The Scotsman Sessions #170: Brian Johnstone

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, the poet Brian Johnstone reads from his forthcoming collection, The Marks on the Map

Brian Johnstone’s name is well known among poetry fans in Scotland as a founder of StAnza, the international poetry festival held every spring in St Andrews, and its director from 2000-2010. It is perhaps no coincidence that his own writing had to take a back seat in those years; his second full length poetry collection, The Book of Belongings, appeared in 2009 as he announced his retirement from the festival.

Since then, he has been prolific, publishing three poetry pamphlets and a chapbook, another full collection, Dry Stone Work, a memoir, Double Exposure, and co-editing (with Andy Jackson) the anthology Scotia Extremis. His work is rich in its references to popular culture, and his 2018 pamphlet Juke Box Jeopardy celebrated in poetry and prose the music of the 1950s and 1960s with which he grew up. He also performs his work with poetry and jazz ensemble Trio Verso.

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His film for Scotsman Sessions features work from his new poetry collection, The Marks on the Map, which will be published by Arc in the spring. The title poem, which he reads here, charts the mental maps of a tramp, walking the roads of pre-war Scotland, noting where he is made welcome and where he is sent away. Johnstone describes it as “emblematic of the whole collection, in that it combines the notion of a physical map with the map as a life story, while also including narrative and biographical details.”

Brian Johnstone

Johnstone’s poetry, marked by close observation and clarity of language, is often concerned with mapping the traces of the past which linger and haunt the present, from the silver trails left by slugs on a pavement to the “ghost of a script” written by a child’s finger on a misted up window. The poet Rachael Boast has described him as “a cartographer of the overlooked.”

The Marks on the Map will be published by Arc in February, see https://www.arcpublications.co.uk/

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