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Meet your makar

Pauline McLean | 21:20 UK time, Wednesday, 19 January 2011

I'm not sure if I can help resolve the argument about the derivation of the word Ned, although my concern remains that the acronym NED, or non-educated delinquent, as spelled out in the film's title sequence, post-dates its 70s setting, and thus adds modern sentiment.

I'm on more solid ground with the derivation of the word Makar - which dates back to the 15th and 16th century and refers to poets like Dunbar and Henryson (who in turn used it to describe Chaucer and Shakespeare).

It's a clever phrase, suggesting craft and skill as well as the more ephemeral elements of poetry.

Mostly makars were appointed by the monarch - and turned out poems for state occasions.

Today it's the first minister who decides the name of the national makar.

Labour first minister Jack McConnell made the first appointment -Edwin Morgan - in 2004.

Morgan was ill with cancer at the time, and few could have imagined how well he'd embrace the role - writing a string of popular and public poems.

When Morgan died last August, the SNP government decided to continue the post.

For the past few months they've been consulting the small literary community for their views and one name has come to the fore.

Not only is Liz Lochhead a hugely popular and populist poet with a body of work stretching back over four decades but she was a close personal friend of Edwin Morgan.

As a woman, and a feminist, she offers an obvious comparison to UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

And like Morgan, she also moves easily between languages and genres, an established playwright as well as a poet.

All of which will help.

While the government is shady on the details of what the role will entail, thankfully Liz Lochhead has never knowingly been lost for words and today she said she hoped she'd be seen as an ambassador, particularly in encouraging young people to read poetry, and read it aloud.

She says she hopes it will encourage her to write more, but won't be writing poetry to order.

And aptly her first official outing will be later this week,when she opens the Burns birthplace museum in Alloway.

Another makar - popular and pleasing - who's only truly being recognised 252 years after his birth with a museum dedicated to his life and work.

It's a good week to be a poet in Scotland.


  • Comment number 1.

    I am so pleased that Liz Lochead is the new Makar and I hate to be nitpicker, but.... much as I believe my fellow Fifer Henryson was a genius, given he died before Shakespeare was born I am not convinced he described Shakespeare as a Makar. But maybe I underestimate his genius?

  • Comment number 2.

    Ranjeeb - that's a very good point. A poetic slip of the tongue. Shakespeare shouldn't have been included.

  • Comment number 3.

    What's that? historically appointments were made by monarchy and now by the first change here then! If it reduces unemployement, brings in foriegn investment, stops world hunger, reduces the green house effect, wipes out crime...wait a minute I'm gettin ahead of myself, of course this appointment will do none of that! I might be interested if the lady comes up with a really, really sarcastic piece that truly depicts the elite of the human race..............and begins with the letter $.


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