Dry Stone Work

The third full collection by Brian Johnstone, and his second to be published by Arc in their Poetry from the UK & Ireland series, May 2014.

A grounded yet playful collection from an assured poet, flexing his muscles into newer territory. As well as the deep lineage of rural landscapes that populated previous collections, here Johnstone treats us to an extended trip to the circus, where the glitz and thrill of the big top and its stunts are peeled back to allow us into the physical and emotional rigour that forms the show’s backbone.  Elsewhere poems transport you more literally through music, movies and TV history, around Europe and into the distant past, again balancing between illusion and the tension that supports it in the more mundane world. And throughout, the tone and language also plays an ingenious balancing act between the structured, the rhyming and the informal. This is a personal and expansive collection, honest and exploratory.
blurb by Sarah Hymas


A Poetic master … [a] skilled builder, who knows how to weight his words and fit them together with care.
Susan Mansfield, Scotland on Sunday

One of the delights of Johnstone’s poetry is the precision of his imagery. [The] poems range widely in subject matter but the collection coheres. This is provided in part by the consistent musicality of Johnstone’s writing. Throughout the collection, the internal rhymes and rhythms lift the poems off the page.
Lindsay Macgregor, Dundee University Review of the Arts

Johnstone’s poems are meticulously crafted, grounded and resonant by their own measure … the poet’s language and construction bear[ing] an inspiring semblance to his theme and suggest[ing] a veiled world that exists beyond his subject.
Philip Clement, Stride

Subject matter full of movement is stilled by … elegant and sophisticated verse … Nothing in here is humdrum, nothing is over-personal. It’s a kaleidoscope of language as well as of the world. Brian Johnstone’s voice has reached mastery in these poems. You can tell who wrote them.
Sally Evans, Northwords Now

Brian Johnstone

Brian Johnstone is a Scottish poet, who was born in Edinburgh in 1950, but who has lived in Fife since 1969. A well known figure on the Scottish poetry scene, he is a published poet with six collections to his name, a literary event organiser of broad experience and a live performer of his poems both as a solo reader and with various musical collaborators.

First published as a student in the late 1960s, he gave his first public reading at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe poetry sessions in the Traverse Theatre aged only 18. However, a subsequent 22 year career as a primary school teacher intruded on his creative development and he only seriously returned to writing in the early 1990s.

Since then, as well as achieving a notable publishing record, he has given readings and performances both at home and internationally, has collaborated with a variety of artists and musicians, has fulfilled a number of literary commissions and has founded and developed several long-standing literary events.

The poetry of Brian Johnstone has been published extensively across Scotland, in the rest of the UK, in the USA and Latin America as well as in various European countries. He has given readings at numerous literary venues in Scotland, and at poetry festivals and other locations in England, around Europe and in Central and North America. His work has been translated into over a dozen European languages and is published in the respective countries.

As a live performer, Brian Johnstone is the poet/reader with Trio Verso, also featuring Richard Ingham (saxes, bass clarinet) and Louise Major (bass). Performing poetry & jazz improv since 2007, the trio has appeared at festivals and literary venues across Scotland, making its first appearance in England in 2011 at the Ted Hughes Festival. Their CD Storm Chaser appeared in 2010.

Previous to this his musical collaborators have included clarsach player Wendy Stewart with whom he performed extensively in the 90s, appearing at Celtic Connections, the Edinburgh International Book Festival and on BBC Radio Scotland, and jazz saxophonist Ben Bryden with whom he has performed at various events in New York.

Brian Johnstone has also worked with composers Rebecca Rowe, with whom he was commissioned by Cappella Nova to create Elegy for Colum Cille, premiered in London in 2000, and Richard Ingham who arranged his poem sequence Robinson for 20 piece jazz orchestra, soloists and narrators, premiered at the On The Rocks festival in 2011.

The recipient of a Scottish Arts Council Writer’s Bursary in 1998, Brian Johnstone has also received a number of Development Awards from the SAC and Creative Scotland. In 2015 he was shortlisted for Creative Scotland’s Gavin Wallace Fellowship. A prizewinner in the National Poetry Competition in 2000, he has won several other competitions, including the Writers’ Bureau Prize, the Mallard Prize and Poetry at the Fringe during the Edinburgh Festival.

In 1991 he was a founder of Edinburgh’s Shore Poets and, throughout the 90s, ran the Cave Readings series for the Pittenweem Arts Festival. From 1998-2003 he taught creative writing in poetry for The University of St Andrews Centre for Continuing Education and from 1998-2000 for the Open College of the Arts. A founder in 1998 of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, he was Festival Director from 2001-2010, and remained on the staff as Festival Consultant until 2013. In 2014 he was appointed an Honorary President of StAnza.

Over the years Brian Johnstone has organized poetry events for the Words Out! Festival, Perth, for Visual Arts Scotland and for the American literary tour group, Book Adventures. He has been a frequent events chair for the Edinburgh International Book Festival and has judged poetry competitions including the Wigtown Book Festival International Poetry Prize and the William Soutar Writing Prize as well as serving on the panel for the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers’ Awards.

Since 1972 he has been married to the print maker and artist’s book maker Jean Johnstone. They live and work in a cottage in the Fife countryside near the village of Upper Largo.