Archive for August, 2008
I set off for the launch of the poetry garden this morning with two boxes full of lotus flowers and a big tartan umbrella. Which was just as well because by the time I reached St Andrew Square it was pelting with rain and blowing a gale. Even so I walked home with a warm glow an hour later and not just because the sun had perversely decided to shine as soon as our little ceremony was over. We had left lotus flowers bobbing in the water and a feel good atmosphere in the garden; we had claimed the space for poetry and the people. The revolution starts here.
And it’s an ill wind or an evil downpour that brings no-one any good. When Mike the operations manager from Essential Edinburgh got to the garden this morning he found the water had drained out of the pond but that sudden shower helped to fill it enough to float the blossoms Lilias, Jane and I had spent the last week (and a lot of paper) folding into shape. Then the wind blew them merrily across the surface (the origami, not Lilias and Jane) and, with another stroke of good luck, the printer delivered the poetry postcard fliers in time for Ali to bring them to the garden.
So altogether a great occasion. The press had been lured to the other end of George Street to see Sir Sean Connery close the book festival but thanks to Ewan we had secured a much bolder Scot in Richard Holloway, chair of the Scottish Arts Council, to open poetry in St Andrew Square. And Ron Butlin, Edinburgh’s Makar or poet laureate, read a poem he had written specially for the occasion, “even though I was told I wasn’t going to get paid but that’s what us poets are like.” Or words to that effect.
I wasn’t in a position to take notes but the line that stuck in my mind was “Edinburgh so full of possibilities and prohibitions.” That so beautifully sums up the city’s divided personality (part banker, part bohemian) I took an instant liking to the new Makar and I asked Ron if I could have a copy of the poem. I took an even greater liking to him when he confessed he hadn’t quite finished the poem – he was still working on it but wanted to produce something to mark the occasion.
So now I am home again, with an unused box of lotus flowers I am not sure what to do with. There may be other opportunities. Alex Salmond is officially opening the garden on 10 September. Perhaps I can float something subversive on the pond to mark that occasion. Alternatively, I can just keep them for the monthly lunchtime ‘personal poetry shopper’ events the Scottish Poetry Library will be starting on 5 September. I have great hopes that together we can make poetry rock Edinburgh’s boat.
See the City of Literature website for details of the poetry postcard if you want to make your own wish for poetry in the garden. The more subversive the better!
August 25th, 2008
“This isn’t political, it’s humanitarian.” Jane Frere.
Each one is different. You can’t be sure of course, it would take a long time to study each of the 3,000 figures suspended from the ceiling of Patriothall Gallery. But although it’s the mass of humanity that you notice when you first walk into the gallery, I think it is the individuality of each little model that makes Return of the Soul so very moving.
Return of the Soul: the Nakbah Project, perhaps the most powerful exhibition in the Edinburgh Arts Festival, symbolises the exodus of 750,000 Palestinian men, women and children displaced by the creation of Israel 60 years ago. The wax figures were made in Bethlehem and the West Bank and in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. The workshops were led by artist Jane Frere who taught her students how to make the figures and at the same time she recorded their stories and memories triggered by deceptively banal questions such as, “What were you wearing the night you were evicted from your home?”
Mundane details catch the eye: a basket, a walking stick, a shawl. Others catch something deeper inside: a tiny babe in arms; a dead or sleeping body carried on the shoulder. The exhibition has a disturbing beauty which reminds me of images of other displaced peoples across the world so hauntingly documented by the photographer Sebastiao Salgado in his studies of ‘humanity in transition’.
People are on the move in their millions and wittingly (through our wars) or unwittingly (through the goods we buy) we all play our part in dislocating the lives of other human beings. Like Salgado, Jane Frere encourages the viewer to look and think for themselves about the continuing dehumanisation of people forced to leave their homes. This is not about politics, she says in newspaper interviews, it’s about people.
And one way and another her art involves a lot of people. The exhibition was hung with the help of many volunteers painstakingly attaching each small figure to transparent wires and then climbing on to scaffolding to suspend them from the ceiling. Among the volunteers was my friend and fellow Leith Open Spacer Nick Gardner whose excellent website coverage of the exhibition is among the media reviews displayed on the gallery wall.
Each figure will have to be taken down with equal care and volunteers will be needed for that too. So if you happen to be free between 8 am and midnight on August 18-20, leave your name at the gallery or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Return of the Soul is at Patriothall Gallery, Wasps studio, Stockbridge, until 18 August. There’s an interesting Aljazeera clip of an interview with Jane during the Jerusalem exhibition of Return of the Soul in May this year.
This is a very slightly changed version of my post on Leith Open Space website
August 15th, 2008
The birds have flown. Or rather, since this is the moulting season, perhaps they have just shuffled off somewhere downstream. Wherever they have gone and however they got there, the pond seems much too quiet and I am wandering around gloomily counting ducklings and cygnets that are nowhere to be seen. I don’t think it is just empty pond syndrome; I know, I know, all young things have to move on. My fear is that something nasty lurking in the reedbed has had them for lunch.
It’s a hard life being a softy. Ray says mink won’t mess with full grown mallards but the weekend of the wedding Jared saw something black scuttling away with a rabbit in its mouth. That sounds hellish like mink to me and surely a rabbit is no smaller than a mallard?
The first time we saw the pond it was choked with weeds and reeds but there was just enough water for a pair of swans. I think they were put there by the estate agents because we didn’t see any more swans for the next eight years until we had finished building the house and turned our attention to dredging the pond. Next spring two swans appeared out of nowhere (we were so surprised we thought the white splash on the bank was an old poly bag) and produced the first batch of Pond Cottage cygnets.
This spring we saw a record number of tiny mallards scooting across the surface like fluffy pond skaters. They moved so fast it was hard to count them but we reckoned there must have been up to 30 from three or four different broods. By last month there were just two parents with four healthy almost full grown young and they all looked very content, swimming round the pond in one happy family group. The swans had four young too and occasionally they were joined by moorhens and dabchicks. We spent hours watching them and a fortune on sacks of grain.
As always the swans were first to disappear but we have got used to that – each year they seem to prefer to leave before the moulting begins in earnest, travelling downstream to Loch Leven to seek safety in numbers (we know that’s where they go because neighbours have seen ‘our swans’ escorting their cygnets across the road and into the stream going down to the loch). But the ducks always stayed on the pond until this year.
Now they are all gone, except for one drake and his mate who stay in hiding most of the day. The pond is empty most of the day and it doesn’t feel right. Mind you, there are reasons to be cheerful. When Ray was working on his new engineering project in the dam he found two carcases in the pipes leading from the pond which he knows is where they mink hangs out. They were dead rabbits.
August 7th, 2008