Hopes for poetry to transform streets of Edinburgh under plans for dedicated new festival

It is the city that has inspired poets as far back as the 15th century.

Push The Boat Out is planned to be held at Summerhall in Edinburgh in October 2021.
Push The Boat Out is planned to be held at Summerhall in Edinburgh in October 2021.

Now Edinburgh is to get its own festival dedicated to the art form –which is aim to see shopping centres, buses, trams, flower beds and even the city’s football clubs transformed by the words of writers.

Push The Boat Out is hoped to transform “every nook and cranny” of Summerall arts centre in October.

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However organisers say a key part of their mission will also be to “weave poetry into the fabric of the city,” by creating semi-permanent installations across Edinburgh to complement its “backdrop of literary monuments and heritage.”

Arts centre Summerhall will be playing host to Push The Boat Out when it launches in 2021.

Push The Boat Out is being instigated by event producer Jenny Niven, a former head of literature at Creative Scotland, and Kevin Williamson, writer, publisher and founder of the Edinburgh arts events collective Neu Reekie.

Music festival-style day tickets will be sold for the first four-day event to encourage people who turn up to see their favourite poet or a high-profile performer to stay on to discover new talent.

The festival, which takes its name from the Edwin Morgan poem At Eighty, is expected to embrace hip hop, rap and “politically-charged” work linked to current events.

It is also hoped that the new festival, which is being deliberately staged outwith Edinburgh’s main festival season, will appeal to “people who don’t feel the arts in Edinburgh are for them.”

Jenny Niven has joined forces with Kevin Williamson to launch Push The Boat Out in 2021.

The website for the festival, which has already launched a series of podcasts, states: “Poetry, whether political, personal or lyrical, whether it's written, performed, rapped, sung or signed, has been growing its audience at an unprecedented rate over the last decade.

"And despite 2020 being the most colossal bin-fire of a year, it’s never been more apparent that we need the arts - for solace, for expression, for community, for resistance, and for fun.

"So, despite the challenging circumstances, or maybe because of them, we aim to explore fresh inventive ways to bring poetry and audiences together.”

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Niven said: “We're interested in the sort of work that has been providing so much hope, solace and consolation in 2020, but also the really challenging stuff that is holding a mirror up to society and making us think.

"There's a really politically charged element to poetry right now, be it about race and representation, or Grenfell or inequality or climate change.

"Summerhall is a brilliant space to bring audiences for all this together under one roof, and try and show the connections between communities that might otherwise feel far apart.”

Williamson said: "We're feeling very positive that, with the Covid vaccine getting pushed out, the second half of 2021 will be the rebirth of proper live events.

"People have really missed them, their sense of connection and being with like-minded folk.

“So it's all systems go for us and hopefully we'll deliver something special, outside the normal festival season, that Edinburgh will be proud of."

Scottish Poetry Library director Asif Khan said: “The time feels right for an annual poetry festival in one of Scotland’s major cities.

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“We’ve pledged to support the digital content and event programming of Push The Boat Out. I’m excited by all the possibilities, and the organisers Kevin Williamson and Jenny Niven have the pedigree to deliver a diverse and innovative festival."

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