The Centre is developing two major collaborative research strands, resulting in publications, interdisciplinary activities and public engagement events, and which involve bids for substantial external funding (AHRC, Creative Scotland, Aberdeen City Council Cultural Awards etc.).The School is interested in either or both of these projects, or indeed the work of the Centre as a whole, as a possible Impact case study for REF 2020.
Mapping the North-East
Mapping the North-East is the general project title for a number of activities currently taking place under the aegis of the Word Centre for Creative Writing. An area of great geographical diversity and beauty, the North-East has been shaped by many layers of historical identity, Pictish, Gaelic, Scots and Norse among them. As a port, Aberdeen looks overseas, and has rich links with Orkney, Shetland, the Baltic and Scandinavia. Working across a variety of genres, the contributing writers to Mapping the North-East are engaged with questions of cultural geography, place and identity. Our collective aim is to map the territory of the North-East, engage with writers in the region, bring our work to a wider public, and interact with that public in mutually beneficial ways.
The project is closely associated with the ’Writing and Place’ element in the Centre’s post-graduate and undergraduate teaching provision, and is currently developing a further dimension around the question of location and individual writers of North-east provenance - from Byron, Nan Shepherd and Lewis Grassic Gibbon to Robert Fergusson, George Bruce, Ian Crichton Smith, Mick Imlah and Ali Smith. This has already produced a sequence of fourteen sonnets by David Wheatley, relating to Robert Fergusson, two of which have appeared in literary magazine, Magma while others will appear on the Tower Poetry website, with a pamphlet to follow. This forms part of Mapping the North-East’s endeavour to raise the profile of literary connections between writers and place: e.g. a blue plaque to mark Fergusson’s association with Oldmeldrum, and World War I poet Charles Hamilton Sorley’s connection with nearby Powis, Aberdeen. David Wheatley’s poetry volume The Reed Bunting Unseen: A Camouflage Garden for Ian Hamilton Finlay was published by Wildhoney Press in 2014, while the work of the WORD Centre’s Sheena Blackhall, esteemed local poet and North-East Makar, writing extensively in Scots, Doric and English, was celebrated with the publication of The Space Between: New and Selected Poems ed. Alan Spence (AUP, 2014).
Events associated with this strand include Alison Lumsden’s ‘Great Aberdonians: Nan Shepherd’ (in partnership with RIIS) in the WORD in May’s programme in the May Festival (13th May); Dr Elizabeth Elliott’s The Evergreen: A New Season in the North event (May 2015), exploring the ways in which literature, art and urban regeneration come together to shape communities, and launching the new Evergreen anthology. Upcoming events include the launch of G.S. Fraser’s New and Selected Poems with John Lucas (Carcanet, Shoestring Press) and WORD Associate Fellow Martin Malone; and Charles Hamilton Sorley exhibition and reading at Powis Community Centre to mark the centenary of his death and as part of ongoing World War I commemorations within the University (Being Human Festival, November 2015).
The local and international themes which characterise Mapping the North-East not only involve furthering educational, institutional and cultural links with Copenhagen, Ribe, Gdansk, Aberdeen twin city Stavanger, and Tromso, but also partnerships with Associate Fellow Alec Finlay’s Deveron Arts funded project, ’Some Colour Trends’, at Invercauld, Braemar (further Levrhulme funding bid pending) and Associate Fellow Petra Vergunst’s ’Lumsden Storytelling Project’, which received £10,000 of National Lottery funding and explores links between community renewal, storytelling, poetry and music. Building on the Centre’s work with Write Aberdeen-Write Regensburg (see publications and funding strategy below) and Associate Fellow, Shane Strachan’s Passages anthology (Edition Vulpes 2015) and his play ’A Mother’s Journey’, performed at The May Festival (set in Bulawayo and produced in association with the IMMPACT global research initiative, with Aberdeen City Council Twin City funding) to draw upon similar funding sources for future creative writing projects with Stavanger and Gomel, Belarus.
The project’s focus on the comings and goings of the North-East’s populations and cultures engages with the work of Centre member Dr Frances Wilkins of the Elphinstone Institute, whose interdisciplinary research and public engagement work - Funeralscapes, mapping Viking and Early Christian burial sites and rites in Northern Scotland, on North-East fishing communities and their traditions and on ’Scots in the Sub-Arctic’ (exploring cultural transmission from Northern Scotland via Shetland and Orkney to the First Nation Cree peoples of James Bay, Canada) - all feed into MTNE’s focus on place and its extensions and identities in manifestations of creativity. Special Collections’ New Found Land exhibition (July–August 2014) was inspired by archives and rare books relating to North-East emigration to Canada, culminating in a public event at The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen (August 2014) organised by the WORD Centre. The cartographical element in Mapping the North-East is being further developed in partnership with geographer David Watts, King’s Museum and Special Collections with a view to curating an exhibition and event in 2016/17.
Whether practitioners are staying put or setting off, MTNE seeks to examine all aspects of North-East identity and creativity (and the languages of its expression, ranging from Doric to Polish) and the project’s website will in due course feature video, podcast and other material as well as text, and continue to be concerned with migration, immigration and emigration and the cultural material transported and generated thereby. One such strand concerns the ’Baltic connection’, as the current appearance of East European residents in Aberdeen to some extent replays in reverse the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century emigration of Catholic Scots to Northern Poland (such that two districts of Gdansk are still named Nowy Szkoty and Stary Szkoty ’New Scotland’ and ’Old Scotland’). Polish wartime and post-war settlement in the area is the topic of several fictional works associated with the Centre and in keeping with the project’s Trade Routes and Two-way Migrations theme, the Centre is enhancing its established links with The University of Gdansk, with the WORD festival’s partner festival, Pomiedzy-Between in Gdansk-Gdynia-Sopot, and with the current Polish migrant community in Aberdeen). Helen Lynch and Alan Spence’s Comtemporary Polish Poetry initiative (with Professor David Malcolm, University of Gdansk and Professor Jerzy Jarniewicz, Universities of Lodz and Warsaw) and partnership with the Elphinstone Institute’s Polish-Scottish storytelling and song group and The W. Bednarowski Trust form part of this strand. The project will culminate in two volumes of parallel text new translations of twentieth and twenty-first century Polish poetry, and involve public readings and creative writing workshops with sixth–form students around the notion of ’the familiar unfamiliar’ and experiences of growing up in the North-East with experiences of migration
Finally, the Centre will be developing a Creative Writing partnership with The University of Curtin, Western Australia, centring on ideas of relation of a city to its surrounding areas, on place, landscape, language and identity in writing and on the relation of local and indigenous populations to new developments such as oil and mineral discovery or further migration. Work is ongoing to set up student partnerships and creative writing exchange opportunities.