Meeting the Makar


This was meant to be a catch-up post, but yesterday evening I stumbled across this even in the Culture Lab by pure chance, and it was great, so we’re talking about that instead. The event that I stumbled across was ‘What’s a Makar?’, hosted by the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts at the Culture Lab. The event was a talk, with poetry readings, with Jackie Kay (National Makar of Scotland), Bill Herbert (Makar for Dundee) and Asif Khan (Director of the Scottish Poetry Library). The topic of discussion was what it means to be a Makar, how Makar-ship differs from the equivalent English role of Poet Laureate, and generally how the three of them do their work and make it relevant to the public.

There was a general feeling that, compared to the Poet Laureate, the Makar was a role that belonged more to the people than the literary establishment, and one that allowed for a little more freedom. Kay talked about her plans to visit the different Scottish isles, and her experience reading a poem for the opening of the Scottish Parliament. She also talked more broadly about her engagement with politics, reading her poem Extinction on the topic of the closing of the borders in the UK, lamenting that she couldn’t read it in Nigel Farage’s voice.

Bill Herbert was also brilliant to hear from, especially his poems Whose English is it Anyway?, ‘Dundee Dreaming’ and ‘The Silver Bridie’, the latter done in the style of William William McGonagall aka the (best) worst poet in the history of poetry.  I was interested to hear that spoken word and poetry slams came up in discussion, and there was a definite feeling that events like these are arguably where the celebrated tradition of folk poetry is most alive today.

Jackie Kay rounded off the night with the lovely poem A Lang Promise, and then it was time for questions. All-in-all it was great event, with a lot packed into just over and hour, and I’m glad to have stumbled across it. I’ll definitely be checking out more NCLA events in the future (-:



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