Brian Johnstone is a poet, writer and performer born in Edinburgh in 1950. He now lives on the edge of The East Neuk of Fife with his wife, the artist Jean Johnstone. Returning to writing in the late 1980s, he has since published a memoir and six poetry collections, as well as developing a range of cross-media collaborations and performances. A primary school teacher from 1975-1997, he went on to teach poetry writing evening classes for The University of St Andrews Centre for Continuing Education and correspondence courses in creative writing for the Open College of the Arts. In 1991 Brian Johnstone was a founder of Edinburgh's Shore Poets and in 1998 he co-founded StAnza: Scotland's International Poetry Festival in St Andrews, since when the festival has grown to become one of Europe's principal poetry events. He was appointed Festival Director of StAnza in 2001, a post he held for ten years. He has been a frequent events chair for the Edinburgh International Book Festival and has judged poetry competitions including the Wigtown Book Festival International Poetry Prize and the William Soutar Writing Prize as well as serving on the panel for the Scottish Book Trust's New Writers' Awards in 2014. In 2014 he toured Scotland with The Fields of War, his joint performance with Chrys Salt, and during 2016 and early 2017 he co-edited with Andy Jackson the online anthology Scotia Extremis, due out shortly in book form from Luath. Brian Johnstone's next pamphlet Juke Box Jeopardy will be published by Red Squirrel Press in early 2018.
About writer's work
Brian Johnstone has published a prose memoir, which includes a selection of poems, three full poetry collections, and three pamphlet collections. His work has appeared throughout the UK, in North America and in a range of European countries. His poems are 'the poetic equivalent of dancing across a tightrope, and just as hard to pull off' (happenstancepress.com), but are ‘fields of force, in which every word plays a precisely calculated part [giving] great power and sharpness of focus’ (The Manchester Review) while ‘leaving room for mystery and lyricism to emerge with a convincing uniqueness’ (Douglas Dunn). His work has been translated into over a dozen European languages, and published in the respective countries. In 2009 a small collection of his poems in Italian translation, was published by L'Officina (Vincenza). In 2003 he won Edinburgh's Poetry at the Fringe and in 2000 was a prizewinner in the National Poetry Competition; previous successes include winning the Writers' Bureau (2003) and the Mallard (1998) competitions, as well as being a prize winner in Italy's Poetry on the Lake Competition (2003) and at Druskininkai Poetic Fall, Lithuania (2005). He received a Writer’s Bursary from the Scottish Arts Council in 1998 and has received a number of Professional Development Grants from both the SAC and Creative Scotland. His poems have been published in Edinburgh Review, Chapman, The Dark Horse, Magma, Gutter, Northwords, Poetry Wales, Smiths Knoll, 14, Revival, Causeway, Poetry Cornwall, Poetry Greece, Sou'wester and Seminary Ridge Review (both USA), Exit (Canada) and Luvina (Mexico); in the newspapers The Financial Times, The Scotsman and The Herald; on the websites Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Open Mouse, The Drunken Boat, Mediterranean and Translation Lab. His work has appeared in various anthologies, including 100 Favourite Scottish Poems (Luath/SPL), The Book of St Andrews (Polygon/Birlinn), Double Bill & Split Screen (both Red Squirrel Press), Seagate III (Discovery Press), Aiblins (Luath), Present Poets (National Museums of Scotland), Reactions (University of East Anglia) and frequently in New Writing Scotland (Association for Scottish Literary Studies). He was the Poet of the Month for Scottish Poetry Library in September 2009 and for the Scottish Arts Council in February 2010.
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Current events and projects
Events on offer are presentations on the author’s family memoir dealing with questions of long-lost siblings and his upbringing in ’50s and ’60s Edinburgh; solo readings of the poet's own work; exploratory readings from contemporary and 20th century poets; masterclasses based around participants' own work; and talks on the life and work of poets Norman MacCaig and Weldon Kees, including readings and live recordings. Brian Johnstone is a highly experienced speaker and performer of his poetry: he has given readings all across the UK, including appearances at Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Ledbury Poetry Festival, Herefordshire, the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere, the Wigtown Book Festival, the Borders Book Festival, Dundee Literary Festival and Celtic Connections, Glasgow, and given many readings across Europe and in North America. He is also highly experienced in running masterclasses and in judging poetry competitions. Brian Johnstone can also offer integrated poetry, jazz & improv performances, ideal for festivals or live poetry cabaret, as part of Trio Verso with Richard Ingham (saxes, bass clarinet) and Louise Major (double bass). He is also able to offer The Fields of War, an hour’s performance in collaboration with poet Chrys Salt, commemorating the wars of the past 100 years through the duo’s original war poetry. Brian Johnstone is also available to chair literary events, adjudicate competitions and to work collaboratively with artists in other media.
Over the years Brian Johnstone has collaborated with a wide range of artists in various media, ranging from classical music to jazz, from artist’s books to poetry film, and from sculpture to printmaking. His principal collaborator is the musician Richard Ingham with whom he has formed Trio Verso. Performing poetry, jazz and improv since 2007, the trio comprises Richard Ingham (saxes), Louise Major (bass) and Brian Johnstone (spoken word). In 2011 Ingham and Johnstone embarked on a larger collaboration: Ingham's jazz orchestral setting of Johnstone’s narrative poem ‘Robinson’, a suite for trumpet & trombone soloists, jazz orchestra and spoken voices.