Frances here … last week Mandy Haggith and I met in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to begin to plan her July residency there. It was a lovely sunny day, warming by the minute! The following day I asked if Mandy might share her impressions with us, and she has.
I love trees! They’re bigger than me, and they don’t walk off when you get boring – they’re the perfect companions for a poet. For the whole of July this year, I have the you-can’t-imagine-how-delightful prospect of spending an entire month hanging out with some of Scotland’s most interesting specimens. I’ll be the poet in residence at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh. Jobs don’t get any better than that, in my view, and on the May Bank Holiday Monday I had a little fore-taste of what I can look forward to.
As well as the woody perennials, I’ll also be hanging out with dozens of people whose working lives are dedicated to caring for them, people like Will, who was my guide on Monday and who clearly regards the trees in the garden with an infectious fondness and a familiarity I look forward to developing. We sauntered around the garden, greeting some of the members of the gang I am going to be part of in July. So did lots of other people! The place was packed with families having fun, children chasing pigeons and each other and couples out for a Monday-off amble.
My project in the celebrate the Gaelic Tree Alphabet, an ancient link between trees and writing that is probably thousands of years old. Before Latin was brought to Scotland by Christians, the old Gaelic language was written in an inscription alphabet, called Ogham, which has a native woodland species associated with each letter. It begins with B, for Beatha (birch) and goes on to I, for Iogha (yew), and over the course of the month of July I will work my way through all the species in Gaelic alphabetical order. I hope that lots of people will come to the garden and help me to celebrate the tree of the day.
I’m looking forward to sharing poems about our native species and their relatives. Over the years I have been collecting tree poems from all over the world, and one of the lovely opportunities the garden provides is its tree collection from across the planet, so we can read a pine poem by Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral under a tree from Chile, Gary Snyder’s poem beside a Californian stone pine, Boris Pasternak’s under a Siberian pine, and I hope some local poets will read their own work under Pinus sylvestris. We’ll be putting the grove of Scottish poetry into its context in the forest of world literature. It’s going to be leafy and wonderful, and I can’t wait for July! Mandy Haggith