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Festival Round-Up

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

As we reach the end of another Festival, here at the Salon we’re celebrating another publication: our second anthology! But before we report on our Launch Party, let’s look at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival.

In the ancient debate over whether poetry is for the stage or the page, there's a premise stating that both may coexist. Evolving from the pandemic, The World May Be The Same is a new poetry pamphlet from Stewed Rhubarb Press. Hannah Lavery and Marjorie Lotfi gave a moving rendition of this work, presenting their poems as they are on the page: a conversation between two women, sharing their experience of being poets of colour in Scotland.

Each began sat at a desk with papers and mugs of coffee/tea and a suitcase by one, reflecting the epistolary nature of the sequence as if writing to each other from a distance, spoken over a subtle soundscape created by Elle Lavery. As they next moved to stand in front of the desks the exchange became more conversational, until at the last the recitation was directed at the audience.

This was an intimate and subtle performance, all the more moving given the personal nature of the poetry; an exploration of what it is to belong to a place and yet, not quite belong. The collective feeling of displacement during 2020, and the contemporary resonance of Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech referred to by Hannah made this poetry not just relatable but readable.

On the other side of the coin, Marcas Mac an Tuairneir’s poetry is, for a large number of people, unreadable given that it’s in Gaelic. A compelling case for the importance of hearing this work read aloud. It would have been good to have more poems presented at his event, but it was mostly a discussion between Marcas and another advocate for minority language, Sam Ó Fearraigh, who also collaborated on some of the work.

There was a touching conjunction here of Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic, and a clearly shared vision for making these languages more ‘visible’ – or audible. With only one Gaelic event at this year’s Festival, Marcas felt there was much to be done. Nevertheless, it seemed, from our question on funding, there is plenty of support for Gaelic; perhaps more questions could be asked about other minority languages throughout Scotland?

Onto our Book, then, which indeed contains one of Marcas’ poems, plus a smattering of Gaelic in a story by Charlie Roy (of Stewed Rhubarb.) At the launch, Marcas read his poem ‘Antebellum’ in the original Gaelic then in translation; then another poem from his collection Polaris (published by Leamington Books – another good friend of the Salon.)

Our anthology, The Golden Hours, represents the argumentative, duplicitous nature of Edinburgh, its two-sided coin, its architectural marmite, and more! The book is divided into two halves: dusk and dawn. We heard readings to give a flavour of each, from Mary Paulson-Ellis, Britta Benson, Philip Caveney, Catherine Simpson, David McVey, and Marcas Mac an Tuairneir.

We could have chosen so many more, although some of our contributors are from overseas (we reach far beyond our own literary city) plus we had our 5th Birthday to celebrate. It’s been five years since our voluntary steering Group took over running the Salon from the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust, and we’ve done this on a shoestring, with no public funding, but with enthusiasm!

Back at the Book Festival, on the ante-penultimate evening the Loud Poets held their Grand Slam Final. Claiming to bring poetry from the page to the stage, there’s no doubt the Loud Poets have put a sense theatricality into this format. Given the events mentioned above, they might have overstated their claim that spoken word is overlooked in the literary scene. It just depends on how you present it; after all, Hannah Lavery, on the judging panel, was the ‘sacrificial poet’ for the event. Sometimes poetry can be read with subtlety.

Nonetheless, this kind of event is about enthusiastic entertainment, as well as well-crafted words (so, more than just ‘performance’) plus the thrill of competition. As Kevin McLean, compere, pointed out, they wanted to take the slam and “turn it up the fuck,” so with funding from Creative Scotland the Loud Poets made the run-up to this Finale a Scotland-wide competition, resulting in a £3,000 prize for the Slam Champion.

Now that’s big money, and to any poet, it’s a King’s ransom. We’ll not give away who won it, since you may be able to watch the livestream again. But we’ll end by asking to support our friends at small publishing presses such as Stewed Rhubarb Press and Leamington Books, and please buy our beautiful book too. After all, this is what keeps writing alive – and live.

NOTE, Marjory Lotfi will appear on Monday 28th at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and her debut poetry collection will be launched at Portobello Bookshop on the 12th of October.

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