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LBF 09


The reason for the shortness of breathing space mentioned in the previous post was, of course, Linlithgow Book Festival. LBF is now in its fourth year and simply going from strength to strength. This year, I was nowhere near as involved in organising and running it as I was the previous two but, aside from retaining responsibility for the festival’s online presence, I ran a workshop and compered the open mic on the Saturday, and read with four other West Lothian-based poets on the Sunday.

With 10 participants, the workshop was full. It was lovely to have two returning participants, one of whom had brought a friend and another of whom has blogged about the event here. Even if the room was a bit on the chilly side, the atmosphere was lively and warm. I was very pleased with how well the exercises went, using a poem from David Troupes’s fine first collection and an unpublished sequence of mine as models, referring also to some pieces by Kavanagh and Bishop. Some of the participants’ writing was seriously impressive, given the very short time available. I plan to post on the LBF website the group poem we created and any individual poems from the session that participants give me.

Some of the work produced at the workshop was also read at the open mic, where I also read the sequence mentioned above. That was its first outing, and I was pleased with how well it worked. I was pleased, too, with how well the open mic went. We had just over 10 people there, only five of whom read, but we managed to fill the time nicely with repeat readers. Ellie Stewart and Grace Cleary had both brought prose and poetry. Everybody read very well. I was particularly impressed with one Stewart Gillan, well known to Lithgae residents for his day job, whose work I hadn’t heard before. (He was also at the workshop.)

Sunday’s reading was a blast. It was organised by Dennis O’Donnell, whose poetry I’d come across when I was doing a project as a visiting writer at Bo’ness Academy last year, but whom I’d never met or heard. He was a tremendous reader: assured, entertaining and clear. I was particularly impressed with his Scots peices.

Dennis might, by his own admission, be the shortest poet in West Lothian; he was followed by probably the tallest poet, financial historian and historical whodunnit writer in the county: Douglas Watt. A completely irrelevant point, except to show that size — or height, at least — matters not a jot. I’d heard Dougie read from his history and fiction, but never his poetry before and it was a pleasure. I particularly enjoyed his more imaginative, fantastical pieces.

Jane McKie was next up. She read a few from her second collection, When the Sun Turns Green — a beautiful book, published this summer — but mostly new work, including some sonnets. Jane’s reading style is quieter than the others’ but certainly no less assured or impressive. Indeed, the contrasting styles made for a richer event. I enjoyed hearing her new work and look forward to reading it at some point in the future.

I followed Janie, reading mostly from The Ambulance Box. I didn’t write down the set and can’t remember it, so I can’t post the list here, but it went down well.

Alistair Findlay came on last. He’s a great reader, as anyone who has seen him will know. His set was drawn from his first two collections and his forthcoming third collection, Dancing with Big Eunice, a book of poems on social work due out early next year. It was particularly good to hear him read the new work, which I’ve seen on the page. The book will certainly be worth checking out when it appears as it displays much of Alistair’s trademark blend of wit, insight, passion, politics and experience. I admire, too, the ease with which his poems can slip and slide between Scots and English.

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