A vibrant city . . . but Edinburgh is the loneliest place in Britain to live – Edinburgh Evening News, 3rd December 2008
A while ago I posted an article It all boils down to brown sauce in which I talk about the shifting relationship between Glaswegians (residents of Glasgow, Scotland’s second city) and Edinburghers (residents of Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland). There has been squabbling between the two cities for centuries. I don’t particularly like Edinburgh but it’s nothing to do with some ancient rivalry. It’s because I have a few unhappy memories associated with the city but the same goes for Aberdeen; I really hated my time spent in Aberdeen. I only wrote one poem during the six months I spent there:
THE NORTH SEA
how such a cold and formidable thing
reminds me of you,
its icy breakers failing
on a beach we've never walked on
nor likely ever will.
And yet perhaps that is it.
That after all these miles of travelling
defeat should come
at the final moment.
Aberdeen, 28 February 1995
This is a rare poem for me. Places don’t tend to inspire me. But it’s really not the place as much as the experiences associated with that place. It just so happens I was in Aberdeen at a bad time in my life. It could just as easily have been anywhere.
I’ve nothing against the people in any of these cities, the Aberdonians I met were all friendly enough once I got to know them and I know a few decent Edinburghers, so when Claire Askew asked me if I’d like to contribute a poem to their this collection I was happy to do so. (She lives in Edinburgh but she’s actually a Yorkshire lass.) Unusually for me I wrote something specifically for her. I don’t generally write to order; I tend never to be very happy with the results. This time though I was pleased enough with my efforts to submit the piece, ‘Lonely City’, which was duly accepted along with 99 other poems. You can see all 100 here. Mine is No. 2 purely because I submitted my piece promptly.
So, what's this collection about? I'll let Claire explain:
this collection is a collaboration between Edinburgh writers and Edinburgh filmmakers, which aims to create a detailed picture of day-to-day life in the city, with all its foibles and issues, through the media of poetry and film.
Basically, we want to gather 100 poems by Edinburgh writers, each poem no more than 100 words long. Once we’ve done this, we’ll pass them on to a carefully chosen group of young filmmakers who will get to work on creating 100 short films to accompany the poems. We then intend to showcase the poems and the films together, both online and at events across the city throughout Spring and Summer 2009.
As it happens they weren’t able to get everything organised in time and so 2009 passed and I thought that was that. Until I got an e-mail from Lewis Bennett, a Canadian filmmaker who happened to be in Edinburgh at the time. He still wanted to do ‘Lonely City’ and so over the next few months we exchanged e-mails discussing how the project could be filmed and, after much toing and froing the film was completed in time for the initial preview of this collection 2010 which took place at the McEwan Hall on 25th and 25th March.
Here are Lewis’s ‘behind the scenes’ notes on the project:
What is the poem based on?
You should ask Jim ‘cause he wrote it but it’s based on the time he was in Edinburgh doing a course for his job and he ended up at this pub.
Are you happy with how it turned out?
Not quite. I don't know if I did Jim's poem and narration justice. I really love the news article and that Jim based his poem off of that. I find it interesting that there are people that study things like loneliness and luck. And that we poll people about how lonely they might be.
I think that's what drew me to this one. I didn't shoot enough footage and I didn't really have a game plan as to what I was shooting. There are some images that I like though and Jim's narration is really amazing.
Why do you have an American accent?
It's actually Canadian. Both Jim and I are not from Edinburgh. He's from Glasgow and I'm from Vancouver. I shot the video footage on my last week in Edinburgh before I came home. The footage is a bit of a downer - I hope not too much - but I was trying to stick to the words I had - both Jim's poem and the article.
Why did you pick this poem?
It was one of the first ones I read on the site and I related to it and knew I wanted to do that one. At the time, maybe I didn't relate as much to it, but when I first got to Edinburgh. I lived in Edinburgh for about 10 months and my first full month was in December. I didn't know anyone and it was my first Christmas away Canada so I think maybe I fit into that 33% of lonely Edinburghers. Vancouver is known for its depressing weather but those people obviously have never spent a winter in Edinburgh. Things turned out great by the time I left Edinburgh but the first few months could have been better for sure.
How did you work together?
Everything was done via email. I haven't spoken with Jim on the telephone or in person. I was going to go out to Glasgow to meet with him but I never made it. We sent a lot of emails back and forth - with ideas and edits and he would send me his narration. He seems like a great guy and he's written a few books so I'm going to track some of those down at some point and give them a read.
Where did you get the footage?
Almost all of the footage is real people (not actors), unaware that they are being filmed. The camera was hidden so people didn't know they were being filmed. The shot at the end is my friend James from Vancouver on top of Arthur's seat and there are a few shots with my brother walking past but it's dark and you can't see him really. But the majority of it is real people at night wandering around Edinburgh. I must have looked like a super creepy dude filming that couple kissing or the guy dropping his cigarette but those are all real people that walk around town at night.
Most of those shots were taken from the flat I was living in on the corner of the Royal Mile & Bridge St. I think a quarter of the film is footage from the window. The people I watched from that place were pretty amazing. A lot of drunkenness converges in that area.
All I can say is that I was very flattered to be contacted by Lewis and I’m pleased with the results. It just goes to show that you never know who your writing is going to connect with. In answer to the first question: just watch the film, it’s all explained in my commentary.
Since Edinburgh is a long way to ask any of you to travel to (besides you’d probably hate the place) I’ve decided to upload a copy here. It will also provide you all with a rare opportunity to hear me speak. As I’ve said before I don’t go to poetry readings so this will be something of a one off.
It works best when maximised. Click on the wee icon in between the volume bar and the vimeo logo.
If you want to see some more of Lewis’s work there are a number of films available at Vimeo.com.