The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog

"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde

Jo Bell’s Always There Awards #6

Of the four women in my Always There Awards, three are Scottish-born or working in Scottish poetry. Why? Just accident. But the Scottish scene is particularly vibrant, rich (and so it bloody well should be, with three languages to play with) and has a sense of community which the English scene could learn from, populated by terrifyingly able women such as Peggy Hughes of the Dundee Literature Festival, Sally Evans of Poetry Scotland, Nell Nelson of Happenstance and Eleanor Livingstone at StAnza.

Oh, I know there are some brilliant poetry-men up there too – Gerry Cambridge at Dark Horse springs immediately to mind – but today’s Big Yellow Blob goes to one of the most quietly determined forces in British poetry.

Robyn Marsack

Robyn Marsack is the Director of the Scottish Poetry Library and a force for good in UK poetry. She’s an editor of many learned books including anthologies which are themselves machines for focusing light on contemporary poets – but it is her work at the SPL which gains a coveted yellow blob for her and her team.


Robyn Marsack

Oddly enough Robyn is not a Scot, but a Kiwi. Perhaps the outsider’s isolating eye has helped her to manage the Scottish Poetry Library as it becomes a partner with all kinds of organisations.

What does she do, exactly? She plans and puts on events; she speaks, edits, has overseen the rebuilding of the SPL website as a funky, attractive and genuinely useful resource for Scottish poetry; she ensures that Gaelic and Scots poetry is given its rightful attention in programming, planning and acquisition; and she is an active and careful board member who (as I recall from my time at National Poetry Day) can say in a few calm, instructive words what larger egos might say loudly and to little effect. She shows up to support festivals like StAnza and Wigtown and chairs some of their most interesting events. She hosts book launches, exhibitions, discussions and visiting poets at the SPL. She manages a team of dedicated library staff who are so much more than librarians, and makes the library a focus for the always flourishing community of Scottish poets.

Robyn is central to the poetry life, and therefore the cultural life, of one of Europe’s brightest literary cultures. She stands for a class of organisers, arts managers, literary support heroes – those who behind the scenes, lead the organisations that bring us colour and quality in poetry, that remind us of poetry’s importance with posters and campaigns, that build foundations for poets and readers to stand on and look at each other.

Thanks, Robyn. It does not go unnoticed.


4 comments on “Jo Bell’s Always There Awards #6

  1. nutmegmace
    May 20, 2014

    Dear The Bell Jar

    you write so well – very special to see Robyn caught in this way – with tears Lesley

  2. moiramcpartlin
    May 20, 2014

    yeah for the Scottish poetry scene and thanks for recognising Robyn’s huge contribution.

  3. stanzapoetry
    May 20, 2014

    Thanks! And couldn’t agree more re Nell, Sally, Peggy and Robyn.

  4. Sheila Templeton
    May 21, 2014

    I completely agree with everything you’ve said about Robyn. I’ve thought this myself for a long time, having been at many events which she has organised, chaired, brought into being. She is a great speaker too…witty, warm and passionate about poetry. Long may she direct the Scottish Poetry Library!

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