Interview: Rachel McCrum and Jenny Lindsay talk poetry at the Edinburgh Festivals 2014
Poets are popping up all over the capital this august, including Luke Wright, Hollie McNish, Paul Muldoon and more
This article is from 2014.
From comedian Phill Jupitus to artist Jim Lambie, Edinburgh’s crawling with poetry and spoken word events in August. Hannah McGill discovers why it’s the best antidote to the same old stand-up
Between the crowds, the queues, the small-hours bedtimes and the daytime drinking, moments of poetic transcendence don’t necessarily come high on the August-in-Edinburgh agenda. But those familiar with Edinburgh’s dynamic live literature and spoken word scene know that it has a lot more than wistful introspection to offer. If witty words appeal, but you’ve had your fill of boy stand-ups with hilarious observations about the Scottish diet, the festivals’ poet presence could provide laughter with a little more intellectual resonance behind it.
‘The best thing about spoken word at the festival is just how much of it there is now,’ says Edinburgh-based poet and promoter Jenny Lindsay. ‘When I started doing the Fringe 12 years ago, there were, I think, three poetry shows. Now it's grown and grown.’
‘There is an increasing interest from book festivals in booking spoken events,’ agrees Rachel McCrum, Lindsay’s fellow poet and partner in the regular Edinburgh cabaret night Rally & Broad, ‘and that can only be a good thing. Spoken word and performance poetry is there to entertain, to shake things up – perfect for live events.’
The context of the festival is also handy for spurring new collaborations, and exposing poets to new influences. McCrum, for instance, worked for two years in the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Artists’ Yurt, and ‘can confirm that Salman Rushdie is charmingly good at small talk’. Rally & Broad, meanwhile, owes its very existence to its creators’ first meeting during the 2011 Fringe. ‘We spent much of our time swigging ales and having chats about men, poetry, poets and other high-jinks,’ recalls Jenny, ‘which led eventually to deciding to start up our own night, based on all of the things we'd been chatting about enjoying in the Fringe, but which we wanted to get on one bill: dance, theatre, poetry, beer, mad audience games, and absolutely no burlesque.’
Both Rachel and Jenny will perform in the Book Festival’s programme thread Babble On, which takes place over one packed day on Saturday 16 August, and also features new shows from acclaimed poet Luke Wright (whose event Fat Dandy examines his double life as ‘jobbing fop’ and ‘paunchy dad’), Phill Jupitus & Hollie McNish and Kevin Eldon. Unbound, the Book Festival’s boisterous late-night programme, also features exciting spoken word dates, including Page Match (16 Aug), where poets are pitched against each other in a pertinently named Battle For Independence; and a special Rally & Broad Ampersand Edition (25 Aug), at which acts including Don Paterson, Ryan Van Winkle, Withered Hand and Lake Montgomery will form various collaborative combinations.
Unbound also features a special edition of Jim Lambie’s Poetry Club (17 Aug), customarily to be found unearthing legendary musicians and speakers in Glasgow. Lambie, a Turner Prize-nominated artist whose retrospective exhibition runs at the Fruitmarket Gallery throughout festival-time, will welcome American poet and performance artist John Giorno and music legend Lawrence – of Felt, Denim and now Go Kart Mozart – to the Unbound stage.
The other tents of Charlotte Square have many more big-hitters and special events in store, including appearances by Jackie Kay (12 Aug), Paul Muldoon (17 Aug), Billy Collins (19 Aug), Michael Longley (15 Aug) and Simon Armitage (24 Aug), and events examining the power of poetry from conflict zones, minority languages and debated lands.
It’s not all about the Book Festival, however. ‘The Free Fringe has an absolute ton of spoken word shows this year,’ notes Lindsay, name-checking events by Richard Tyrone Jones, Fay Roberts and Agnes Torok, as well as local collective the Loud Poets’ ever-changing lineup at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. A ‘must-see act’ for Jenny is BBC Poetry Slam champion Sophia Walker, who returns to the Free Fringe with Can't Care, Won't Care, a spoken word show exploring the UK care system.
And speaking of the more political end of spoken word, how can the specific context of this year’s Fringe be ignored by its poetry practitioners? Could a poet help to clarify your thinking about the independence issue? ‘I've been curating the poets for All Back To Bowie's and National Collective Presents...,’ says Jenny, ‘both of which are a blend of politics and art; while Rally & Broad also have an event at the Festival of Politics (17 Aug) with Liz Lochhead, Kieran Hurley, Alan Bissett, Harry Giles, Rachel Amey and Tracey Rosenberg exploring Scottish politics from past, present and future perspectives.’
If you don’t feel like betting on the referendum, however, there’s always the Book Festival’s new poetry prize which will change the fortunes of a poet under the age of 30 to the tune of £20,000 on 16 August. ‘One of the biggest poetry related events this year will, I suspect, be the announcement of the winner of the new Edwin Morgan award,’ says McCrum. ‘Were I a betting woman, I'd be putting something down on Harry Giles to win. You heard it here first.’