Push the Boat Out we can devise for the unknowable future of October 2021. We’d like you to think about getting on board this wee boat with us, and helping us set sail. Whether its just to share your favourite big Norm poem, or to pitch an idea to get involved with Push the Boat Out, we’d love to hear from you. Happy birthday Norman McCaig, we hope we’ll do you proud.