Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry

Hello all! My apologies that this site has been so quiet over the past couple of months; I’ve been quite busy working on several projects so I haven’t had the time to post as regularly as I’d like. However, more posts on spoken word are coming! I have several drafted plus a couple guest posts lined up for you, so stay tuned . . .

For now, though, I’d like to share with you news of one of the projects that’s been keeping me busy this year. As many of you will know, my MRes research (Univ. Strathclyde, 2014-15) focused on poetry written for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, specifically investigating narratives of national history and identity woven through this body of work. Early in my research, I was introduced to Sarah Paterson, a fellow researcher doing similar work through her PhD at the University of Glasgow. We wanted to connect more researchers, artists, and activists engaged in this field, so we co-organised a conference for Sep. 2015 at the National Library of Scotland entitled ‘Poetic Politics: Culture and the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, One Year On.’ The conference was opened by Scottish culture minister Fiona Hyslop and featured talks and performances from cultural figures including Robert Crawford, Scott Hames, Liz Lochhead, Alan Bissett, and many more.

One of the ideas discussed during the conference was the ephemerality of much of the poetry (indeed all art) composed during/inspired by the referendum campaigns. Much of it was performed a couple times or shared privately but not published in any sustainable, accessible fashion. Sarah and I had discussed how, as researchers, this made our work more challenging as we had to gather material from the individual poets; and also that it was a shame that this work wasn’t more available more widely for folks to read. So, we decided to take a small step towards remedying this issue by co-editing an anthology of contemporary Scottish political poetry.

My co-editor Sarah Paterson and me with our book!

My co-editor Sarah Paterson and me with our book!

And here it is! We published Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry with Luath Press this year and launched it in Edinburgh last month.

Although the impetus for publishing the book came from a conference on the poetry of the indyref, not all the poems in it concern the constitutional question: far from it! We decided when we wrote the call for submissions that rather than simply publishing an anthology of poems from the referendum campaigns, we’d rather take a snapshot of the myriad issues Scotland’s poets are concerned with today. So, the book features poems on a wide range of topics, both within and outwith Scotland’s borders: on Scottish identity and language, coming to terms with Scottish history (and complicity in foreign affairs), on technology and environment, on social issues, and (the topic that by far dominated our submissions) on the horrors of the migrant crisis.

We also decided that in the call for submissions the definition of the ‘Scottish poet’ or ‘Scottish poem’ should be similarly broad. As immigrants ourselves (myself from the U.S., Sarah from New Zealand) who have moved to Scotland and made it our home, we felt it important not to define Scottishness by blood or birth. Instead, we accepted poems from poets with varying connections to Scotland, some born here but now living elsewhere, some born elsewhere who immigrated here, some lifelong citizens. We believe that this diversity of perspectives enriches the book and allows Scotland to be seen both from internally and externally from a longer (perhaps nostalgia-tinted) telescope.

Another major editorial choice that Sarah and I made was to flip the script in terms of normal translation practice in Scotland. Customarily, anthologies of Scottish poetry will translate any poems in Gaelic into English in order to make them accessible to non-Gaelic speakers, but not vice versa. We decided to leave the four Gaelic poems in Aiblins untranslated, and instead to translate four of the English poems in the book into Gaelic. We hope that this experiment will cause English and Gaelic readers alike to reflect upon the traditional power dynamics of translation in Scottish culture.

All of the poems in the book are truly ‘new’: they’re previously unpublished in print, so the collection is fresh and unique. We’re also delighted to be featuring poems in a real range of styles and voices, including several found poems, concrete poems, and transcribed spoken word pieces. It also hosts a foreward and afterword from acclaimed scholars and poets David Kinloch and Robert Crawford, respectively.

There’s lots more I could share about the book – but I’d rather you find out for yourself! Aiblins is available now in bookstores and through the Luath website or the Book Depository (if you live outwith Scotland, use the Book Depository link to get free worldwide shipping). You can also find audio recordings of several of the poems in the book on our YouTube channel or follow us through our website, Facebook, or Twitter pages. If you live in Glasgow, we’re holding a launch there tomorrow night (Tues, 15 Nov) with free entry: would be lovely to see you there!

Thanks as always for reading – hope you have a great week!

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