We’re planting in the Poetry Garden today so it’s not good to wake to a small blizzard swirling outside the window. But, would you believe it, by the time we carry our poems to St Andrew Square the sky is blue, the sun is shining and the snow is a perfect background for bright red dogwood fluttering with poetry. 

A poetry 'plant' made from dogwood

With luck they will all last for the whole of the Carry a Poem programme, which is this year’s brilliant idea for the annual reading campaign organised by Unesco City of Literature and the Scottish Poetry Library.  There are all kinds of stories behind the poems people choose to carry with them as you can find out from the free books they are handing out all over the city (at The Botanics they’re saying it with snowdrops). The display in St Andrew Square is just one of the events because (say it out loud) this is Edinburgh’s poetry garden.

“They did the same last year,” someone says as we finish planting clusters of red and green dogwood hung with 100 laminated poetry labels. So we did, or at any rate we did something very similar  – in February last year the theme was the Lost World so willow stakes wove a trail of pictures, poems and extracts from Conan Doyle’s adventure story round the garden.  And people started reading the labels as soon as we got the willow hammered into the ground.

That’s the amazing thing.  Lilias (who’s from the Poetry Library), Celia and I (we’re volunteers) had great fun attaching the poems to the dogwood, stopping every now and then to read a line of poetry that was just calling out for attention (who can resist When I Grow Old I will Wear Purple?). With Ray’s help we even enjoyed planting the poetry in the cold, hard ground round the pond in St Andrew Square.

planting poetry in st andrew square

But, just like last year, the best part is seeing how quickly people come to read the poetry. There it is just fluttering in the breeze, a line that stops you in your tracks.  As Celia says, “It takes away the fear of poetry.”

I might just have to keep popping up to St Andrew Square to keep an eye on the dogwood. Perhaps I should invest in a red hat too.

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

Jenny Joseph

Someone in a red coat stops to look at the 'poetry stake' reflected in St Andrew Square pond