A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
There are crazy things afoot in Edinburgh and most of them can be traced to one door! Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature.
You might have been wondering what that rather nifty snowman photo was all about that we ran over Christmas. All is now about to be revealed as Let’s Get Lyrical, a month-long celebration of lyrics through events, music and reading, is launched by Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature and Glasgow UNESCO City of Music for the whole of February. So, what is a UNESCO City of Literature? And how do the locals react to such crazy antics.
Vulpes Libris decided to find out more by asking Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature‘s Anna Burkey about these mysterious happenings…
Waxing Lyrical with Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature’s Anna Burkey.
RosyB: So, tell me, what exactly *is* a UNESCO City of Literature?
Anna: It’s a great place to live! A city full of stories, poetry, publishing and writers; a place that welcomes people who love to talk or read or sing, to debate, or write or listen to words, in all their forms.
Edinburgh wasn’t just the first City of Literature – we even came up with the idea. So proud of Edinburgh’s bookish-ness were four literary folk that they felt we should be recognised globally by the United Nations as a world-leader for literature. UNESCO (the United Nations’ Education, Science & Cultural Organisation) agreed, and we became the first of their permanent Creative Cities – cities committed to Literature, Design, Music, Folk Art, Media arts, Film and Gastronomy (Yum. Not visited any of those cities yet!)
It’s about recognition of literary heritage, and promotion of all the great writing & performing and educational work out there – but it’s also about the future. Our cities of Literature are made of the people in them – we’re all part of a community that loves its literature, and should help that community to grow. The more creative folk we have in our city, the richer our home becomes.
Anna: The city’s literary CV is rather impressive – classic writers, a wealth of publishing establishments, birthplace of Encyclopaedia Britannica, home to the world’s largest monument to a writer (the rocket-like Scott Monument.)
We’ve got the biggest Book Fest in the world, a purpose-built Storytelling Centre and a poetry Library, a colony of writers that use Edinburgh as a character in their work, NLS gets a copy of everything published in the UK (they have well over 14 million items) and a range of publishers, writing and book groups, and a myriad of literary events. All in a city of less than half a million souls.
That pretty much does it in my book – trick is to make sure we stay in such healthy literary shape in the future, and live up to our past and the great activity happening in the present.
RosyB: Are there other UNESCO Cities of Lit and do they have any involvement with each other?
Anna: Yup – at the moment there are three other cities in the network: Dublin, Melbourne and Iowa City, with several others making bids. We help other cities make bids – it’s not about filling in a form, but about getting your literary folk to work together.
We chat regularly with reps in our sister-cities (thank you, Skype), and send out an International bulletin from here in Edinburgh, so we can all see what’s going on in each others’ cities. We send each other great projects we’ve come across, and help each other set up programmes that have been a success in our own town – like Carry a Poem. We’re helping Melbourne develop it to work for them as well as it did for Edinburgh.
Here in Edinburgh we have the City of Literature Trust – an enthusiastic team of two working on behalf of Edinburgh’s wider literary scene, helping people to get involved. Not every city has dedicated staff, and it’s a great job to have – but there still a lot of work to do, to make sure people know and appreciate our literary city, so we can build on it.
RosyB: Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature has launched a number of citywide reading campaigns and projects including the one I remember from the first salon event that I went along to – Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped being distributed free throughout the city – through to the recent “Carry a Poem” which saw poetry events round the city, poems projected onto the castle walls – people carrying poems around in their back pockets and even poems cheekily written across a few semi-naked persons…;)
Anna: You have to be creative when it comes to publicising reading projects, especially when you want to reach a mass audience!
RosyB: Can you tell me what a good campaign consists of and how local people respond to all these weird and wonderful ideas? Do you have any fun anecdotes you can share?
Anna: A good campaign works with what’s already there, and reaches out beyond an established audience. A large number of partners across different art forms, businesses, community groups will spread the word more effectively to a range of folk, so projects will have a bigger impact. It can be challenging co-ordinating large groups of partners, but that’s what makes a difference. That, and always thinking about a lasting legacy – using one-off campaigns to highlight existing services is important. You also can’t beat cake – keeps all the individuals involved full of sugar and energy – so a lot of cake is needed.
Kidnapped looks a challenging book to uncertain readers, but is a great adventure tale – the graphic novel version we commissioned (in English, Scots, Gaelic and a special text for those with reading difficulties) was a big hit with younger readers and adults alike. We had the artist and script writer (Cam Kennedy and Alan Grant, of Star wars and 2000 AD) come down to talk to some kids at Sighthill Library. One boy was too busy heckling & playing computer games on the library terminal but got drawn in and listened intently, asking for his book to be signed by Cam and Alan. He then got very upset and when we calmed him down discovered why he was so cross – ‘Where’s Stevenson? Could he no be bothered to come down and sign it too?’ Guess he missed the first part of the talk, but at least he got excited about the book.
A man actually proposed in front of the poetry we projected onto Edinburgh Castle (Douglas Dunn’s ‘Look to the living, love them, and hold on’). If anyone out there is looking to propose this Feb 14th, let us know, we’ve got a great plan to help you pop the question!
RosyB: How important is it, do you feel, to support local writers?
Anna: It’s important to support our local writers, who make up such a strong part of our literary community. At the City of Literature Trust we’re here to help writers navigate the literary world, find out what’s going on, make connections for them and ensure they feel part of a creative community. We programme StoryShop at the book festival to give emerging local authors a platform, and run the salon evenings, for example, as well as encouraging the press to carry pieces by local writers, and much more.
RosyB: Your latest project is represented by that rather wonderful image of the snowmen musicians on the Meadow that we had on the site all through Christmas. Let’s Get Lyrical is run in collaboration between yourselves and Glasgow Unesco City of Music. What are the main events you’d like people to know about?
Anna: The Disco Lecture – get your dancing shoes on! Laugh along with international DJ Craig Schuftan – The Schuf, to you and I – as he talks us through some of the less than deep & meaningful classic disco tunes before spinning the decks and letting us dance the night away to the words he’s been throwing our way. Sunday 20th Feb
The closing event – Cargo versus Chemikal – Scottish indie record label versus Scottish indie publishers. Who will win – the writers or the songwriters? Featuring Emma Pollok and Lord Cutglass against Ryan van Winkle, Kirstin Innes and more – refereed by A L Kennedy. 27th Feb.
Anna: The family day – bring the little ‘uns, the teenagers and the grown-ups along. Songwriting sessions, rhymetimes and a host of family activities before the special Voice of a City concert by the SCO at the Usher hall. 5th Feb.
RosyB: Lyrics *says she remembering from her youth sitting with many a teenage friend, rewinding tapes (what are they again?) over and over again in order to write down the lyrics* can touch people’s lives in a very direct and emotional way. What is it about them, do you think, that makes them so important to people?
Anna: They are the soundtrack to our lives.
RosyB: Can lyrics be over-analysed? (again, says she who has had more than her fair share of Bob Dylan aficionados make her want to tear her hair out over the years).
Anna: Let the debate commence – there are several Dylan-linked events in our programme for let’s get Lyrical, by the way…
RosyB: Lastly – we normally ask for 5 fav books, but in the spirit of the campaign I’m going to ask for 5 favourite lyrics. And perhaps any reader can add their own – and toddle over to the Let’s get Lyrical site and add their personal stories alongside Ian Rankin and al.
Anna: I can’t put it as well as some of the folk submitting their stories over at www.letsgetlyrical.com –about lyrics that take you back to a summer of unrequited love, or the break up of a marriage, or stopped you in your tracks because the words suddenly struck a chord. But there are lyrics that remind me of people, or places – like photographs, or particular perfume. So in that spirit:
Welcome to our Fifth Annual Poetry Week!
Please join us for a look at verse in different ways and different mediums.
Monday- Simon Thomas sits down and tries to work out why he's never got on with poetry and (unwisely) gives versification a go himself.
Tuesday- Kate shows us how to take a poem apart to find its structure, and why.
Wednesday- Sam shares his thoughts on Kei Miller's collection A Light Song of Light.
Thursday- Moira considers the use of poetry as a plot device in - of all things - a detective novel.
Friday- RosyB takes a look at The Walls Do Not Fall by HD to see if they still stand up to scrutiny.
Saturday- Jackie delves into Anne Sexton's work by way of Peter Gabriel.