Quick & Quirky Questions with Ken Cockburn

Ken Cockburn is a poet and translator based in Edinburgh. After working at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, he has freelanced for twenty years, presenting poetry in schools, colleges, care and community settings, and collaborating with visual artists on book, exhibition and public art projects. Since 2019 he has worked as Creative Projects Manager with Lapidus Scotland.

His most recent collection is Floating the Woods (Luath, 2018). He also runs Edinburgh Poetry Tours – guided walks with readings of poems in the city’s Old Town. The pamphlet, Edinburgh: poems and translations, appeared from The Caseroom Press in summer 2021.

He joined Autumn Voices in 2021, oversees its various projects.

Tell us 4 important facts about yourself:

  1. When I was growing up in Kirkcaldy, my grandfather and then my father owned a wholesale business selling ‘Toys & Fancy Goods’, always referred to simply as ‘the warehouse’.
  2. The first flat I bought with my wife in Leith was, as I only found out later, about 100 yards away from the flat in which my maternal grandmother had grown up.
  3. In my twenties I lived in Cardiff and worked backstage for several small-scale touring theatre companies. 
  4. I’ve published four collections of poems, and two of translations; each has taken about ten years to complete, with the exception of one which took half that, but which I co-wrote.

What is your favourite age that you’ve been so far in life, and why?

Wearing my best pair of rose-tinted spectacles I’ll say my late thirties, when I was enjoying watching my two young children grow and develop and driving the Scottish Poetry Library’s van full of books to places across Scotland.

Who is your favourite fictional character or famous person over 60?

I’m a great admirer of the work of Czesław Miłosz (1911–2004), the Polish Nobel Prize-winning poet. Over half the work in his New and Collected Poems 1931-2001 was published after he reached the age of 70. There was more to come, by way of the collection, Second Space: New Poems (2004), published when he was ninety-three.

You are alone in your house (no pets). You have three minutes to get out before the house collapses and burns to the ground. What one possession would you grab and take with you?

At one time it would have been my laptop, which felt like an extension of my brain, but now everything is in the cloud the machine itself is less important. I’d say a book or two, but they can be replaced, or found in libraries, so perhaps some of the hand-written diaries I’ve kept over the years, describing what I’ve otherwise mostly forgotten.

What’s your favourite creative pastime?

I’ve taken to gardening in the past few years, and still have a lot to learn. But it’s a great thing to do after hours staring at a screen. At the moment (early October) I take great pleasure in the constellations of Michaelmas daisies out the back.

Tell us something about yourself that’s surprising or unexpected.

“When I first visit a city, I find out everything I need to know in the first 24 hours I’m there; everything after that is repetition.” This piece of wisdom has stayed with me from my first (and so far, only) meeting with Marina Abramović.

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