A new poetry festival is launching in Edinburgh this week, operating as a hybrid event on a mission to "change perceptions of poetry".
Named after the poem “At Eighty” by the first Scottish makar Edwin Morgan, Push The Boat Out (PTBO) will run from 15th to 17th October within the creative hub of Summerhall. The festival is underpinned by key themes of social justice and representation, healing and recovery, climate crisis and ecopoetics, plus virtual and other realities.
PTBO is directed and was co-founded by Jenny Niven, the former head of literature at Creative Scotland and acting director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Her fellow co-founder is Kevin Williamson, publisher and co-founder of Neu! Reekie!
PTBO is inspired by contemporary poetry, hip-hop and spoken word, and will platform these artforms throughout the weekend. Its flagship project is "A Poetry Mile" which involved 23 poets commissioned to produce more than 70 brand new works relating to locations within a square mile of Summerhall. The poems have been programmed into an app which custom generates walking tours of some of Edinburgh’s most iconic locations. Users determine the type of experience they’d like to have, from "melancholy" or "historical" to "queer poetry" and are served a bespoke audio map to follow. Each poem is read by the poet themselves.
A range of events featuring roughly 60 emerging and established poets will be streamed live as part of the festival, offered on catch up, or developed into podcasts which will be released immediately following the weekend. These include partner events with leading Scottish literary organisations Scottish BAME Writers Network, Gutter Magazine, Shoreline of Infinity and Stewed Rhubarb Press. A bespoke sign language poetry workshop is offered by Chinese filmmaker and poet Yi Ru.
Speaking to The Bookseller about the festival's broader aims, Niven said: "Push the Boat Out aims to reflect and amplify the amazing breadth and vibrancy of contemporary poetry. There's an incredible richness in the work being produced right now, and the ideas people are exploring and the way they're doing it deserve a new platform. We're also really interested in the interdisciplinary nature of a lot of work — how different genres fuse and collide – our programme is full of poets who are also working with sound installations, or musicians, or performance or for whom environmentalism is a key facet of what they do. So it's taking a really holistic look at poetry, and is aiming to be expansive and inclusive within that.
"We also want to create a space for community. As we emerge and recover from the past 18 months and look at the challenges ahead we need the arts to help us process, empathise, understand, and we want to do that collectively. It's a joyful thing to be able to come back together again to ask questions of ourselves and each other, and to immerse ourselves in other people's creativity — we want to create a new space for people to do that, and become themselves again."
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