Why Scotland's writers are talking about Glasgow's sidestreets


Urban dictionary

Ahead of the third Hidden City outdoor poetry event in Glasgow, Kirstin Innes finds out why Scotland’s writers are taking to the sidestreets

Think about the route you take to work every day. Between worrying about the day ahead, checking for your train pass, sorting your hair and laughing at last night’s jokes, how aware are you, actually, of your surroundings? There are spaces like this in urban settlements everywhere – the alleyways and wastelands that have fallen out of use, that people just don’t see as they go about their daily business.

Over the past few years, whether through artistic impulse or because they can’t afford to rent more traditional venues, Scotland’s artists have begun to colonise these lost corners. Theatre companies like Poorboy and Highway Diner use the relative anonymity of backstreets and car parks to stage increasingly elaborate set pieces, while the Shadowed Spaces outdoor concerts earlier this year made (experimental) music about architecture. Then there’s Hidden City, the series of Glasgow performance poetry events organised by Scottish writer Rachel Jury, where the audience are taken on a magical mystery tour around bits of their own city, to hear the way eight different Scottish poets have re-envisaged the area. The first two Hidden Cities happened in very different sites – a derelict, graffiti-scrawled gap off Buchanan Street, and the elevated viewing point at the end of Hill Street, overlooking the Charing Cross junction and the West End’s distant spires. The location of the third, which happens on Sunday 7 October, is top secret – the idea being that the audience discover the city afresh en route.

‘The idea came to me one day a couple of years ago on a walk around Glasgow,’ Jury says. ‘I just became aware of an interesting space and I thought it would be really exciting to do something in there.’

Although she admits to having started out with ‘very grand ideas’ for a multi-genre art form crossover piece, since the first event in March 2006 Jury’s found a basic, effective formula that she sticks with. ‘I find the site, and get a bit of a feel for it, and then we commission eight poets to come up with a piece inspired by it, which they perform in the space. It’s simple, it’s unusual, and it almost feels as though we’re doing poetry busking.’

For the third event, Jury has varied the tone and commissioned a range of very different writers.

‘There’s often a tension between the more literary vein of the poetry world and those who do spoken word performance,’ says Jury. ‘I like to mix that up a bit, so this time we have a range of very established writers like Ann Clarke and Marc R Sutherland, who are much more traditional readers, and then there’s some very exciting performance people like (current Glasgow Poetry Slam champion) Drew Taylor and Michael McGill, whose performances are quite dynamic and challenging.’ The other thing she’s excited about is that the site of Hidden City 3 offers more potential for interaction from passers by.

‘I’m always interested in the way the space changes the format of the event. We’ve chosen quite different locations, too, so each of them has a very different feel. The first was very sort of rough and urban, the second is so open and beautiful, with that amazing view . . . ’

And you can’t say where the third one is –

‘No, I can’t! That would spoil it!’

Hidden City 3, Sun 7 Oct. Meet outside Jury’s Inn, Jamaica Street, Glasgow, at 2.30pm.

Hidden City 3

Mystery tour into the hidden nooks and crannies of Glasgow, including performance and readings from eight of the country's leading poets. Meet at Jury's Inn, Jamaica Street, to be taken to the location.

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