Blog post from Stuart Paterson
Into the second of three months of the Lowland residency now & the project is nicely gathering pace & form. Things are beginning to take shape, both in the mind & in reality. The Flood of Words started out as a rivulet & is quickly becoming a spate. Coos have been dunked. Postcards have been piling up. Conversations have been had. Latvians have been gathering. Governmental approval has been forthcoming. Poets & writers have been assembled & given instruction &continue to rally to the cause.
Nithraid River Festival 2018 saw The Stove undergo Edinburgh Festival-like transformations as the weeks leading up to the Do With The Coo became days & great swathes of activity culminated triumphantly on Saturday August 11th on Dumfries’s Mill Green. The Salty Coo was held aloft & borne to the Green in a procession of funereal solemnity, weirdly inspirational music & surreal costumery, courtesy of pointy-eared funsters Madjakkals. It was hoisted high onto its pontoon midstream in the Nith, awaiting the winners of the boat race. They began to arrive after 1pm, completing a journey of 14 miles up the coast from Carsethorn (‘The Port of Dumfries’) by oar & sail, briefly, fragmentedly but strikingly recreating a time when the Solway was one of the busiest waterways anywhere on the British coast. By this time the Green was alive with stalls & people, performers & visitors, the river aflutter with sails. The weather was holding up & the Lowland stall was quickly busy with folk writing their thoughts on Dumfries on the Lowland postcards or the Typewriter of Truth.
I was amazed at the amount of people who participated, popped over, curious, then keen to get involved. Many were visitors to the town, some from overseas, some day-trippers from outwith the region. Some were weans, some were ‘veterans’ of the toon. Many, many people were happy to contribute & so much of what they contributed was honest, touching, beautiful. Disparate words, phrases, poems, drawings, reflections, memories, hopes & visions coming together to add to a tapestry of what Dumfries means to those who live & visit here.
And so, the Salty Coo, created to commemorate two of Dumfries’s most important products when it was one of Scotland’s busiest trading ports – salt & livestock. It first appeared in 2013 – to be offered as tribute to the Nith & its glorious past, to rise again each year as a symbol of hope & optimism. This year, I was honoured to be asked to write an ‘Ode’ to the Coo as it was lowered into the river on some strange mechanical contraption & left to float downstream, its salt dissolving, its proud bovine features slowly disappearing beneath what passed for the river (2018 was a record dry summer). We’ll feature the Ode elsewhere on this site; in the Stove you can read it on a big blackboard. I proclaimed said Ode via the PA to the gathered masses, over 500 in the crowd, each of them shouting back the chorus with increasing gusto. It was indeed a proud moment, an exhilarating mixture of high panto & ancient Druidic solemnity as the Coo entered the Nith to the sound of the Doonhame Choir, was embraced by the Nith’s sluggish heartbeat, travelled 10 yards & got stuck on a traditional shopping trolley. No matter, the Ode will now be an annual thing, hopefully a fitting tribute not just to the town’s salutary bustling past but a verbal signpost to a future where the past’s not just a commodity but a mirror to the present.
FLOOD OF WORDS
In mid-August, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Communities, Aileen Campbell, visited The Stove. She heard about the ongoing work being carried out by the Midsteeple Quarter & their plans & vision for the regeneration of Dumfries town centre, making many of its empty or underused buildings accessible to independent traders & affordable properties for tenants from all social quarters. Aileen visited the Baker’s Oven, currently leased to The Stove for use as a creative venue for a peppercorn rent. While in The Stove, she spent time admiring the Flood of Words exhibition. It’s turning into some collection, I can tell you, an actual Flood of Words. It’s now taking up a whole wall in The Stove café & it’s still growing. Aileen was properly impressed by this tour de force show of community engagement & creativity. She has connections to the town herself & took away a Lowland postcard, promising to return it complete with her own creative thoughts on what Dumfries means to her. Cheers Aileen. And don’t forget the stamp.
Why not pop in & look at it? Or just to have a brew & something to munch – the Stove Café is a really central, accessible & mellow place to spend an hour or two in town meeting, blethering, thinking or just reading the papers. The food & drink are splendid too, the staff friendly & welcoming. And while you’re there, add your own tributary & see the Flood of Words grow further. There are Lowland postcards scattered about & a Lowland Post-box wherefor to deposit your words. Every word, every contribution means something as do you. Make yourself count.
NOT ONLY BUT ALSO….
High Street Writers will be meeting in The Stove on the following dates, all Wednesdays – September 12th & 19th, plus October 3rd. All sessions will run from 6-8pm & everyone’s welcome to come along, no matter your level of experience as a writer or in which genre (& it’s free). We’d love to meet you. Please come along. If you’ve any queries about the group or access needs, email The Stove & we’ll hopefully be able to sort it out. Writers are the beating heart of a community – come along to High Street Writers & help it beat stronger. And of course, Brave New Words, which I’m preparing for tonight. Dumfries’s very own fantastic showcase of spoken word meets on the last Friday of the month, next gathering being on September 28th at 7pm. There’s nothing quite like it in south-west Scotland. And if you’ve anything at all to contribute to or want to ask about Lowland, please comment here or send us a message at The Stove.
The Flood of Words continues, of course. Myself & Lowland’s lead artist Martin O’Neil have been meeting to plan & organise further events & engagements, particularly in schools & on the High Street. Look out for announcements about what’s coming up on National Poetry Day, October 4th, in the Baker’s Oven & on the street. The Dumfries Words Walk will be coming up in around 4 weeks. A series of posters, with extracts of work from many local writers, young & old, mostly alive, is in the production stages, for display in shops, schools, libraries & anywhere we can place them. And there are also plans to create a permanent poetry street, The Poets’ Close, in a yet-to-be-disclosed location in the town centre. Imagine – Dumfries having its own Poets’ Corner, where (most of) the poets arenae even deid yet.
LATVIA 100 IN CARTOONS
Aaaand finally… On Wednesday September 5th, tangential to but still relevant to Lowland, we’re having the grand opening (huzzah!) of a major touring exhibition which will be at The Stove until the 13th. This is Latvia 100, celebrating 100 years of Latvian independence from Russia. It takes the form of 16 A1 panels of cartoon & text, drawn & written by the cream of Latvia’s creative talent & I can tell you, it looks utterly brilliant.
“This chronicle of Latvia’s history features historical events with international resonance: World War I, the interwar period, the Great Depression, World War II, the periods of occupation and related restrictions on freedom of expression, as well as the European Union and other contemporary political-economic subjects.”
There’ll be Latvian food, music & dance, all MCed by myself. It begins at 6.30pm with a speech by Dumfries’s Provost, Tracey Little, to be followed by an address by no less a person than Latvia’s ambassador to the UK, Her Excellency Ms. Baiba Braže. D&G’s Latvian community have responded brilliantly & we’re really pleased to be hosting an exhibition that’s also visiting Liverpool, London, Manchester, Glasgow & Edinburgh. The cartoons are tremendous. Please do come along & see it between the 6th & 13th, if you can’t make the launch next Wednesday. To which, of course, all are most welcome. No bad for a wee toon, eh? But a wee toon with an increasingly big creative presence on the UK stage.