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Poetic Thoughts from Home and Abroad

16th Oct 2014

In a double bill for Poetry and Place, two of Scotland’s best loved poets, Tom Pow and Ron Butlin, read a selection from their own work. The poems chosen, all in keeping with BOOKMARK’s 2014 theme of Place, embodied a wide range of concepts and moods.

Ron Butlin in mischievous mood

Ron Butlin in mischievous mood

After entertaining the audience with a reading of Milk, about the pleasures of being a cow in Galloway – such cows being ‘the luckiest of all God’s creatures’ – Tom went on to talk about his six months as Writer in Residence at the National Library of Scotland which resulted in his collection Concerning the Atlas of Scotland and Other Poems. One of Tom’s serendipitous discoveries while there, described in his poem The Soviet Map of Edinburgh, was a set of maps created by Russian spies which Tom found, to his astonishment, were more up to date than the Ordnance Survey versions. The Soviets, he told us, would be able to guide a tank straight to your front door more easily than you could get there yourself.

Place features strongly in another of Tom’s collections, In Another World, a project based on his travels around the dying villages of Europe. In speaking of the impact of the phenomenon in terms of history, identity and loss Tom drew attention to the way in which a poem too can be a place because it can enshrine memory.

Tom finished by talking about his recent exchange visit to Lagos with Nigerian poet Tolu Ogunlesi, whom he had previously hosted in Scotland. The spirit of Nigeria’s largest city is captured in Tom’s poem This is Lagos. Often used instead of ‘Welcome to Lagos’ to greet newcomers, the expression’s subtext  announces: ‘This is Lagos! Deal with it!’. The full story of Tom’s time in this chaotic, pulsating, larger-than-life city is told in his blog.

Ron Butlin spoke movingly of his own travels, at a time when he felt alienated from Scotland and preferred to live abroad, and about his ‘moment of epiphany’ when he became reconciled with his Scottishness. This, naturally, led on to a reading of Kickstarting History, written in anticipation of Scottish independence. 

Further poems raised various questions for our consideration.  Was the story of Jekyll and Hyde really intended to be situated in Edinburgh, given its double personality? Are today’s disposable buildings, typified by the ephemerality of IKEA products in contrast with the enduring solidity of sites such as Skara Brae, a reflection of disposable lives?

Finally, Ron read an excerpt from his novel Ghost Moon, set in Edinburgh and inspired by his mother’s story as an unmarried mother in the harsh and unforgiving climate of post-war Scotland.

Altogether a stimulating and thought-provoking event.

Tom Pow ponders the pleasures of being a cow in Galloway




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Thanks @RusseldMcLean, weren’t the @bookmarkblair team great? An excellent festival all round, I think.

Stuart MacBride


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