Twenty Years a’Growing (Brian Johnstone)

words from Brian Johnstone, co-founder in 1991 of the Shore poets

It’s difficult now to think that there was a time when Shore Poets events only got that old chestnut of an audience – one man, his dog and the poet’s wife!  But those times are long gone.

When Ros Brackenbury and I founded Shore Poets in 1991 we never thought much further than a year or two down the line.  We were happy to get the group going, and to expand it when Mark Ogle joined the ranks a year later, followed by a further expansion when the group assumed the scale it has more or less kept to since.  However, we weren’t to know that Ros shortly would follow her heart to Florida, leaving the group without a head.  That was when Stewart Conn’s name was raised and Shore Poets have been proud to have had him as Honorary President ever since.

Of course, the group has expanded and contracted over the years, much like the living organism it almost is.  Poets, musicians and literary activists, all players in the vibrant arts scene of Scotland, have come and gone as the group has evolved – many have stayed on as members from the very early days, while others have only slip-stepped into Shore Poets’ orbit for a short time – but always the group has continued under the convenorship of successive enthusiastic and highly motivated organisers. To be honest, neither Ros nor I envisaged the group lasting as long as 20 years, but its survival – no, its thriving – is proof enough that the need we identified back in 1991 was a real one.

The Shore at Leith by Night

Image, The Shore by sneeu from Flickr used under Creative Commons

For all of those 20 years, Shore Poets has offered the signature mix of poetry and music which was our founding approach. Styles in both areas have ranged widely – from quiet, considered verse to rigorous, contemporary work to high level performance poetry, alongside music from traditional folk to contemporary songwriting to ambient jazz – and sometimes those styles and mediums combined in cross-media performance to considerable effect. But always Shore Poets performers engaging fully with the audience and sending them home inspired and replete.

This mix has been echoed in the wide variety of venues that have housed Shore Poets events.  Our name comes from The Shore Gallery in Leith, our home in the first year. The group however soon moved up into the city centre where events have been held in venues ranging from the Canon’s Gate pub to The Fruitmarket Gallery, from The Ceilidh House to the Art College bar. Just as the variety of styles we present has kept the group refreshed, so has the variety of venues, with the nature of events changing in a subtle, even nebulous way, but always keeping those audiences coming.

Canon's Gait

Image Canon’s Gait by A. Currell from Flickr, used under Creative Commons

So now, at Shore Poets’ 20th anniversary it is time to celebrate all the wonderful poets and musicians who have performed over the years, the accommodating venues who have hosted our events and, above all, the dedicated group members who have kept the spirit of our original vision going for so many years.

When Ros introduced one of the earliest Shore Poets events, she spoke about the group’s name as being appropriate since poets frequently inhabit edges and boundaries.  It seems now that Shore Poets’ 20 years of existence clearly shows that we now inhabit the centre of our ever spinning world.

Brian Johnstone
August 2011

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