The power of the single poet: why Scotland’s Makar championing literature makes more sense than an Academy

In appointing Liz Lochhead as the Makar of Scotland, the Scottish Government has not only selected a popular and accessible poet but has also defined the role. Liz Lochhead will have a role in promoting Scottish literature at home and internationally as announced by Scottish Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop . This makes absolute sense and Liz Lochhead, modest, personable and very much her own person, should be brilliant at this.  In her first offical engagement,  she opened  the Robert Burns  Birthplace Museum in Alloway, and read not one of her own poems but brought to life Burns’ own  epitomal Tae a Mouse through reciting it.  And, as she wrote, poets need no laurels..

Poets need not

be garlanded;
the poet’s head
should be innocent of the leaves of the sweet bay tree,
twisted. All honour goes to poetry…. (more)

The announcement of the details of her role has been made at the same time as the rejection of some of the proposals made by Scottish Literature Working Group.  This group was convened before Creative Scotland was established and before the full implications of our empty public coffers were understood. It had some good ideas, strongly waved the flag for literature but got a bit tangled up in its ideas for structures.  One of its key proposals was for a Scottish Academy for Literature but this has been shelved in favour of a suite of activities and advocacy by Creative Scotland working with Liz Lochhead in her role as Makar.

The power of the single artist, the poet, the piper, the painter is often greater than that of the public policy or institution.  Scotland should empower its artists and the public agencies should work alongside and behind them. For the Makar to play a role as a champion for literature in Scotland makes more sense than new structures and institutions for now.

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