Push the Boat Out at Edinburgh’s New Poetry Festival this weekend

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Get on the boat, companions.

A poetry festival like Edinburgh has never seen before will take place at Summer room this weekend (October 15-17) Push the boat was orchestrated by the director Jenny Niven, former head of literature at Creative Scotland, and co-founder Kevin williamson, writer, editor and co-founder of No ! Reekie!

The aim of the festival is not only to give a new platform to contemporary poetry, but to encourage all its forms – from hip hop to cinema, music, dance, debate and much more. – to grow, to evolve and perhaps even to collide.

Inspired by At eighty, the work of the late Edwin Morgan, whose centenary falls this year, some 60 poets will perform live during the three-day event, whose themes include social justice and performance, the climate crisis and the ecopoetics, healing and recovery, and virtual and other realities. Morgan’s poem sums up his enduring and indefatigable curiosity for the unknown and resonates strongly with our unpredictable and troubling present times.

Launch of the ‘Push the Boat Out’ festival, The Watershed, Union Canal, Edinburgh, September 8, 2021 © 2021 JL Preece

Every day of the festival is filled with events; you can hear Alec Finlay present a Manifesto for Urban Crofts and Sean Wai Keung talk about The Poetry Exchange, discuss the point of poetry in modern times with poets Don Paterson, Malika Booker and Kate Fox, or examine whether, and if so how, poetry has the power to heal, with poets Billy Letford, John Glenday, Clare Pollard and Tawona Sithole.

Jenny Niven and Kevin Williamson © 2021 John Preece

There will also be workshops – you can try bookbinding or take a look at the form of a poem. You might like to try writing about your own childhood memories through fantasy, silliness, and play in Clare Pollard’s session on The language of childhood. And in one of the many Takeovers, science fiction magazine Shore of infinity will allow you to explore poems about video games and alternate timelines, augmented reality and parallel universes, with poetry readings by Stephen Sexton, Rachel Plummer, Elspeth Wilson and Jeda Pearl.

Jenny Niven and Kevin Williamson © 2021 Louise Montgomery

Another century-old writer this year is Scottish literary giant George Mackay Brown. Nalini Paul, Linden Bicket, Malachy Tallach, George Gunn, Gerry Cambridge and Roddy Womble will discuss Mackay Brown’s musicality, his blend of fable and realism, and his placing Orkney at the center of his world.

Want to go out ? Push the boat offers poetic walks in autonomy: A kilometer of poetry is a free, web-based spoken word series that encourages users to experience their city differently, filtered through the eyes and ears of some of our finest poets. If you don’t like these one-size-fits-all audio guides, here’s something much better – each route is individually generated based on the user’s needs and preferences, and features a personalized series of poems tailored to those specifics, which accompany the walker on their personalized map.

Claire Pollard

Fancy a podcast or two? The festival website contains links to fifteen of them, in which, as part of the Break the waves series, individual poets such as Kathleen Jamie, Harry Josephine Giles, Rachel McCrum and Kevin McNeil will each read a poem that speaks to them.

And of course, each day will be filled with exciting live performances, including the Big headliner for Saturday night, which you can expect “rhythmic excitement, dexterous flow, sharp social observations, and maybe even a little dancing.”

Launch of the “Push the Boat Out” festival, The Watershed, Union Canal, Edinburgh, September 8th. 2021 © 2021 JL Preece

Full details of all events, as well as information on how to book. can be found on the festival website and you can also follow the festival on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Some events will also be available live or online after the festival.

And if you still have questions about this boat …

‘Push the boat, companions,
push the boat, regardless of the sea.
Who says we can’t guide ourselves
through the bubbling reefs, black as they are,
the enemy of us all makes sure!

Edwin morgan At eighty of Cathures: New poems 1997-2001 (Carcanet Press Ltd, 2002): Scottish Poetry Library.

Summer room 1 Summerhall, Newington, just east of The Meadows.


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