The Mitchell Library, 11th March 2017
A makar is the poet of a place. On Saturday evening in the Mitchell Library, the voices of Scotland were heard aloud in the performances of previous Scottish makar Liz Lochhead, Glasgow’s makar Jim Carruth, and the current makar of Scotland Jackie Kay.
Upon being chosen as makar, Kay remarked that she wished to ‘open up the conversations, the blethers, the arguments and celebrations that Scotland has with itself and with the rest of the world’. Together with her fellow makars, this was definitely achieved. Universal and timeless themes of parentage, love, loss and a passion for literature came alive while, at the same time, all three poets addressed problems specific to Scotland and its place in and connection to the rest of the world. To add to that, the whole evening felt comfortingly Scottish: a welcoming, generous atmosphere interspersed by a shared laugh and the odd cheeky wee joke.
The evening was truly inspiring because of the myriad of approaches taken to themes related to Scottish identity. Particularly pertinent were Liz Lochhead’s poems linking our current multicultural status to the history of the commonwealth and the inescapable responsibilities and questions that arise from such a complex heritage. Jim Carruth brought the Scottish countryside alive by sharing poems of a deeply touching and personal nature. Despite being the makar of Glasgow, this pastoral focus did not seem misplaced. Rather it reminded me of the intimate connection between urban and rural life, whilst also giving a voice to specifically rural problems.
The remarkable evening was concluded by Scotland’s current makar, Jackie Kay. By choosing poems focusing on vastly different topics, mixing slang and Scots, she gave us an insight into a range of identity questions everyone faces at some point. She established an intimate connection with the audience with her warm and yet passionate nature, making her lyrical poems all the more touching.
The inherent power of words was demonstrated by the evident impact left by all poets on the listeners. Indeed, the influence and importance of libraries, language and communication became a central theme of the evening. I, for one, left with a profound realization of the importance of literature and a potent desire to delve deeper into its joys.