Wednesday, 9 September 2015

"BY LEAVES WE LIVE"

The motto of the Scottish Poetry Library - words by Patrick Geddes.

The library owes its existence to the perseverance of Tessa Ransford, a remarkable person who worked tirelessly to set up the Scottish Poetry Library in the 1980s and then to see it established in a beautiful purpose-built building, designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects, in Crichton Close in 1999.  Although I live over the Border I visit the library as much as I can and always come back inspired - with half a dozen borrowed books under my arm.

All this is thanks to Tessa Ransford.  She was born in Mumbai, educated in Scotland, studied German poetry at University and spent the 1960s in Pakistan with her first husband, a Church of Scotland missionary.  She wrote poetry herself (Not Just Moonshine is a volume of new and selected poems), but after she had returned to Edinburgh she felt there was a need for more support for poets, particularly women poets.

So, with missionary zeal, she set up the School of Poets workshop and the Scottish Poetry Library Association to establish a poetry library in Edinburgh.  I imagine there must have been a lot of form-filling and jumping through frustrating bureaucratic hoops to get funding.

She was also a champion of poetry pamphlets, often seen in the past as the Cinderella of poetry publishing.  She set up the prestigious Callum MacDonald Memorial Award in memory of her second husband (a publisher and printer) and initiated Scottish Pamphlet Poetry to promote the work of poets and small presses.

So I was saddened to learn of her death last week from cancer at the age of 77.  She achieved a great deal in her life, but the Scottish Poetry Library was her greatest achievement, and recognised by the award of an OBE.  The library has been so successful that at the moment you can't visit it.  It is being refurbished to provide more room for the collection, archives, and the wide range of readings, workshops and other live poetry activities that take place under its roof.  It's due to reopen by the end of the year - meanwhile I'm having withdrawal symptoms and the list of poets I want to read is growing longer.

Tessa Ransford 1938 - 2015
To read more about Tessa Ransford's life go to www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk and follow the links to Poetry > PoetsA to Z > Tessa Ransford.

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