I spent much of summer 2014 driving the motorways and country lanes of England and Wales with Luke Allan for there were our own there were the others, a project by Alec Finlay for the National Trust to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Luke & I visited 23 properties, all of which had some connection to the war – a family member who served and was perhaps killed; a house used as a hospital, grounds used as a training camp; gardens planted as memorials to the carnage. At each I led a silent memorial walk, bookended by a pair of poems from the past century on the theme of conflict. At most properties we set up a pair of lecterns, on which the poems were presented, and at some the lecterns were placed either end of a sandbag wall, reminiscent of the trenches. At a few we flew a red flag featuring a circular version of project’s title. That phrase is taken from Hamish Henderson‘s Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica, about his experiences in the North African desert in the Second World War, but it seemed an apt way of memorialising all the victims of conflict, rather than just those “on our side”, as did the large-scale ceramic poppies installation at the Tower of London.
After the English and Welsh tours I was able to visit Belgium at the end of September to visit some of the First World War sites near Ypres: graveyards, battlefields, memorials. I also saw the excellent exhibition In Flanders Fields in the Lakenhalle in the centre of Ypres itself, which shows the war from the perspective of the four armies who were fighting there: Belgian, French, British and German. We stayed at Talbot House in Poperinge, a small town which, for most of the war was just far enough behind the front line for it to be fairly safe. Talbot House became a social club for off-duty soldiers, and retains many features of that time. There are some new ones as well, including this film which recreates an evening’s entertainment in “Pops”.
I was born in Kirkcaldy in 1960, and studied French and German at Aberdeen University, and Theatre Studies at University College Cardiff.
After working in theatre and gallery administration, I spent several years at the Scottish Poetry Library as Fieldworker, visiting schools and writers’ groups throughout Scotland, and latterly was also Assistant Director.
With Alec Finlay I established and ran pocketbooks, an award-winning series of books of poetry and visual art (1999-2002).
Since 2004 I have worked as a freelance writer, translator, editor and writing tutor. In 2006 I was the first writer-in-residence at the John Murray Archive, National Library of Scotland, and I was awarded the Arts Foundation Fellowship for Literary Translation 2008.
I regularly collaborate with visual artists on book, exhibition and public art projects. Recent collaborations include working with sculptor Mary Bourne on works for the new flood wall in Inverness, and writing a poem-sequence “Into Ettrick” for the painter Andrew Mackenzie.
A Creative Scotland Vital Spark Award in 2010 enabled Alec Finlay and myself to undertake The Road North, a journey around Scotland guided by the 17th-century Japanese poet Basho, which led an extensive blog, an exhibition, and a jointly-composed long poem which has been published in book form, and is also available on iTunes.
In summer 2013 we began another touring project, Out of Books, based on Boswell and Johnson’s Highland tour of 1773, in particular the books they read, and refer to, as they travel.
As a translator from German I’ve worked on poems by classic authors such as Goethe, Fontane, and Celan, as well as by contemporary poets such as Arne Rautenberg, Thomas Rosenlöcher and Christine Marendon.