Edinburgh’s status as first UN City of Literature recognises its long history of welcoming international writers and Scottish writers exploring the wider world. On this leisurely walk around the historic Canongate, poet Ken Cockburn shares poems by Scots dreaming of Europe and Europeans dazzled by the Athens of the North. Here Mary Queen of Scots misses Paris, Robert Fergusson praises Italian opera, Victor Hugo imagines the French king in exile, and Theodor Fontane shares his love of Scottish ballads. Ken spoke with The Fountain about this offering and what influenced setting up this tour.
TF: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, how exciting?
I’m a long-time Edinburgh resident, and the Fringe is always a time of year I look forward to. The city is transformed. This is my fourth year performing on the Fringe, so at the moment I’m experiencing a mix of excitement and trepidation – there is a lot to do between now and the first walk!
TF: Edina Europa is by no means the ordinary Fringe show, what is the premise?
It’s a walking tour with poems, with the city as the setting and the backdrop for the poems. Specifically the area around the Canongate and Holyrood at the foot of the Royal Mile – a mix of enclosed spaces and the open expanses of the park. The year I’ve selected poems reflecting Edinburgh’s historical links with Europe – the links between the Scottish and French courts, especially in the 16th century, then the influx of tourists attracted by the works of Walter Scott. Happily Arthur’s Seat lies within the city, so Edinburgh could offer ‘wild’ landscapes within walking distance of urban comforts. No prizes for guessing what prompted reflections of Europe, but the B– word won’t feature, at least not in the scripted part of the walk; there are plenty of opportunities for conversations to develop as we walk, so who knows?
TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie?
The walking tours bring together different aspects of my background – Edinburgh, theatre, poetry and translation. As I said, I’ve lived in Edinburgh for many years, and have watched with fascination as the Old Town has changed over the years, especially since the parliament opened in 2004. My early career was with small-scale touring theatre companies in Wales, and I enjoy the performative aspects of the walks. I write poems, and have edited poetry anthologies, and the walks offer good opportunities to write new work myself, and to select and sequence texts by other writers. I translate from French and German, and I’ve made translations of poems and prose for Edina Europa – a Victor Hugo poem imagining a near-ruinous Holyrood Palace (Hugo never visited Scotland), and a lyrical travelogue by the Prussian Theodor Fontane from 1858.
TF: What are your plans for the Fringe, having been before are there any tips or musts you would offer to first-time performers?/Have you been to the Fringe before, is there anything you are keen to see whilst in Edinburgh?
My plans… first of all, to promote the walks and sell some tickets! – posting online, and handing out postcards to potential walkers. My Fringe tips… I haven’t looked closely at the programme yet, but my favourite venue is Summerhall so I’m sure I’ll be there at least once. Don’t forget the Art Festival – as well as the exhibitions they usually offer a range of quirky events, and they use a range of venues some of which aren’t open to the public at other times.
TF: And what are your future plans beyond Edina Europa?
I offer the walks all year round, so I hope there will be a few private tours over the autumn. And I’m hoping to publish an anthology of poems which I’ve used on the walks over the years.
You can see Edina Europa at Scottish Poetry Library until 18th August at 11:00. For tickets, go to https://tickets.edfringe.com/