Author details

Ken Cockburn


I was born in Kirkcaldy in 1960, and studied French and German at Aberdeen University, and Theatre Studies at University College Cardiff. After working in theatre and gallery administration, I spent several years at the Scottish Poetry Library as Fieldworker, visiting schools and writers’ groups throughout Scotland, and latterly was also Assistant Director. With Alec Finlay I established and ran pocketbooks, an award-winning series of books of poetry and visual art (1999-2002). Since 2004 I have worked as a freelance writer, translator, editor and writing tutor. In 2006 I was the first writer-in-residence at the John Murray Archive, National Library of Scotland, and I was awarded the Arts Foundation Fellowship for Literary Translation 2008. I live in Edinburgh and have two daughters, both now at university. Other than poetry I enjoy walking, cooking, listening to the radio and attempting killer sudoku.

About writer's work

I run poetry writing workshops for primary and secondary school pupils, students, and adults, and am happy do one-off events or longer residencies. I often work with ‘short forms’, including mesostic poems, 'football haiku' (three-word poems), circle poems and the short linked verses of communal 'renga' events. I enjoy running sessions out-of-doors, whether gardens, parks, woodland or beaches. I regularly collaborate with visual artists on book, exhibition and public art projects. Recent collaborations include working with sculptor Mary Bourne on works for the new flood wall in Inverness, and writing a poem-sequence ‘Into Ettrick’ for the painter Andrew Mackenzie. A Creative Scotland ‘Vital Spark’ Award in 2010 enabled Alec Finlay and myself to undertake The Road North, a journey around Scotland guided by the 17th-century Japanese poet Basho, which led an extensive blog, an exhibition, and a jointly-composed long poem which has been published in book form, and is also available on iTunes. In summer 2013 we began another touring project, Out of Books, based on Boswell and Johnson’s Highland tour of 1773, in particular the books they read, and refer to, as they travel. As a translator from German I've worked on poems by classic authors such as Goethe, Fontane, and Celan, as well as by contemporary poets such as Arne Rautenberg, Thomas Rosenlöcher and Christine Marendon.

Websites featuring the author

Author's website Edinburgh Poetry Tours The Road North Out of Books Twitter

Current events and projects

I’m happy giving readings and workshops for all kinds of groups and ages, especially if a walk can be part of the event. I also enjoy collaborative projects.

Recent projects include:

Leith Primary School, Edinburgh – working with the P7 pupils to create material for their Leavers’ Assembly at the end of the summer term.

A Visit from Boswell & Johnson – working with artists in the fields and young people in Argyll & Bute, to create graphic novel versions of episodes from Boswell & Johnson’s ‘Tour of the Hebrides’

Buson 2016 – a series of talks, walks and workshops focussing on Buson, the Japanese haiku master born in 1716

Edinburgh Poetry Tours – walks on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, featuring poems about the city from across the centuries, including daily walks as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Pomona – a set of 27 three-line poems about varieties of apple and pear trees growing in Crailing Community Orchard, presented on botanical labels attached to the trees, and as a set of cards Poetic Recaps, for conferences run by Scottish Care and Blackwood – poems written in response to the day’s events, read to delegates at the end of proceedings

Other work

revolution after revolution (The Caseroom Press, 2015) an anthology of circle poems on the theme of cycling. Texts by John Stocker, circle form suggested by Alec Finlay, edited by Ken Cockburn, designed by Barrie Tullett.

Wide Waves, Small Circle: poems by schoolchildren on Lewis and Harris written in response to the exhibition Ian Hamilton Finlay: Sailing Dinghy (An Lanntair, 2011, ISBN 978-09525389-2-7) Themes: boats, sailing, beaches

Ravenscraig: a collection of, a guide to writing, and a notebook for Mesostic Poems, forming part of the Dysart Artworks project (Fife Council, 2006, ISBN 1-869984-17-X) Themes: trees; harbour; mesostic poems.

The Season Sweetens / Die Saison Versüssend: Football Haiku 2006 (The Caseroom Press, 2006, ISBN 1-905821-00-X) Themes: football; translation; three-word poems

Write On!: new writing and visual art by young people in Aberdeenshire (Aberdeen: Aberdeenshire Council, March 2006, ISBN 978-190127517-9) Themes: Riddles; By the Seashore; Plants & Animals; Playing Games; In Town; Through the Countryside (these are the section headings) 

Tweed Rivers: new writing and visual art inspired by the rivers of the Tweed catchment (platform projects & Luath Press, 2005, ISBN 1-905222-25-4): edited, with James Carter Themes: Borders region; rivers; combining writing and visual art 

Intimate Expanses: XXV Scottish Poems 1978-2002 (Carcanet, 2004, ISBN 1-85754-795-0): edited, with Robyn Marsack Themes: Scotland in the last quarter century; poetry

The Dancers Inherit the Party: Early stories, plays & poems by Ian Hamilton Finlay
(Polygon, 2004, ISBN 1-904598-13-7) Themes: Ian Hamilton Finlay; Scottish writing in the 1950s and 1960s; rural life

The Order of Things: an anthology of Scottish sound, pattern and concrete poems
(pocketbooks, 2001, ISBN 0-7486-6290-1): edited (with Alec Finlay) Themes: sound & visual poetry; alphabets; found poems; list poems

Brilliant Cacophony: connecting the contemporary of art and architecture on Edinburgh's Royal Mile
(Scottish Sculpture Trust, 1998, ISBN 0-9516146-5-7): co-edited, with Lise Bratton Themes: Edinburgh past and present; architecture; public art

Associated media and resources

Contact details


Local authority where they are based


Local authorities where they can work

Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Angus, Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles), Dumfries and Galloway, Dundee, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Glasgow, Highland, Inverclyde, Midlothian, Moray, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Orkney, Other1, Outer Hebrides, Perth and Kinross, Renfrewshire, Scottish Borders, Shetland, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire, West Lothian, Other

Age groups

0-4, 5-8, 9-12, Teens, Adults

LL funded


BRAW network


Author type




Books written

The Road North

Author(s): Ken Cockburn
Subtitled ‘a journey around Scotland guided by Basho’s oku-no-hosomichi’, this is a long poem in fourteen sections by Ken Cockburn and Alec Finlay, describing journeys made between May 2010 and May 20

Overheard Overlooked: Found Poems

Author(s): Ken Cockburn
A book of overheard and overlooked texts.


Author(s): Ken Cockburn
INK is a beautiful new artist book, featuring full-colour images of the prize-winning sculptural work ink by ~ in the fields and specially written texts by poet Ken Cockburn.

On the Flyleaf

Author(s): Ken Cockburn
In this new collection, Ken Cockburn explores the relationship between people, place and literature.

Feathers & Lime: translations from the German

Author(s): Ken Cockburn
A raucous Dylan concert, Icarus as an asylum seeker, teenage misdemeanours and a celebration of indolence - just some of the topics covered in this wide-ranging collection of recent German poems trans