Brian Johnstone, founder of Shore Poets: a brief tribute

As Shore Poets moves towards celebrating its 30th anniversary in October 2021 – with a post-Covid relaunch – our joy is tinged with sadness as we come to terms with the death of Brian Johnstone who, with Roz Brackenbury, founded Shore Poets in October 1991. The inaugural event was held on the 6th October in the Shore Gallery at Leith, and the name has stuck despite the fact that we have occupied many different venues over the intervening years. 

Brian remained a driving force behind the group for many years, active in recruiting like-minded poets willing to help.  Some of us who joined in 1992-3 are still involved!   He was instrumental in shaping events, suggesting headline poets to invite, finding sources of funding and coming up with novel ideas. He was also keen on having a café-bar atmosphere with music and conviviality. 

Under his chairmanship we also ventured furth of Edinburgh: to the Pittenweem Arts Festival, to Tulloch castle in Dingwall, the Clutha Vaults in Glasgow and the New Bazaar in Dumfries.   In those days we also managed to host readings at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. We produced anthologies and commissioned Iain Crichton Smith to write a special poem to mark the 250th anniversary of the Jacobite Rebellion. Brian didn’t stand still.

Several years later he was instrumental in the launch of Stanza Poetry Festival and, as its Director from 2000, shepherded it as it developed into the successful international festival it is today. Although at this time he stepped back from Shore Poets, knowing that he was leaving behind a sound organisation, he remained a committed Honorary member. 

We owe Brian a huge debt of gratitude for his imagination, flair and skills of organisation. We will all miss his warmth and enthusiasm. Jean tirelessly supported all Brian’s endeavours, and out thoughts and love are with her.

There have been several fine obituaries, including this one from the Scottish Poetry Library:

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Kate Hendry

Kate Hendry is a writer, teacher and editor.

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