Kathleen Jamie becomes Scotland's new makar
Kathleen Jamie has been appointed as Scotland’s next makar, its national poet. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon formally welcomed Jamie, 59, to the role at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh.
Jamie was appointed by the first minister for a three-year term – a change to the usual five years - on the recommendation of an expert panel representing Scotland’s literary sector. She is the fourth person to hold the role since it was established by the Scottish parliament in 2004, following Jackie Kay, Liz Lochhead, and Edwin Morgan.
Nicola Sturgeon said: “Poetry is integral to Scotland’s culture and history. The makar has a central role in celebrating that legacy, and preserving its future by encouraging the next generation of young writers to leave their mark.
“Kathleen is a highly accomplished poet who is known for her works in English and Scots, and the meaningful connections her writing draws between our lives and the landscape around us. I have no doubt she will continue to build on the exceptional work of her predecessors to promote Scottish poetry both here and abroad."
Jamie's 2004 collection The Tree House revealed an increasing interest in the natural world, and won the Forward Poetry prize and the Scottish Book of the Year award. The Overhaul in 2012 won the Costa poetry award. A poem by Jamie is inscribed on the national monument at Bannockburn.
Jamie said she was “honoured and delighted to be appointed as Scotland’s new makar. The post confirms a weel-kent truth: that poetry abides at the heart of Scottish culture, in all our languages, old and new. It’s mysterious, undefinable and bold. It runs deep and sparkles at once.
“Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay and the late Edwin Morgan have held this post before me, a trio of major poets. If I can achieve half of their outreach, humour and wisdom, not to mention their wonderful verse, I’ll be doing well. My task as I see it is to meet folk, to support and encourage poetry, to laugh and lament and witness, and occasionally speak to our national life. I’m excited to begin.”
In 2014 she spoke out on Scottish independence, in the run-up before the referendum, in an article for the New York Times. Jamie said the issue was less about nationalism than about “a crisis of democracy that has built up over the last 30 years.
“Scotland gets what the south of England wants, regardless of its own aspirations and its own votes. (Currently that means a government dominated by Conservatives, even though only one of the 59 Scottish MPs is a Conservative). Westminster imposes policies that many Scots consider irrelevant at best, and self-serving and cruel at worst.
“Many believe that under ‘Team GB’ our industries have been swept away (under a Cameron predecessor, Margaret Thatcher), our social contract torn up, the fabric of our communities assaulted, our poor demonised, our immigrants deported, and our social services starved, withdrawn, privatised.”
Jamie added: “I’m writing from the Orkney islands in the far north of Scotland, a place of sea and hills, with a dynamic economy based on agriculture and oil, with as many links to Norway as to London. Here the terms 'British' and 'United Kingdom' already feel remote. It is odd to hear them used as rallying cries; they awake no sentiment any more.
"Those of us who want Scotland’s independence want it because we have no further interest in being part of a UK 'brand'; we no longer want to punch above our weight. We seek a fresh understanding of ourselves and our relationships with the rest of Europe and the wider world. If Scotland were independent, we would have control over our own welfare and immigration policies, look more to our Scandinavian neighbours and rid ourselves of nuclear weapons."
Asif Khan, director at the Scottish Poetry Library, said: “Kathleen Jamie is a generational talent - an exceptional Scottish writer of any era. Jamie’s poetry and prose sits with the best writing in English anywhere in the world. The poetry library looks forward to supporting the new makar’s programme of engagement at a time when poetry is treasured as an art form that can heal and unite communities, as well as inspire our young people, including New Scots, to see the world differently and reflect on their role in it.”
Alan Bett, head of literature and publishing at Creative Scotland, said: “Kathleen Jamie is an excellent choice for the makar, Scotland’s national poet. The quality of her work speaks for itself, and that work can and will speak to so many people across Scotland and beyond.
"The work can also speak to and challenge the current environmental context, with a strong focus on place and nature. I would like to offer my warm congratulations to Kathleen on this announcement and look forward to the creative projects that will connect her poetry with the nation.”
PHOTOGRAPH: GREG FREEMAN /WRITE OUT LOUD