Ken Cockburn

Ken Cockburn is a poet and translator based in Edinburgh. He often collaborates with visual artists on book, exhibition and public art projects. Recent works include Ness with sculptor Mary Bourne, for the redeveloped Inverness riverside; and Veined with Shadow-branches, an exploration of the Ettrick Valley with painter Andrew Mackenzie. With Alec Finlay he undertook The Road North, a journey around Scotland guided by the 17th-century Japanese poet Basho, which led to an extensive blog, an exhibition, and a jointly-composed long poem published in book form. His translations from the German of Arne Rautenberg’s poems were collected as Snapdragon. He also runs Edinburgh Poetry Tours, guided walks in the city’s Old Town.

Photo: Arne Rautenberg


Making a Living as a Poet »

Join the Society of Authors discussion on how to make poetry pay

Fri 3 March | 11:30 - 12:30 | £4.00/£3.00 | The Town Hall, Queens Gardens, Council Chamber


What is a tree?

For Aden Country Park, June 2016

What is an ash?

Black buds release
a purple haze, late
leaves shadow silver.

What is a beech?

An expanding archive
of autographs
and declarations.

What is a birch?

Wields a new broom
but keeps things light –
sociable with its own
and a welcoming host.

What is a cherry?

Fateful encounters –
pale blossom, dark fruit,
heartwood, sweet smoke.

What is an elder?

Better for bellows and pipes
than fuel, it’s a stinker –
though cordial too.

What is a horse-chestnut?

Between sticky buds
and spiky husks, candles
bob like boats at sea.

What is a lime?

A steady buzz
of honey bees
settles summer.

What is a rowan?

Berries threaded
(the birds have plenty) –
an amulet against winter.

What is a Scots pine?

The sound of a fiddle
(the resin, the rosin)
bowed on a watertight boat.

What is a spruce?

A quick grower
reaching for the sky –
once felled, it flies.

What is a sycamore?

Coming late to the party
its grain flames into song.

What is a yew?

A golden shimmer.
A pillared shade.
A natural temple.
A resurrection.


Ken Cockburn