A good anthology is a wonderful thing, bringing together often diverse writers united under a theme or concept. I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading two very fine examples alongside one another, both of which use place as their subject, but the approach to the very different locations sets them apart and makes them interesting to compare.
One is The Book Of Iona, a collection edited by Professor Robert Crawford, which looks at the literary history as well as the geography of this iconic island, featuring writers as diverse as William Shakespeare, Sara Lodge, Edwin Morgan and Queen Victoria, and there will be a review of this in 2017.
The other is Umbrellas Of Edinburgh, and it concentrates on the there and now. The premise is simple, with various writers invited to “choose a location in Edinburgh and write about it.” What this allows is a wide range of voices and perspectives lending this book a variety which arguably gives the most complete and rounded depiction of this famous city to date. The more iconic landmarks and locations are present, but so are those places the tourists rarely tread.
Split into sections named ‘Ways In’, ‘North’, ‘West’, ‘Central’, ‘South’ and ‘East’, Umbrellas Of Edinburgh comprehensively covers most aspects of this famous city; a literary tour guide to contemporary Edinburgh which will work as an artistic introduction for those who have never yet visited, and giving new frames of reference to those of us who think they know those streets well.
The contents are mainly poetry, including contributions from Ryan Van Winkle, Aonghas MacNeacail, Hamish Whyte, Colin Will, Theresa Munoz, and Edinburgh’s current Makar, the wonderful Christine De Luca, on places as geographically diverse as Springvalley Gardens, Holy Corner, Stockbridge, Tollcross, Edinburgh Zoo, and John Knox House.
The best prose comes from Jane Alexander on Greyfriars, Laura Clay and Ricky Monahan Brown on Calton Hill, Sandy Thomson on Edinburgh Waverley, and Viccy Adams on Grange Cemetery. Another way of reading the book is to go by place rather than writer, discovering Tracey S. Rosenberg and Ruth Aylett’s take on The Royal Mile, Richie McCaffrey’s thoughts on the legendary pub Sandy Bell’s, Lauren Pope’s National Gallery Of Scotland, or Sophie Cooke on the Castle.
I hope you can tell by the diversity of those names above that there is a depth as well as breadth to Umbrellas Of Edinburgh. I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s on offer, and when taken as a whole what you are left with is a sense of an impressive literary community which does Edinburgh credit. An alternative title could have been Now That’s What I Call Edinburgh 2016, and if one of its aims was to make readers want to visit the places which have inspired these pieces it succeeds with ease. I just hope that this idea catches on and spreads to other Scottish cities as such an anthology can only enhance a place when it is written about in this manner, both for those who visit and those who live there. Oilskins Of Aberdeen? Galoshes Of Glasgow? Joking aside, Umbrellas Of Edinburgh is too successful an undertaking not to repeat.
Here is the audio version of this review: