Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Liz Lochhead is new Makar, National Poet for Scotland

Congratulations to Liz Lochhead on becoming the new Makar. It couldn't be anyone else. She is so obviously the right choice: witty, feisty, a wicked but humane eye for character both in her poetry and plays and an ear for lively, playful speech, particularly her use of Glasgwegian demotic.

On a personal note, I have been a fan of Liz's work since 1972 when her first pamphlet 'A Memo for Spring' came out. I was working (on a temporary basis during my holidays as a teacher) at the famous Turret Bookshop in Holland Walk, Kensington owned by Bernard Stone. Frequently poets would come in for a glass of wine and many of the books had red rings on the covers: Brian Patten, Derek Mahon and Gerald Scarfe (the cartoonist, not poet) amongst them. Not Liz, at least when I was there. But I discovered her pamphlet and was electrified. A very soulful photo of her sitting on a hill with one of Edinburgh's mountains, Arthur's Seat in the background was the cover. She later told me that was the photographer's idea and never a true depiction of her character. The poems made a witty play with cliche, in the language of now, and made me realize that the lives of women could be poetry. Women could be poets too.

Many years later, I came up to the Edinburgh Festival in the late 1980s (probably 1987 or 1988?) and was thrilled to have front row seats at a cabaret-stye poetry performance by Liz. There was no stage, just a darkened room with Liz spot-lit, standing only yards from where I was sitting. I don't remember the venue - possibly the old Traverse site in the Grassmarket? nor the exact poems but they were feminist, hard-hitting, funny and I totally identified with them.

Scroll on a few years, when my husband and I unexpectedly moved to Edinburgh (for job reasons), and when I was accepted on the MPhil at Glasgow University Creative Writing programme, I was thrilled to have Liz as my tutor. Very privileged since she only stayed a year before pressure of play commissions etc meant she was forced to resign as university tutor. The first day I met her I gushed praises for her work and how much it meant to me and she quickly turned the subject. Liz does not court praise.

Liz said today at the National Library of Scotland where she was announced the Makar, shown on TV, that she wants kids to 'enjoy poetry not see it as a penance'. She wants to encourage 'the speaking of it and learning of it by heart as well as reading and writing it.'

Great. Poetry as fun. Not a hated, academic exercize of identifying and ticking off tropes as my son had to do at school. (Rather like identifying all the ingredients of a cake but never making it or eating it, I've always thought.)

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