Sunday, 16 September 2018

Callander Poetry Festival - the Last Gig

The bookshop, Callander, Scotland

The Callander Poetry Weekend has been organised and hosted by Sally Evans and Ian King at their Callander bookshop (and across the road in the church hall) for almost all of this century. I think the first one was in 2001. The first one I went to was in 2005, and I’ve been back almost every year. It began as an afternoon event, with a few poets reading from their work. It grew and grew into a 3 day event, the first weekend in September, with over 80 poets taking part by 2017. The work involved was huge. Last year (2017) I went early to help Sally with cleaning, and the food preparation for all these people, so I got a glimpse into how much was involved. This year I also helped but it had to be a smaller event for various reasons, just one of them being Sally’s involvement in studying for a PhD. And this year was the last one.

You can find out about her own writing, the magazine Poetry Scotland, the bookshop, and the books she has published under diehard press, at her website.

I've written previous posts about the Callander Poetry Festival, in 2009, in 2012 and 2013, featuring just a few of the fine readers (because there were too many to mention all of them). But in this one I just want to give a huge thank you to Sally and Ian. The editorship of Poetry Scotland passes to Jon Plunkett of Corbenic Poetry Path. The bookshop in Callander's Main Street is of course still open every day, and welcomes all buyers and browsers.

Visitors bring fruit and flowers

I climb the spiral stairs to my friends’ flat, above the bookshop. The stairs are being renovated, on one side the facade has gone, the bare stonework drips with clotted strings of old plaster, uneven surface receding into darkness between enormous rounded stones which balance wickedly, defying gravity. Colours of plum, dark-red, splashes of decaying dirt-brown. I avert my eyes. When safe surfaces are stripped bare, the reality of what we walk on or lean against crumbles and tilts and mocks our assumptions of entitlement to any bulwarks against the seething tides of age, decay, and the vagaries and storms of nature.

I’m thankful for a room of my own, a bed to sleep in. The bed is comfortable, the rest of the room is almost crammed full. Books and bookcases, a massive wooden table piled with assorted crockery, no two pieces the same, painted, patterned or gilt-edged. On the floor, papers and more books. Next to the table is a metal sculpture of two long-beaked birds. Beyond the table is impassable and too distant, just the vague shapes of cabinets; the rays of the very beautiful standard lamp beside my bed do not penetrate that far into the gloom.

The walls are hung with paintings. Just above my bed there’s a black and white print titled Jupiter and Leda. I study it. Languorous and naked Leda is reclining helpfully close to the shore. A flurry of cherubs guide the swimming swan towards her via a cord trailing in the water. He does not have far to go and I imagine has no need of the silken cord. The swan looks modest, of the usual swan-size, moving slowly as swans do. Large Leda looks curious, straight at the swan, legs slightly parted, not alarmed at all. 

I don’t think this image has the slightest impression on my dreams or not that I remember. This desultory meeting on the river bank is not how I imagine it at all. Where is the passion, where the beating wings, the long and curving neck outstretched, the gaping red beak? Where are the sinews and the muscles in the legs of Leda, as she runs through the woodland, fighting off the massive wings, before she stumbles on a tree-root, brought down to earth and Fate? The cherubs no doubt, represent invisible desires. Their smiles are not so much cherubic as sly. The river water barely ripples. I sigh as I turn off the light.

No swans on Loch Venacher, near Callander


Mandy Macdonald said...

The passion? The beating wings? It's all in Yeats. Not many swans among the birds in our poems. But what a wonderful weekend.

dritanje said...

Ah Yeats must have been what I was thinking of or I should say, lurking somewhere in my murky subconscious memory...

Paul Beech said...

Hi Morelle,

2018 was only my fourth time at Callender, but I loved the Poetry Weekends for their air of friendliness and fun – besides all the brilliant poetry, of course!

We’ll miss it, bound to, newbies like me and especially long-established attendees like yourself and Maureen. But what happy memories we’ll always have, thanks to Sally and Ian, our perfect hosts.

You were great too, Morelle, the way you helped out with preparations. But climbing the rickety spiral staircase must have taken some nerve, and it sounds like those sly cherubs in the Jupiter and Leda print were up to no good…

Maureen and I would love to see you again before too long. Maybe we can sort something out?

Take care,

Paul xx

And love from Maureen too xx

Anonymous said...

Morelle your words in this 'write-up' are so vivid so clear that I am reliving Callander Poetry Weekend 2018, the last of these most special poetry weekends, hosted with great generosity by Sally Evans and her husband Ian King.
Although I have been going to this first of September, feasts of poetry weekends for some sixteen years I always believed the current feast of poetry, and its wonderful Hosts Sally and Ian, and the many, many poetry - friends, was indeed the best weekend ever. And for the past four years I have been able to share all of this with Paul my partner. But you know all of this Morelle, thank you lovely friend.


Maureen x