The Shore Poets are an informal but durable collective who have been providing a platform for new poets to read alongside more established names on the Scottish scene since 1991, when Brian Johnstone and Ros Brackenbury began organising a series of readings at Leith’s Shore Gallery.
The Shore Poets are currently Angela McSeveney, Jane McKie, Christine DeLuca, Hamish Whyte, Ian McDonough, Martainn Mac an t-Saoir, Frank Glynn, and Kate Hendry. Information about all of them can be found under the Organizing Group drop-down menu.
Our current programme of readings runs on the last Sunday of each month between September and June (except December). Admission is £5 (concessions £3).
Each poet reads for 15 to 20 minutes and there are three 10-minute music spots during the evening. Refreshments are available throughout the proceedings, and every event is topped off with the drawing of our now-famous lemon cake raffle!
New musicians are always welcome! Please get in touch by emailing publicity[at]shorepoets.org.uk to find out more about getting a chance to play for us.
New readers are also welcome. The Shore Poets now offer a wildcard slot at the start of each event — just turn up, put your name into our wildcard hat when you pay at the door, and your name could be drawn to read! Wildcard poets are limited to three minutes. We also welcome new readers to our Open Night, which happens once a year. Keep an eye on this blog for more information, or email publicity[at]shorepoets.org.uk to enquire further!
A brief history of The Shore Poets
It all began in Leith in 1991. Poet and novelist Ros Brackenbury was exhibiting her poems to accompany a show of paintings in the Shore Gallery. As part of the gallery’s programme she was asked to give a reading of her work. Attending this reading was Fife poet Brian Johnstone, who was invited to participate. After the reading the two poets discovered a mutual interest in public performance of their work and, with the support of the gallery owner, agreed to hold further poetry and music events. The gallery called these events Shore Poets.
The first of these attracted an audience, it is true, but the members of the audience were outnumbered by the performers and their partners! Not to be so easily defeated, Ros and Brian were determined to continue with Shore Poets. With the next few months’ events, they began to attract a steadily growing and loyal audience.
Throughout this time Shore Poets was given considerable support by many of the leading lights of the Scottish literary scene who willingly gave their services for free. Without the help of Kathleen Jamie, Andrew Greig, Robert Crawford, Gordon Meade, Angela McSeveney and many more, Shore Poets could not have continued.
By the following year it was becoming apparent that Shore Poets events were outgrowing the venue in Leith. Unhappily, this coincided with the Shore Gallery experiencing financial difficulties. It seemed a good time to move and to move into the city centre, where Brian & Ros, together with new recruit Mark Ogle, were confident that a larger audience would be attracted.
Again Shore Poets owe their continued success to support given at a crucial time. Andrew Brown of the 369 Gallery stepped in with the offer of a large space for readings. Here the first Shore Poets Open Reading took place which resulted in the emergence of a larger organising group, many of whom are still closely involved. Here too was held the first anniversary celebration, featuring the great Norman MacCaig.
1992 saw the departure of one of the group’s founders Ros Brackenbury for America. Now was the time to expand and by 1993 Shore Poets had become a collective. The commitment of new recruits Hugh Dailly, Jim Glen, Ian McDonough, Dougie McKenzie, Morelle Smith and Nancy Somerville greatly assisted Brian & Mark in further raising the profile of Shore Poets. The group invited the leading Scottish poet and playwright Stewart Conn to become president, and with his ideas and energy on board Shore Poets assumed the form under which the group has continued to thrive and expand until the present.
After 369 Gallery was no longer able to host the group’s monthly readings, a new and congenial venue was found at the Ceilidh House. Here the group’s association with a wide spectrum of traditional musicians began, and the first of many exchanges with other groups from around the country saw the Shore Poets welcome poets from Northwords magazine. In 1994 we published our first Shore Poets anthology, The Golden Goose Hour, edited by Brian Johnstone & Ros Brackenbury.
In 1996 Shore Poets moved to the the Fruitmarket Gallery. That summer saw Shore Poets’ first involvement in the Edinburgh Festival when the group was invited by Scottish International to present a series of events at the Famous Grouse House Fringe venue. Successful lunchtime readings were held with poets ranging from Dumfries writer Tom Pow to Shetland poet Christine De Luca and music ranging from African to Cajun. At the end of September the group celebrated its 5th anniversary with a day-long festival of poetry and music. The year also saw the publication of our second anthology, The Ice Horses, edited by Stewart Conn and Ian McDonough.
The summer of 1997 was a particular high point with the group’s first ever appearance at The Edinburgh Book Festival. Invited to put on a cabaret to promote the special flavour of Shore Poets events, the group succeeded in filling the cafe marquee with an audience of over 100.
The year 1998 began with the group presenting one of the most senior figures of the Scottish Literary renaissance, George Bruce who read to a very appreciative audience in January. Other highlights of the year included special events featuring an exchange with Solway Festival poets and a performance of contemporary French poetry.
With the start of the autumn programme Shore Poets again moved venue to the historic Royal Mile pub The Canon’s Gait, where we continued to programme an intriguing blend of leading Scottish poets, new writers, and members of the Shore Poets group.
The group has continued to thrive, with several more new recruits joining the organising group and a still wider range of poets and musicians appearing at monthly events. Sadly in 1999, we lost Mark Ogle.
We celebrated our tenth anniversary in 2001 with the publication of a third anthology, Such Strange Joy, edited by Allan Crosbie, and in 2003 received project funding from the Scottish Arts Council for the first time. And on a more personal note, we celebrated Stewart Conn’s 70th birthday with a party at the Counting House in September 2006.
Repair and renovation projects at the Canons’ Gait caused us to seek temporary accommodation from time to time, with the Scottish Poetry Library and Ryrie’s Bar helping us out. More recently, we enjoyed a spell at the Mai Thai restaurant, part of the Tun complex just down the lane from the Scottish Poetry Library.
In 2008, the family of Mark Ogle instituted a prize, commissioning an annual Mark Ogle Memorial Poem, which has brought us a renewed sense of continuity.
We have heard from a wide variety of poets, local, Scottish, British, international, as you can see from our Archive; and we have received generous support from the many musicians who have joined us over the years, for which we remain deeply grateful.
Beginning in January 2009, The Shore Poets moved to the Lot, in the Grassmarket, and then in 2011 to Henderson’s at St John’s – a move that was a resounding success! Sadly, renovations have forced us to move again, but we hope to keep our following at the new location.