SUISS Fuelled My Love of Concrete Poetry by Meryl Phair










Little Sparta, the garden of Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay, is nestled in the Pentland Hills, a short bus ride from Edinburgh. During my time at SUISS in 2018, we took a trip to the 5-acre oasis of wooded paths. Along with wildflowers and ponds, the garden has over 275 works of art that bring Finlay’s concrete poetry to life in sculptural form. A wavy rock in a stream reads, “Ripple n. A Fold A Fluting of the Liquid Element,” and a stone fence holding back a bramble thicket states, “Camouflaged Flowers.” I was inspired by Finlay’s ability to turn words into physical objects and create poetry where the surrounding environment was just as informative to the understanding of the poem as the word itself.


Four years and countless hours of writing later, I self-published two books of visual poetry with Tell Tell Poetry, an independent publishing service. Throughout the process, my thoughts about the visual elements of poetry have been a central focus. The collections explore layout, typography, and form. They have been a joy to work on and I couldn’t be happier with the final editions!


Figures of Speech is a collection of the various forms of visual poetry I have been experimenting with over the years. This collection utilizes space, words within words, double meanings, and punctuation to explore language through visual text. Besides enjoying the playful nature of the poems, I hope readers take away a sense of how complex and malleable language is. What we think we know about the world can easily take on new meaning and form.

“Beeing” is a collection of poetry that explores environmental themes and personal identity. This book came out of personal struggles I was having with my mental health as well as meditations on environmental collapse. Putting these poems together allowed me to explore the interconnected nature of human and planetary health. Writing this book has taught me that even the most challenging things we go through will provide opportunities for new growth. With each purchase of “beeing” 15% will be donated to the Women’s Earth Alliance, an organization that supports women working on developing solutions to climate change.


SUISS gave me the rare opportunity to focus exclusively on my poetry. It opened my mind to experimental forms of creative writing, especially concrete poetry and the work of poets like Ian Hamilton Finlay. Throughout the program, I was inspired by the extremely talented writers and creatives at the University of Edinburgh. I’m so grateful for the experience and I hope you enjoy my books!




Book Website:


Link to purchase Figures of Speech:


Link to purchase beeing:


Women’s Earth Alliance:

Khan Nguyen, Contemporary Literature 2018

Applying for postgraduate study was for me like working on a puzzle: Essentially it was about putting different pieces from our academic history together to form a meaningful, coherent and appealing picture of what we did. The admission committee will look at that picture, and if it meets their requirements, hopefully they will let us in.

In my application to the Master’s programme in English Studies at Aarhus University (Denmark), where I am now enrolled as a student, SUISS stood out as a very important piece of the puzzle (or in a punny way of speaking, you can call it the “master piece” of my application). I studied Contemporary Literature at SUISS in the summer of 2018, just after I finished by BA. And I always thought it strange how those short two weeks in Edinburgh could help me so much in working towards where I am now.

But it all makes sense. SUISS was the most intensive learning experience I ever participated in. To prepare, we had to read six whole books and a bunch of excerpts from short story and poetry collections. Every weekday we had a thematic lecture by literary scholars from different universities in the U.K, followed by a seminar with our tutor where got to look more intimately at different aspects of the text under study. So two weeks wasn’t long, yes, but at the end of the programme our minds were all bubbling with exciting names, concepts and ideas. SUISS actually inspired a classmate of mine to write her Master’s thesis on one of the authors that we studied in the course. Isn’t that amazing?

You also have the option of doing a written assessment if you want to receive academic credits from the course. This might be useful for those who want to further their studies into English literature but otherwise come from an academic background where literature isn’t a focus (Since some universities might require applicants to possess a specific number of credits in the subject that they are applying for). So I wrote a 2000-word essay, which came back some two weeks after its submission with a grade and very detail comments by my tutor. I later used that essay as a “writing sample” in my application for Master’s study. Plus I got a fancy academic transcript, which I also included in the application pack.

Before SUISS, I had been shuffling around in different subfields of English studies – linguistics, cultural studies, translation studies, etc. – not really knowing which area to focus on. After SUISS, however, I knew firmly that I want to be a literature student. Everything was so inspiring: the lectures, the coffee talks, the readings by guest authors, and most of all the extensive discussions with my classmates and tutor, who, like me, love to indulge ourselves in the pleasure that language and the imagination have to offer.

Many of the friendships that I made at Edinburgh remain with me even now. SUISS has become for us like a tradition, or an “imagined community” if you will, which we feel ourselves attached to, to which we look back with longing and nostalgia every summer. I hope what I write here has given you a perspective of what is in store for you at SUISS, and motivates you to take a bold step towards this incredible opportunity.

Reflections by Cris(tina) Bresser, 2016


Cris or Cristina?

It is so curious that everybody calls me Cristina here. I told them that they could call me Cris, as it is easier to pronounce, but I don’t know why they insist on the complete name. Maybe is to show me consideration, as they can pronounce it, or maybe they like the sound of it in English. I am not sure what the real reason is, but I do like to hear my name when they speak it.

Being called Cristina here seems somehow that I am a different version of myself in this town.  And this, I must say, is not a contradiction to me. Since I arrived in Edinburgh, I feel that my best self is in control. I am always in an excellent mood (this is not a big change but my humor was instable at home lately), I feel relaxed and happy most of the time (although sleepy, and it sucks – the blinds, the crows and the pigeons lately are conspiring against my night rest).

I haven’t being critical or judgmental about people – my sarcasm is hibernating in this cold city with warm people. Right now, my new friend, the crow, is by my window crying for his cookies – bad tempered old chap, now I must feed him “We are always responsible for the ones we captivate…” Bullshit. The crow can feed himself as he always did before we met. Do not feed the crows or the pigeons. And if you are insane enough to feed a seagull, you might end up without a finger. They are such aggressive hungry creatures. I used to like seagulls, before coming here. Now I know them better.

The Sparks of Little Sparta

During the Creative Writing course, we visited a magical garden called Little Sparta. It is a place full of light, flowers and poetry. I loved it and felt grateful for having been there. The previous night I could hardly sleep and I was feeling miserable. I spent the morning in automatic mode. When we arrived at Little Sparta I was alive again, and the place’s good vibes stayed with me for the rest of the day. Nature and sunny days are inexorable sources of renovation to me. I left that enchanted garden feeling groovy again.

Almost everything is laughable

During my time with SUISS, I lived wonderful and intense weeks of continuous learning and made friendships that will last forever. Besides, when I was there in Edinburgh, I received two amazing news: my short story “Capitolium” was awarded the First Prize in Fortaleza’s Federal University context, and I was contacted by Editora Benfazeja’s publisher with an offer to publish my novel Quase tudo é risível (Almost everything is laughable). We started the arrangements while I was still there and the book was published and launched in November 2016.

Being published, as cliché as it may sound, is a dream coming true. I had two book signings and I felt like swinging on a shining cloud during the events. I must confess that even better than the autograph nights is the feedback I’ve been receiving from the readers. I can’t help being proud of myself when they tell me that my book is addicting, that it kept them awake all night long, that the plot is breath-taking, that they burst into laughter at a certain part of the story, or that they burst into tears in another chapter and that the end is striking. Writing a novel is fun, editing it sucks, and seeing it printed is a lifetime experience.

For more information, click here: Quase tudo é risível.

Psychogeography by Cristina Bresser, 2016

Old College

Old College

In the first week of the Creative Writing course, my dearest tutor Defne proposed a psychogeography exercise. We were supposed to get lost in any part of the city and write about the experience afterwards. I confess I was not excited about it. When I was a child, I feared getting lost from my parents at the beach or even inside a supermarket. Having stayed in Edinburgh for just a few days helped me to accomplish the task accidentally. Being born on the right side of the road, I insisted on turning right when in Great Britain even though it was supposed to be the left. Balls. To the wrong direction I went. Not a big issue, I was also a tourist and I was enjoying the promenade when, by chance, I stepped into the past campus of the University of Edinburgh, the Old College. It was by hazard too, I would assume. I experienced dejà-vu.

It was the second time it happened to me in Scotland. The first one was five years ago when I got into the Arm’s Room of the Edinburgh Castle. That time I wept. Today, I had a cozy sensation of belonging to that place. The sun was warming up the grass in the center of the complex. I might have been there before. I felt at home at that old enchanting building. I promised myself I would come back. I needed to go deeper into that emotion. Before I left, a crow standing nearby stared at me and seemed to salute me.

There I was on the following day. Likewise, it was by chance. I was going to Princess Street and somehow I chose that avenue to proceed. Magnetism, probably. I could not help smiling at the familiar feelings as I reached the site. The sun was shining again- two consecutive days is a good auspice in this country. There was no hurry; I was relaxed. Once more, I smelled cinnamon in the air. If I ever have to describe this city, I would say it is where seagulls and crows live together, a place with a light constant cinnamon essence is in the air. I sat on the campus’ grass, took a deep breath and enjoyed being there. I had searched for this “living at present time” notion for so long. There I just met it. By chance, by karma – by luck, positively. It felt right. Getting lost in Edinburgh might have turned to finding myself at last.

Daniel Perry, Canada, Class of 2002

2015.HS.DAN.PERRY.019_CONTRASTI came to SUISS in 2002 by way of a town of around 2,000 people in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, that had a Scottish name: Glencoe. There, the Fox movie theatre sat empty after closing down when I was little, and beside it was a gas station where my father worked (since closed, too). The summer I was eight years old, Dad planted me behind the cash register, to avoid being shorted on his pay for the casual thefts of cigarettes or motor oil that would occur were the kiosk unattended while he filled cars.

Across the increasingly dismal Main Street, my mother ran a knitting, sewing and crafting shop, and together with Glencoe’s miniscule business association, she helped arrange the town festival every July: Tartan Days.

Yes, like Scottish tartan. As fellow SUISSers have likely heard—perhaps after picking out their clans’ kilts in a shop on the Royal Mile, even—it may be something of an invented tradition. So, true to its forebears, my little town invented some Tartan Days traditions of its own: the Saturday night dance, for one (not a ceilidh so much as a country music-blaring drunk-up), plus the local businesses’ sidewalk sales. In recent years a tractor pull was added.

My memories, however, are of the pancake breakfast on the closed-off side street and the two competitions there.

In the thistle contest, parents and children would spend weeks sneaking fertilizer to the largest bull or Scotch variety of the weed they could find then put on thick gloves and drag it to town, where it was judged on height, fullness, etc. before a prize of maybe fifty bucks was awarded. (Never to me.)

And then there was the marquee event, the shoe-kick, in which entrants would slide their toes into a factory second from the nearby footwear manufacturing plant, rear back, and compete to propel it as far away from Main Street as possible. I never did find out what this had to do with Scottish heritage.

Tartan Days was about all I knew of international interchange before beginning high school in a larger but still small town where, for some reason, exchange students did arrive, and before meeting international students at the University of Western Ontario—students who had chosen to be thousands of miles from home for four whole years in London… Other London. In Canada.

Where the green flyer on the English department bulletin board jumped out at me.

I was nineteen years old, then, and nearing the end of my first undergraduate year. I was still commuting to class from my family home, still working my teenager job at the Canadian Kmart competitor, and still being hassled by my grandfather to take a summer position with the provincial hydro-electric company for which he’d worked his whole life.

The trip to SUISS would be my first flight; my first trip outside of North America, and other than two or three single-day visits by car to Michigan, my first departure from Canada, even. I said goodbye to my family in the Tim Hortons parking lot where the three-hour bus ride to the airport in Toronto began, and in Edinburgh, I hung a Canadian flag in a Baird House window.

Right away, I met a good 20 students from all over the United States (including fellow eventual author Michael Pogach) and climbed Arthur’s Seat in the first night’s dusk with some of them. In the next days, I met a similar-sized group all from one university in Bari, Italy—a city around the same size as Other London, it turns out, albeit with better weather. Students had also come from Norway, Germany, the Czech Republic, Spain and more I’m sure I’m forgetting, plus as far away as New Zealand, Japan and India.

And all had come to study literature.

Before and after attending SUISS that summer, I worked the hydro-electric gig with Grandad, and he’ll likely still tell you it was a better career than what I eventually chose (“Writer with Inevitable Day Job”). But I returned to Canada convinced that a literary life was an actual life—not just dreams of 1920s dinners at La Coupole or bon mots at the Algonquin Hotel, but something a kid like me could have.

There have been bumps in the road, sure—my eventual departure from graduate studies, for one, and a string of depressing retail and call centre jobs taken out of sheer financial despair—but when I found myself on a Toronto Island beach one sunny September day in 2009 with some things resembling stable income, home and employment finally in-hand, that nineteen-year-old paid me a long overdue visit.

What of that literary life? he asked.

I enrolled in a college night class and began writing short stories, the first of them as true as what you read above. Some are long dead and buried, (yes, there’s one about Tartan Days), and some have been published with all the facts edited out. Some others have been published just as they were.

In any event, I’ve been writing ever since—not since then, really, but since I showed up at SUISS.

Daniel Perry’s first collection of short stories, Hamburger, will be published in Canada by Thistledown Press in May, 2016, and is now available to order. His second, Nobody Looks That Young Here, is forthcoming from Guernica Editions in 2018. He is currently at work on a novella, when not at his day job.


Rizwan Akhtar, Pakistan, Class of 2014

10706607_10203723166732521_2039756186_nRizwan Akhtar teaches at the Department of English, Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan. His poems have appeared in Poetry Salzburg Review, Poetry NZ, Wasafiri, Postcolonial Text (Canada), decanto, Poesia (US), Exiled Ink, Pakistaniat : A Journal of Pakistani Studies (US), Solidarity International, Orbis, The Other Poetry, Planet; The Welsh International, Wolf, South Asian Review, Gutter: New Scottish writings, Open Road Review, ScottishPen, tinfoildresses (US), and in Bloodaxe anthology Out of Bounds (2011).

Here is his poem inspired by his time in Edinburgh…

Edinburgh Calls

On granite structures
wooden walls creak as words escape
outside rain sneaks silence
like language it has pauses
cinching vows in smattering sounds
hooded plodding I mount city’s hills
imagining holes in windows
covering my splaying gait
like a sentence needing extra support
after living mistily on pages of history
and a full stop to stare and look around
for a map everywhere alleys creep
on kidney stones a cobbled-pinch
runs through legs
there is some charm in getting tired
nursing crackling bones on benches
alone with a wet pigeon
shouldering luggage the unpaid postman
of dark evenings emerging
from the hazy basin of Froth’s estuary
over Queensferry Bridge
quivering on cables
stroking winds anti-clockwise
a metallic North Sea
spooks primitive music
buses plow through wet spaces
you miss one and wait for the next
out of geographic love.

Tal Griffit, Israel, Class of 2014


A big thanks to Tal, one of this year’s Text & Context students, for allowing us to post his wee poem about Scotland and the conflict occurring in his homeland.

Tal GriffitState of Conflict

We land,
On the cobbled stone
In a bright old day, a newly born;
With the numerous few, who had walked
Here before,
Wee land, we land;
we sore, Wee sore.



Diana Finch, Chile, Class of 2011

Diana Finch, Chile, SUISS Class of 2011

Diana Finch (Chile) Class of 2011

I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the SUISS 2011 Modernism and Creative Writing courses, after which an extract of my short story Fire was published in that year’s edition of Northern Lights. On my return to Chile, the British school in Santiago where I had taught for many years, commissioned me to write the school history.

The book, The Story of Craighouse School, was finally published by the school and launched in December 2012. As I needed somebody to edit the English version (the book is bilingual English-Spanish), I asked my SUISS tutor, Jane Alexander to recommend someone and was delighted when she agreed to edit the book herself. Although it is a work of non-fiction, it is told as a story, with the founding family as main protagonists against a background of 54 years of social and political upheaval in Chile.

I have worked as a teacher and translator all my life, and would never have undertaken this work if it hadn’t been for the skills learnt on the Creative Writing course and the self-confidence gained as a result. So this is to send a big thank you to my 2011 course mates, SUISS staff and specially to Jane herself and to wish you all every success for the future.

Dr Pilar Somacarrera Iñigo (Spain) Classes of 2012-13

Pilar Somacarrera Iñigo (Spain) Classes of 2012-13

Pilar Somacarrera Iñigo (Spain) Classes of 2012-13


(A wee poem in an undomesticated translation from Spanish dedicated to the SUISS team and friends)

I love meals at Pollock Halls
crowds are hungry there,
they want to eat it all!

I love the lectures
and the Directors
they are more than I could ask for!

The Administrator is such a blessing
she’s even there
when you need a tooth dressing!

The tutors and Dr Irvine dance with such skill,
and they are also dressed to kill:
there’s nothing like a man in kilt!

And what can I say about the student hosts?
No doubt about it,
they are the most!

SUISS is good learning,
SUISS is fun.
Do it next summer
It’s a must!