Historical ‘Poet’s Box’ shop relived for festival

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A pop-up shop in Dundee’s Wellgate Centre, inspired by the Poet’s Box where Dundonians of yesteryear performed and printed their latest creations, will serve as the regional headquarters of a national festival taking place this month.

The University of Dundee is the Scottish hub for Being Human, the UK’s national celebration of the humanities, which takes place from 14-23 November. The programme is built around the theme of ‘The Aquatic City’, with events showcasing the range of scholarship at the University.

The Festival HQ, hosting a series of events in partnership with Dundee Central Library, is inspired by the Poet’s Box, which was located at various shops in Dundee’s Overgate from the 1870s until 1946.

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With a hand-operated printing press in the back room and stacks of poetry books and song sheets in the window, it was the first point of call for aspiring poets looking to publish their work. On Saturdays, the shop would be crowded with singers and performers. The Poet’s Box quickly became a central point for writers and performers to meet and share their work.

Local historian Dr Erin Farley’s research into Victorian Dundee’s working-class literary and performative culture will shape, and authenticate, many of the festival activities. People will be able to get their hands inky with a hand-operated letterpress, create ‘found poems’ from newspapers and magazines, try their hand at playwriting and explore Dundee’s contemporary zine-making scene.

Dr Farley, the Library and Information Officer for Local History at Dundee Central Library, said: “There’s always been a strong tradition of DIY creativity in Dundee. We want to celebrate this history and recreate the atmosphere of the Poet’s Box by having somewhere in the centre of the city for people to come and discover new work and have a go at creating something themselves.”

In addition to the Wellgate HQ, events will also take place at Dundee Science Centre, Broughty Ferry beach, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee Comics Creative Space, Steps Theatre, and the University itself.

The Wellgate pop-up will celebrate the city’s aquatic heritage through hands-on workshops, dramatic performances, film, visual art, and more, with the inspiration for many of these events being an imaginary civilisation who emerge from the River Tay to deliver their verdict on our species.

The discovery of these sea creatures will provide a starting point to explore the relationship between humanity and water, taking on issues as diverse as exploration, colonisation, pollution, animal rights and inequality.

Dr Daniel Cook, Being Human lead for Dundee and a senior lecturer in English at the University, said: “Any large body of water doubles up as an imaginative space full of hidden terrors and wonders. The River Tay has inspired notable writers and artists but also has an ignoble history of bridge disasters, whaling, pirating, and shipwrecks.

“For this year’s Being Human we imagine that the biggest surprise has yet to reach the surface – a Scottish Atlantis, an ancient civilisation that has thrived beneath the water this whole time. What can we learn from these mysterious people? What lurks beneath?”

Being Human 2019 will see universities and other organisations across the UK host events alongside a series of international activities. Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, Being Human is a national forum for public engagement with humanities research.

The festival highlights the ways in which the humanities can inspire and enrich lives, helping us to understand ourselves, our relationships with others, and the challenges we face in a changing world.

More information about the Being Human festival, including a list of all events taking place in Dundee, can be found at https://beinghumanfestival.org/organiser/university-of-dundee/.

 
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