John Ross Maclean reviews a ‘veritable symphony of pleasures’
On 25 June, Blackwell’s Bookshop on South Bridge hosted the launch of Aspects of Edinburgh, a celebration of the capital in poetry and art by Stewart Conn and John Knight, OBE, the 17th publication by Scotland Street Press.
It was attended by a full house with standing-room only.
The book comprises poems on the general theme of Edinburgh by the eminent poet and Edinburgh’s first makar (poet laureate) Stewart Conn; with drawings and watercolours of a variety of streets and buildings in the Old and New Towns by John Knight, the respected architectural historian and former New Town & Broughton Community Council planning convener.
Aficionados of Conn’s work will recognise poems from previous publications (including the Spurtle), but this is their first collection in book form. Similarly, some individuals and public bodies will be familiar with Knight’s work, which often took the form of reproductions in Christmas cards over a period of 50 years.
The book is an ardent ‘fastening’ and ‘clasping’ of our capital city by two of its most consummate writers and artists, who embrace it in the spirit of what Neil M. Gunn described as the ‘atom of delight’. Buildings, streets and people are discerned with fresh eyes and with a zest for probing surfaces and complexities, and delineating them with a passion often akin to music.
One of Knight’s most exquisite drawings is of a corner of Drummond Place viewed through a lacework of trees from Drummond Place Garden. It is tempting to metamorphose this with Conn’s poem on a Queen’s Hall concert of ‘Brahms’ Concerto in G for violin and piano’, emitting from a Drummond Place drawing-room on a summer evening!
There are also echoes of another great Edinburgh devotee in their mutual and impassioned perceptions. In ‘Footage of RLS’, Conn unfurls the life, work and travels of Robert Louis Stevenson in a wonderful cinematic sleight of hand. Here is also embedded RLS’s 17 Heriot Row, ‘land of counterpane’ home and field of dreams as it was and timelessly remains in Knight’s superb drawing.
A similar interplay of words and artwork informs this volume as poet and artist take the reader on their peregrination. While more people, past and present, appear in Conn’s comédie humaine of things, there are also occasional appealing figures in Knight’s work, not least in his depiction of what mercifully remains of the north side of George Square, and in the street bustle under the stupendous Royal Mile Mansions.
This deceptively slender volume is a veritable symphony of pleasures and a joyful paean to Edinburgh’s stature as one of Europe’s most alluring and atmospheric cities. It is a book to slip into your pocket as you ramble around. It recalls the motto of the great Everyman Library of pocket-sized classics: ‘Everyman, I will go with thee, and be thy guide …’.
Scotland Street Press is to be congratulated upon reaching another great milestone in its short, but exhilarating history.
[ISBN: 978-1-910895-283, 56 pages, paperback, £9.99]