The (formerly) Non-poetry Fan’s Adventures at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Edinburgh Expeditions

They say that Edinburgh is the Festival City. Well, it’s true. And if it’s the Festival City, then August is the Festival Month. The Fringe, the most famous of the (four? five?) festivals running this month, is loud, obnoxious, and rather in your face. Tourists course through the streets, making each trip twice as long as it needs to be (my legs are in great shape now that I’ve taken to the hills to avoid them. Really. Hilly streets run parallel to the main ones). Drunks sing outside my window at all hours of the night and morning. And it is really, really loud.

Within this manic, energetic, mildly obnoxious madness, there is an oasis of calm. Located on the far side (for me) of George Street in Charlotte Square is the International Book Festival, the ultimate place for a book-toting, pen-wielding blogger and former English major. The white tents, the deck chairs, the yurts, the green, the books…oh the books. There are at least three book stores. Everyone clutches at a book, one they have purchased, one they have had signed, or one that they wish to leave for another to enjoy.

I’ve only attended two events so far at the Book Festival. The first was last Wednesday. It was an improv poetry slam, the first of its kind I’d attended. Not being a fan of poetry (or so I thought until this May’s Poetry Marathon), I had never even been to a slam. I loved it. I laughed. How I laughed! I drew portraits of the poets, chatted briefly with them after, generally had a lovely time.

Another day I just hung out at the Festival. A friend was interviewing a writer for her magazine, and I tagged along for a bit (not for the interview–I stayed in the Spiegeltent and drew). While waiting for her to get out of an event, and for another friend to arrive, I simple sat and read from the latest 44 Scotland Street book, before having a lovely conversation with two sisters in their 60s who sat at my table. You meet such wonderful people when you smile.

Today, I attended a presentation by Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s current makar (national poet). She spoke about her work, about her background, about the importance of learning poetry in schools. I felt rather embarrassed, not really knowing her work but knowing her name. Doubly embarrassed because, as a former English major, I had never studied poetry in a university setting. Triply embarrassed because I have an appalling memory and cannot remember any of the poems I ought to have memorized as a child. Also felt a bit silly as I didn’t have much to say when I met her after, apart from “I really enjoyed the presentation” and “My name’s Beth…no, short for Bethany.”

My next adventure at the book festival is this Friday, where I am to hear one of my favourite discoveries of the last few months speak. Carol Ann Duffy, the British poet laureate. Her collection of poetry, Rapture, is one of my favourite works, regardless of genre. I am so looking forward to attending her reading. I really ought to pick up a copy of Rapture this week, a second reward for finishing my dissertation, so that I’ll have something for her to sign, should she do a signing.

London Review of Books tent

(C) Bethany Wolfe