We snatched 10 minutes to get to know Billy Letford a little better. His poem, ‘Monuments of the Mind’, responds to the words of David Hume being projected onto the Melville Monument in St Andrew Square.
If you could project any words on any building in the world, which words would you choose, and which building?
I once read about a man that was walked to the scaffold to be hanged for a failed assassination attempt on the King. There was a clamour from the public to see the event. Wooden stands were erected to satisfy the public’s desire. Before the final punishment, one of the stands collapsed. Many members of the public died. Once the chaos and confusion had been dealt with the man still had to be hanged. His final words were, ‘the more the mischief the merrier the show.’
Insanity can be turned on itself. The humour is so dark, and the situation so ridiculous that the words stuck with me. The name of the man has left me. The name of the King has left me. I can’t even remember the century when all of this took place. So I’ve temporarily claimed his words as my own.
I’d project, ‘the more the mischief the merrier the show,’ onto The Palace of Westminster.
Has enLIGHTen changed your perception of the enlightenment?
It has altered my perception. I’m proud that these great men and women were Scottish, but their words and actions belong to the world. enLIGHTen made this apparent in a beautiful and dramatic way.
How did you tackle your particular commission? What was your starting point?
‘Truth Springs From Argument Amongst Friends.’ David Hume’s quote is wonderful, but it takes a certain type of friendship to argue in search of the betterment of everyone concerned. Most arguments are about one-upmanship and self gain. I asked myself who I could trust. How many people do I know that could take the subject, put it in the centre of the table, and argue around it knowing that being wrong is as relevant as being right. There weren’t many. All of them were family, and not all of them were alive. I chose two.
Which Enlightenment figure(s) would you invite to dinner? What would you eat?
David Hume was visited by the poet Thomas Blacklock. Blind and penniless, the poet no longer had the means to support his large family. Hume, in financial difficulties himself at the time, had managed to secure a university appointment worth about forty pounds a year. He took the grant for the university post from his desk, handed it to his unfortunate friend, and promised to have the name changed from Hume to Blacklock. This saved the poet and his family from destitution.
Any man willing to help a poet facing difficult times can have a place at my table. I’d feed him mince-soup and fresh buttered bread then quietly enquire if he was still good for a tap.
What’s next for you and your writing?
My first book, Bevel, is launched in August. So now I’m working towards my second book. That’s a good feeling. Apart from that, who knows? But that’s what makes life interesting.