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A Poetry feast of mythical beasts

We were approached by Push The Boat Out, who had seen our map (Mythical Beasts of Scotland) and were asked if we would collaborate with them to create an event for the Edinburgh International Poetry Festival inspired by the map. Yes, yes, and ultimately - YES!

The main focus was for poets to reinterpret and recontextualize the myths. I am a big fan of this kind of thing; it has the chance to go very wrong or very, very right. Fortunately, our partners shared the same vision, and we both wanted to make sure that some core of the myths were kept intact while providing a modern, relevant take on the stories.

The first task was to put a call out to poets. A few big names had been secured, but we wanted to open this up to give a platform to other poets. We received so many great submissions, and sitting on the selection panel was both an honour and a painful task. Having to cut so many great submissions was brutal, and even though we had all spent a lot of time thoroughly reading all the applications, we still agonized over it for a very long Zoom session. One piece of advice I would give is that if you are faced with this kind of application - go with one that might not be as popular. We couldn't have an event with 6 Selkie poems, so unfortunately, many great entries who may have made the cut in terms of quality lost out because there was only 1 slot given to the most promising application for that particular beastie. Eventually, we had our list, or did we? Are we sure? But I love that one. No, we're good; it was a SOLID list.

After this, the poets were commissioned, and I created information packs for the poets which related to the beasts they would be representing. We started to make announcements on social media. Here are the designs I drew up for the announcements. I decided to keep them within the same limited palette as the festival brochure, rather than in the map's palette so they would sit more comfortably alongside the other events being promoted. It also gave me the chance to have a challenge and work with a heavily saturated palette, which I do enjoy.

The poets set to work creating their amazing poems. I was genuinely blown away by the directions they took the stories. And I'm going to bullet point here so I don't create a terrible wall of badly punctuated text.

  • Hollie McNish responded to viral footage of online gamers shooting Nessie on Grand Theft Auto.

  • Dave Hook reinterpreted Kelpie as a rogue Nuclear Submarine and delivered it as a rap.

  • Katie Ailes gave a heartbreaking and timely performance about medical care around abortion and miscarriage.

  • Anita Mackenzie brought Selkies up to date, bringing the stories of Selkie coats and interpreting the concept of owning your own skin through the lens of race.

  • Ceitidh Campbell brought a modern understanding of autism into changeling mythology (a known view on this mythology that is too heartbreaking and close to home, so I don't personally touch it). We also got to hear this poem delivered in Gaelic.

  • Julie Rea brought the Shellycoat to life in the form of a misunderstood and marginalized young man growing up on an 80's council estate.

  • Callum Rodgers seamlessly wove traditional border ballads and comedy to make a very modern tale, reimagining the Linton Worm as a computer worm, but more as an embodiment of the dystopian technoscape we live in.

My word, they were good! Some made me genuinely emotional, and some made me spit out my drink with laughter. It was everything you would hope for from a collaboration, a group of people bringing unique concepts that would never have entered your mind and delivering them flawlessly. My last task was to create the backdrops to be projected behind the poets when they gave their performance on the night. Led by the poets' works and themes rather than bound strictly by the myths, I created their backdrops.

I was unfortunately unable to attend the main night, largely due to a series of horrible storms which posed a challenge when living on a nature reserve in Scotland. Fortunately, the event was streamed live, so I could enjoy it remotely. It was a great performance by all the poets, and congratulations to the entire team from PTBO who pulled off another great festival. I haven't been able to track down a copy of the live video stream, but here I will post a link to the audio.

And that about wraps it up. It was a great joy to work with creatives from a different discipline and see how their minds approach a theme that I am so entrenched in. I found it very inspiring and refreshing, gaining a renewed love for a medium I confess to not having the greatest knowledge of.

Last thing- A big thank you to Jenny Niven, Emma Collins and the whole team at PTBO. 


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