Alec Finlay & Ken Cockburn from Out of Books

About Out of Books

Out of Books, by poets Alec Finlay and Ken Cockburn, is a modern day interpretation of Boswell & Johnson’s 1773 journey across the Scottish Highlands and the Hebrides.  Guided by Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, and Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D., Finlay and Cockburn toured in the summer of 2013, visiting some of the landmarks, landscapes and views described in Boswell and Johnson’s accounts, writing in response a range of poetry, prose and couplets. The project currently exists as a blog; a book is in preparation. These images are drawings by Finlay, and scans from a journal by Finlay and Cockburn.

Finlay and Cockburn devised their journey around key passages – a word itself which embodies a lovely sense of journey. As well as pointing to the act of quotation, and drawing inspiration from writing, these passages guided the poets to particular views – some almost unchanged, others vastly altered – to re-evaluate the thoughts that each locale prompted in Johnson and Boswell. The modern duo travelled in reverse, anti-clockwise, around Scotland, passing their historical guides heading westwards, somewhere near Strath Cluanie. The tour is a follow up of a previous project and publication by Finlay and Cockburn, The Road North, when their journey paralleled one made in 17th century Japan by another famous literary partnership, the Japanese poet Basho and his companion Sora.

About the Artists

Ken Cockburn is a freelance poet, translator, editor and writing tutor, based in Edinburgh. Formerly Fieldworker and Assistant Director at the Scottish Poetry Library, he has wide experience of running writing workshops for children and adults in a range of settings including schools, libraries, museums, parks, hospices and care homes. In 2006 he was the first writer-in-residence at the John Murray Archive, National Library of Scotland, and he was awarded the Arts Foundation Fellowship for Literary Translation 2008.

His first collection Souvenirs and Homelands was shortlisted for a Saltire Award in 1998, and a second collection On the Flyleaf was published by Luath Press in 2007. Recent publications include Ink, with artists ~in the fields (2011); Snapdragon, translations of poems by Arne Rautenberg (2012); and the pamphlets While yet we may (2014) and The Solitary Reaper (2016), made for Walking Poets, two exhibitions in England and Japan linking Wordsworth and Basho.

Alec Finlay is a poet and artist, with over 40 publications and 5 Scottish Design Awards. His practice embraces books, poetry, print-works, mapping, audio-visual, and new technology. His work is often collaborative, for example working with The Bothy Project to create Sweeney’s Bothy, a pioneering artist residency space on the Isle of Eigg (2014). Finlay has a generous methodology, working with artists, communities, academics, archives, walkers and so on, on collaborative, book- and web-based projects such as white peak / dark peak (2009), Seeding the John Muir Way (2014) and Global Oracle (2014).

His recent books include a better tale to tell: submissions to the Smith Commission (2015), I Hear Her Cry (2015), Global Oracle: a Work of Prophetic Science (2014), a-ga: on mountains (2014), and Taigh: a wilding garden (2014). He publishes artist blogs at

Cockburn and Finlay have worked together on a host of projects since 1998, including the award-winning pocketbooks series, the Renga Platform, public art projects in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and the road north, a Scottish journey inspired by the Japanese poet Basho. They also collaborated on the award-winning book there were our own there were the others (National Trust, 2014), made following a series of silent memorial walks for the centenary of the First World War.