A book launch celebrating all things queer

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Michael Lee Richardson and Ryan Vance. (Photo Credit: Sebastian Faugstad)

“I tuck myself under the spathe
as if it were my mother’s pleated skirt.
Corpse-flower. Corpse-stiff and sweet,
the rotted grunt of its scent
enfolding me like a red womb,
holding me tight, safe against the spadix”

Poet Rachel Plummer reads one of her poems in front of eager listeners, Titan Arum. She is one of the contributing writers who have come to St Andrews Brewing Company in Edinburgh for the book launch of We Were Always Here. The world outside the windows is dark and frightening but in here, in this room warmed up by candlelight, diversity is fully accepted and there is no fear.

It is crowded. Glasses filled with beer and wine rest on the wooden tables that match the walls in the bar. On one of the tables there are stacks with the pink anthology, in which the words across the pages are written by people who identify themselves as queer. Other than Rachel Plummer, the contributors Andrés Ordorica, Jay G Ying and Christina Neuwirth are also here tonight.

“I’m going to finish with a poem about the Loch Ness Monster,” Rachel says, as she stands closer to the microphone. She explains that she thinks the monster is non-binary. On the top of her head, a leopard hat can be seen as part of the evening’s animal print theme. She lets go of the microphone and leaves the stage, but the hat stays on for the rest of the night.

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Poet Rachel Plummer. (Photo credit: Linnéa Lind)

“When I was in primary school, I had a fantastic teacher. I really loved poetry and he gave me a poem to read and to memorise. I just loved him so much that I started to write my own versions and my own poems. I haven’t stopped since,” she says while adjusting the leopard on her head.

Rachel has received a commission from LGBT Youth Scotland to write children’s poems based on traditional Scottish folk stories. She says that her sexual orientation often comes through in her poetry.

“I have two children. When I used to tell stories to my daughter I would swap the genders as I read them. Then I thought that maybe other people would be interested in these versions of these stories. That’s how I got into writing children’s poetry.”

When Rachel was young, she did not have many friends and would read many books.
“I felt really different to everybody else and that’s partly because of the queerness and the difference. I read a lot to escape from that. The whole thing made me feel kind of monstrous and I thought that maybe I was the only one in the world who felt like that,” she reveals, “I would really like to put my poetry in the hands of children who feel like that and show them that they are allowed to exist.”

The editors of the anthology, Ryan Vance and Michael Lee Richardson, share their excitement and often laugh with the listeners. Together, they run Queer Words Project Scotland for emerging queer writers. The anthology We Were Always Here is the result of queer literary pieces that were chosen among many submissions.

“A part of the project is to widen the margins a bit and creating a space for people that don’t always get an opportunity and a space,” says Michael Lee Richardson.

The book cover may be delightful and cheery in its pink shade, but the content deals with serious issues such as homophobia and sexual abuse.

“There is a lot of work in the book that reflects on how difficult it is to just get by sometimes. If you read it from cover to cover, there are a few shifts in tone. The pieces go from sweet heart-warming narratives about people finding their place in the world, to shocking moments of thinking that this is horrific, and it’s really refreshing to see queer people allowed to be monsters. We can’t be the best at everything and good all the time, we’re human,” says Ryan Vince.

Today is the first day of the LGBT History Month, which occurs in February each year in Scotland. Read more about it here.

Best Edinburgh Burns Night 2018 events

Burns Night is where many across the world celebrate and toast Scotland’s famed national bard. Whether it is tucking into haggis, dancing at a ceilidh or reciting some of Burns’ most beloved works, there are many ways you can take part in the festivities in Edinburgh.

From ceilidhs to festivals, reporter Colin Campbell shares some of the best events taking place in Edinburgh this month to mark Burns Night (25th January).

 

Burns Unbound,  (21st January)

When: 11:00 – 16:00      Where: Auditorium and Grand Gallery, Level 1

Held at the National Museum of Scotland, Burns Unbound is a free mini-festival that will be putting on performances and workshops for all in order to honour the life and work of Burns.

 

Burns Celebration (20 & 21 Jan)

When: TBC                      Where: 28 Lauriston Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9DJ

If dance is more your fancy, you can see The Flaming Heather ceilidh band and caller Ken Gourlay at Lauriston Hall, accompanied both by folk dancers and a piper.

 

The Annasach Ceilidh Band (26 & 27 Jan)

When: 20:00                    Where:  36 West Nicolson Street, Edinburgh EH8 9DD

The band will be taking over The Counting House (26 & 27 Jan) for a ceilidh and buffet supper.

 

Burns Night Ceilidh (26 & 27 Jan)

When: 19:00-00:00         Where: 103 George St, Edinburgh EH2 3ES

The Contini Scottish Café and Restaurant will also be bringing their special ceilidh night back to the Scottish National Gallery after last year’s sold out event (26 & 27 Jan)

 

Scotland’s Storytelling Centre (20, 24, 25 Jan)

Where: 43-45 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1SR

The centre will be hosting a number of special Burns themed events as well, that include both suppers (24, 25 Jan) and storytelling centred around some of Burns’ finest poems. Donald Smith will explore renowned narrative poem ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ (20 Jan), looking at its meaning and recitation. You’ll also be able to hear Donald’s performance of the poem at Supper with Burns (24, 25 Jan), which includes a traditional Burns Supper with storytellers David Campbell and Ruth Kirkpatrick, as well as clarsach player Katie Harrigan.

 

Red Festival (25-27 Jan)

Where: Rose Street, Edinburgh.

This year, there is also to be a special three-day celebration of all things Burns, where visitors can take part in a number of unique events and activities happening along Rose Street.

Robert Burns

Portrait of Robert Burns | Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland, sums up what he feels makes Burns a true symbol for Scotland.

“Scotland’s history and heritage is what defines the country for many visitors and Robert Burns perfectly encapsulates Scotland’s creativity, pride and confidence, making him a cultural icon around the world.”

Roughead goes on to say that Burns is also revered in countries far and wide from his native Scotland, especially those with Scottish ancestry.

“Burns Night continues to be a global celebration of Scottish culture, particularly in those major Diaspora markets – the USA, Canada and Australia.”

A Red Red Rose Street!

With annual and traditional celebrations being almost here, we are having a look at some different approaches to commemorate the life and art of Scottish biggest poet Robert Burns. They are all free and taking place in Rose Street in Edinburgh. Happy Burns Night!

In The Words of the Bard

The Rose Street has been decorated with Bard’s most loved quotes. Have fun to find them!

Bairns Burns Trail

6 Rabbie Burns inspired pictures have been hidden around Rose Street.  Find them and write down what poem they represent.

For our younger bairns, find the letter in each picture and what does it spell?

Handy guides can be picked up from the pop-up Burns Bothy at 116b Rose Street.

Street Burns

Celebrate Robert Burns’ life and work together with local musicians. They decorate the length of Rose St with the sounds of Burns and Scotland inspired tales. Entertaining audiences are traditional Scottish musicians: Tina Avery, Richard Jenkins, Calum Baird, Aaron Wright, Puddin n Mash, Euan Fleming, Erin & Briony and Greg Aiken.

Braw Burns

Wee ones will be encouraged to sing and create music together in a friendly, supportive environment, learning a classic Burns lament. This is unticketed, free and drop in – first come, first served.

Age: 6 month to 4 years

Side Burns

 

 

A Q&A with Scottish Slam Poetry Champion, Iona Lee

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Photo by Maddie Chalmers

With Burns night fast approaching, we prepare to celebrate one of the country’s most revered poets and historical figures. Burns’ influence continues to permeate the poetry scene, but today Scotland is home to a new array of wordsmiths and mavericks. Scottish slam champion, Iona Lee, is at the forefront of this new generation of artists.

Why do you write poetry?

I have always loved stories and the different ways that they can be told and I suppose I am trying to tell the story of “me”. I am a narcissist and also somewhat insecure, as I think most poets are, and if you turn a memory into a poem you can decide what happened. You get to frame it, you set the lighting and the tone. I am nostalgic and obsessed with reflecting and figuring things out. I often say that writing a poem is like a puzzle that you are trying to solve: When you put that line in what solves the puzzle, to me, is the most satisfying feeling.

What themes are present in your work? 

I’ve always tried to write about what I know, I would hate for anything to seem unauthentic. I like to work with the confessional and I love to tell stories. Being a 20-year-old woman that has been writing primarily since the age of 17 means that most of my writing focuses on the themes of being a 17 to 20-year-old woman-girl-child. Deceptions and self-deceptions and maturing and sex and confusion and trying on all the different youse that you might become.

How can we best support our local talent?

Pay for the art you consume! Caitlin Moran once said something very wise about how Topshop does not have to give away clothes for free just because they have a website. Artists, makers and thinkers have to give away so much of their work for free. It is work, and should be reimbursed so that we can make more of it. With regards to local talent, there is so much word being spoken out there at the moment. There really is something for everyone. Get involved in the movement. Go to gigs.

Who do you admire on the current scene?

A new voice that I am loving at the moment is Katherine MacFarlane. We both share a love of folklore and Scottish fairy tales and her work is gentle and painful.

You have done some great projects so far, even working with the BBC. How did you make a name for yourself?

As with all things there was a certain amount of luck involved in my early success. The Scottish poetry scene is a very supportive one, so that helped. I have had a lot of good contacts and friends and mentors over the past four years. Winning the Scottish Slam Championship last year certainly helped on the success front.

What can poetry achieve that other art forms cannot? 

Nothing is original. Everything has been said. What poetry does though is find new ways of saying what has been said and felt and thought before.

Connect with Iona on Facebook

An afternoon with Wise-L Leathermonk

Celtic connoisseurs can get their aesthetic and audio fix in abundance from the likes of Wise-L Leathermonk. We spent a windy afternoon up a hill with the poet and ukulele bard to learn a little more about one of Edinburgh’s most colourful and distinctive characters.

 

To hear more of Leathermonk’s work check out his Facebook page.

Sonneteer of the natural world Marion McCready talks about poetry

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Living in a beautiful place such as Scotland, it can be hard to express in words how breath-taking the countryside and our scenery really is. For Marion McCready, the verses flow a little easier. McCready is an accomplished poet from Dunoon, Argyll, whose second collection of poems titled ‘Madame Ecosse’ (Eyewear Publishing) will be published next month. Her astonishing works as a poet have their roots in nature, topographical poetry about the landscapes of Scotland and in her latest offering she explores the complexities of the womanhood through a naturalistic narrative.

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Madame Ecosse, Feburary 2017.

“I’ve written a lot about the female experience, history and mythology, using fictional narratives but very much in a Scottish context. So it’s really using nature images to explore what I want to talk about, which sometimes I don’t really know what that is, until I start exploring the images. In my first collection, it was much more nature imagery, using nature to explore the darker side to life, violence and what the natural world around us can tell us about that and human nature. So it’s pretty broad in that sense, but it always comes back to the physical. For me, the concrete image is important, so you don’t get lost in abstract ideas.”

The creative process takes time, effort and that elusive something else that can be harder to capture. For this artist, the process starts with images that resonate with her. “I tend to collect images and words. I write up a lot of notes all the time, and anything that stands out for me, I follow that and see where it takes me. Sometimes it starts with an idea, but very rarely do I know what I’m going to be writing about when I start. It’s kind of like waiting for something, that spark, and then you think “oh there’s something in that, I’ll follow it up and see where it takes me.”
Poetry has found new purpose in Scotland in recent years, perhaps in debt to the independence movement. In ‘Madame Ecosse’ McCready focuses on the Scottish identity but stresses that it’s not her whole motivation as a poet. “I think with the referendum in the last few years and rising awareness of questioning ourselves ‘What does it mean to be Scottish?’ there has been more self-awareness and a willingness to explore that. I think of myself as a Scottish poet but I don’t want that to be in a kind of narrow sense. I’m a poet first and foremost, I’m a Scottish poet, I’m a female poet, so I wouldn’t ever think all I can write is Scottish poetry, I wouldn’t want it to be restrictive in that sense.”

Outside of poetry McCready has pursued writing in essay form, and has recently taken inspiration for her work from archive ‘Boards of Canada’ style documentaries from the mid-20th century. When asked if she could have a drink with any writer from history, McCready said she would probably share one with Ted Hughes. She loves writers that have intensity in their work, her favourite line of poetry coming from 17th century poet John Donne, “Batter my heart, three personed God”. Her favourite poem of her own? “Probably a poem called Arrochar Alps. For me that was a real breakthrough poem, when I wrote it at that point I had broken a ceiling in my poetry, I knew I had gone past the superficial level that I’d done before. It was a new opening, so it’ll always be special to me.”

Marion McCready’s new collection of poetry, Madame Ecosse will be released on Feburary 10th 2017, from Eyewear Publishing. Follow @Marion_McCready on Twitter

Listen to a reading of ‘Arrochar Alps’ by Marion here.

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