Alison Roe

Alison Roe and Stac Pollaidh

on the way to Lochinver

I joined the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics in 2007, originally as a means of getting discounts on Kenneth White books. I lived in Canada then – Montreal and a bit further out – which made attending geopoetics events in Scotland a wee bit challenging. I came back to Scotland in 2012 and have enjoyed watching the Centre evolve from being an organisation focused on the work of Kenneth White to one, still rooted in this, but casting a wider net. Indeed, this is why I am still a member. I’ve always valued the broad basis of Scottish education and thought and, in our increasingly technological and specialised times, I think this is a tradition which is more important than ever to foster and maintain.

As for Kenneth White’s work specifically, I find it difficult to separate out its influence on me now, so thoroughly has it been absorbed. I’ve drifted away from his writing in recent years but remain enthralled by the energy and vision of his early poems and waybooks, particularly The Blue Road. A friend handed me it in 1999 and I pored over it with a deep sense of astonishment and recognition: this was the kind of writing I was looking for; writing with breadth, touching on all aspects of experience and all kinds of knowledge and perception. I was a psychology researcher at Edinburgh University at the time and was observing, uncomfortably, the increasing pressure to churn out publications and the erosion of opportunities for integrative thought. White’s evocation of a more holistic way of learning and writing thus struck a chord.

I left academia and Edinburgh later that year and took to the road with a touring taiko (Japanese drum) group. I’ve since lived in Canada, Wales and Scotland, and my taiko travels have taken me to Japan and across Europe. I’ve continued to read, write and study in my own way, supporting myself with various employments, from clipping Christmas tree branches to managing restaurants to making websites, and occasionally publishing essays and articles.

In recent years my adventures have taken me offshore, living and sailing aboard my partner’s sailboat, a junk-rigged schooner. These voyages – exploring the west coasts and islands of the British Isles and up to northern Norway and the Faroes – have not only enabled me to indulge my twin obsessions with light and the north but have also profoundly altered my sense of what this Earth is and how I want to live on it. Nothing makes you appreciate land like going to sea but, for me at least, living on the sea has a way of subtly undermining your assumptions and taken-for-granted desires and it has changed me in ways I can’t yet verbalise.

I’ve now moved to a caravan ashore yet still live a fairly distributed life, flitting between the homes of friends, family and music collaborators in my wee Japanese van – a mobile writing studio which doubles up as drum transport – as I attempt to make a living as an itinerant taiko player and teacher.

My musings about all this intermittently wash up online at

Ara' Deg, junk-rigged schooner

Ara’ Deg in Busta Voe, Shetland (photo by Mike Yendell from the yacht, Cooya)