The Edinburgh Book Sculptures

Posted by in November's Magazine

The first one was delivered surreptitiously. Workers in the Scottish Poetry Library found a ‘Poetree’ sculpture sprouting out of an old book, a golden egg beside it contained lines by Edwin Morgan. Inspired by the library twitter tag @by leaves we live, the anonymous donor’s tag on the sculpture said: we know that a library is so much more than a building full of books…a book is so much more than pages full of words…This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas.

The story spread like wildfire. Libraries were under threat and folks such as Alan Bennett, Philip Pullman and Caitlin Moran were minded to defend these institutions of the intellect. Here was an intervention that stirred the heart and mind, serving the cause in a way that even well known authors could not. Who did this wonderful thing? Everyone wanted to know, even if they knew why.


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A second sculpture appeared at the National Library of Scotland. Made from a copy of Ian Rankin’s Exit Music this one had a gramophone playing above a coffin sliding into the book. The tag had the same exhortation but added ‘& against their exit’. The coffin itself was made from a book entitled The Casquet of Literature. A second? How wonderful.

Then a third appeared at the Filmhouse. This one added ‘all things magic’ to the previous tags. And featured characters springing from the screen into and around the audience, if you looked closely enough you’d spot Ian Rankin supping a tin of Deuchar’s. Francis Ford Coppola is quoted in the text ribbon, ‘I think cinema, movies and magic have always been closely associated’.

The Scottish Storytelling Centre was next, admitting they did not know how long it had been there. Sculpted from a copy of Ian Rankin’s Knots and Crosses, was a nest in which an egg had hatched with a dragon inside. Which came first the dragon or the egg?

The Book Festival was next up and this time two were found. A tea cup on a stand had the words ‘nothing beats a nice cup of tea (or coffee) and a really great BOOK’ in the swirl of the tea, whilst the nearby cake was inscribed ‘except maybe a cake as well’. Meanwhile, Unesco City of Literature received a copy of James Hogg’s Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner containing a lost figure and a quote from Robert Owen, the founder of New Lanark. What better stage than Edinburgh in full Festival mode to make a statement in support of libraries?

The luvvies, chancers and exploiters had left the town to the high art of the International Festival when Central Library announced that they had been ‘donated’ a sculpture but could not say for how long. This one read ‘libraries are expensive’, but the second ‘e’ had been replaced by an ‘A’ so that it read ‘expAnsive’. Above his Collected Poems, a magnifying glass contained a line from an Edwin Morgan poem. Where would it stop?

An answer revealed itself in the visitor’s book at the Scottish Poetry Library. Workers ran to the shelves containing Women’s Poetry anthologies, where an eighth sculpture based on Norman MacCaig’s poem Gifts had been left. It depicted gloves made from bee’s fur and a cap made from wren’s wings as mentioned in the poem. A note attached revealed the provocateur was a woman and there were ten pieces in all. Where were the other two?

Well, the ninth was in the National Museum of Scotland. Distracted by preparing for the millionth visitor, workers hadn’t noticed the copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World, with a T-rex bursting out of foliage and tiny humans scurrying to and fro, in a corner of the museum. It said that friends @edbookfest had suggested they might like this gift, they did.

The Writer’s Museum, appropriately enough, received the last one; made from a copy of Ian Rankin’s Hide and Seek, inspired by Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (the figures appear to be from the 1931 Frederick March film version), this time the tag added ‘and writers after ideas’.

All ten are to be gathered together at the Scottish Poetry Library before being returned to the places where they were found. Edinburgh publishers Polygon have produced, in my view, the book of the year, detailing this mystery. The back-story of all the sculptures is here, including an as yet unrevealed piece which has been gifted to a local author (that wouldn’t be Ian Rankin would it? – Ed).

The book ends with the artist furnishing instructions on how to construct your own ‘Poetree’. She has also drawn a map of the locations where all ten were left. In the spirit in which she donated the sculptures she has asked that her royalty for each copy sold goes to the Scottish Poetry Library. Do yourself a favour, go to the exhibition or buy the book as a gift for those you love. After all you’ll be doing it ‘in support of libraries, books, words, ideas’. Gordon Munro

This month Gordon’s been NAG’d in Newhaven, energized, revitalised and inspired by the splendour of Leith Victoria Swim Centre, enjoying the new season at the Lyceum Theatre (cheaper and warmer than the fitba’)

Info: Gifted: Edinburgh Book Sculptures, Scottish Poetry Library, Nov 24th to Dec 8th, The book is available from Polygon and usual outlets

Picture credit: Chris Scott

73 responses to “The Edinburgh Book Sculptures”

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