HIV Scotland has collaborated with Scottish poet and writer J William James on creative activism which will see his new poem about his lived experience of HIV on billboards all around Edinburgh, as part of Book Week Scotland (16-22 November) 

The charity declares that ‘#StoriesMatter’, as it launches James’ poem ‘The Tealclad Coastguard’ on sites such as the Royal Mile, Meadowbank, Potterrow, Meadowbank and more. The surreal poem name-checks local legend Shirley Manson, the lead singer of acclaimed group Garbage.  

HIV Scotland hopes that creative activism like this will make passers-by stop, read and question the stigma still commonly held about HIV, and what it means to be living with HIV in Scotland in 2020.  

People in Edinburgh are invited to spot the poem across Edinburgh and share pictures of it on social media with the hashtag #StoriesMatter. Have you found the poem near you yet? It can be found at: Bonnington Road, Swanfield, Calton Road, Clerk Street, Fountainbridge, King Stables Road, Meadowbank, Potterrow, Royal Mile and Tarvit Street.

Commenting, J William James said:  

Seroconversion sickness – the symptoms experienced when the HIV virus first replicates itself in the body – can take a huge toll, both physically and mentally.  

In ‘The Tealclad Coastguard’, the speaker describes being visited by singer Shirley Manson in the dazed dreaming of their fever-stricken mind. Like Emma Thompson in ‘Angels in America’ (2003), Shirley appears as an angelic figure in their hour of need. She is adorned in the camp aesthetic of the maritime, calling to mind the concluding sequence of Derek Jarman’s ‘The Tempest’ (1979). In the poem, Shirley’s wise words are not her own, they are of course those of the speaker’s subconscious; the speaker understands that HIV need no longer be a death sentence. 

I’m pleased that in 2020 we can tell stories about living with HIV in ways that aren’t typically public health message, and are far removed from the stigmatising messaging of the 1980s.”   

HIV Scotland’s Chief Executive Nathan Sparling, said: 

We’re proud to be bringing J William James’ work to so many people in such a public way. The lived realities of people living with HIV are complex, but their stories need to be listened to, if we are to break down the unfair stigma still so-often associated with HIV. 

“For us, creative activism is a key part of our toolkit when it comes to reducing HIV stigma in Scotland to zero by 2030. Activism has to innovate to reach new people in exciting ways, and given the pressures of 2020, finding fresh avenues to tell important stories in vital. 

People diagnosed with HIV nowadays can live long and healthy lives with the huge advances in treatment we’ve seen over the decades, often becoming undetectable; meaning they can’t pass HIV on. We hope the people of Edinburgh take a moment on their walk, cycle or drive to step into J William James’ words and consider what they believe about HIV, and what they could learn, in order to reduce stigma.” 

The poster campaign will run for across Edinburgh from November 16-29.