Poetry from across the pond

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I’m an English major in her element: poetry slams, open mics, literary pub crawls, six bookshops in two blocks. Edinburgh oozes literature.

The poetry scene is particularly vivacious, with multiple poetry events to be found around the city each week. These range from poetry slams in elegant restaurants to open mics in pubs to poetry readings at the Scottish Poetry Library. Spoken word poetry is an equalizer at these events. Seasoned veterans of poetics perform in the same venue as shy students letting their words see the light of day for the first time. Many poets have established themselves in the community and return time and again, but each event has new faces, making every event surprising and new.

Inky Fingers Edinburgh, a collective in the city that puts on open mics and workshops, summarizes this attitude in their invitation to perform:

“We want your poems, your rants, your ballads, your short stories, your diaries, your experimental texts, your heart, your mind, your body. We want the essay on your summer holidays you wrote when you were four, your adolescent haiku and extracts from your eventually-to-be-completed epic fantasy quadrilogy.”

At Soap Box, a bi-weekly open mic for both poetry and music, the hosts make sure to give extra support and cheers for those performing for the first time. This welcoming atmosphere makes it easy for students studying abroad here to get involved.

Allie Kerper, a junior from Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. currently studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh, found this to be the case.

“For such a small city, it’s surprising that there’s such a wide variety of poetry events,” she said. “Edinburgh is one of the most literary places I’ve ever been, and it’s been great to meet so many people who share my passion for poetry and writing.”

These types of literary nights around the city have deep roots in Edinburgh’s history. The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named Edinburgh the world’s first “City of Literature” in 2004.

This well-deserved title proclaims the deep literary history of the city. Edinburgh was the home of writers such as J. M. Barrie (“Peter Pan”) and Walter Scott (“Ivanhoe”). The Scott Monument in Edinburgh is the tallest monument to a writer in the world. Arthur Conan Doyle (“Sherlock Holmes”) lived in a building I now go to for meetings with the Catholic Student Union. Of course, you can’t get through a conversation about Scottish literature without at least mentioning Robert Burns, the national bard of Scotland.

And Edinburgh is not just a city of dead poets. Now, the city boasts such bestselling authors as Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and J. K. Rowling.

Scotland has much to offer that can be overshadowed by its shiny English neighbor, but with such an active and engaging literary community, there is nowhere else I’d rather be.