Evening with Scots Makar delights poetry lovers

After Border writers’ group The Eildon Tree hosted The Scots Makar, Liz Lochhead, at the Heart of Hawick last week, Selkirk-based writer and Eildon Tree co-editor Julian Colton reviews the readings of Scotland’s national poet

Tower Mill was the venue last Friday for the eagerly anticipated Eildon Tree magazine 12+1 event with an evening of poetry given by the Scots Makar Liz Lochhead.

These special one-off annual readings celebrate the continued existence of the Borders own publically funded literary magazine and have certainly captured the public’s attention. There is clearly a substantial constituency in the region with an appetite for high quality poetry events.

Liz Lochhead didn’t disappoint another packed and very appreciative auditorium. Sticking mainly, though not exclusively, to her greatly acclaimed selected poems published in her most recent book - A Choosing - the collection gives a fine overview of her poetic canon of the last forty years.

Beginning with her early works - Kidspoem/Bairnsang, Listen, and The Choosing (the first poem she ever wrote) - it was easy to see the profound influence she has had on the Scottish writing scene, and on Scottish writers in general. Poem for my Sister, After a Warrant Sale, Poem for Other Poor Fools and My Rival’s House all displayed her relish for female concerns where the ‘I’ is often the poet herself. Deceptively simple language and speech rhythms draw her audience/readers close with street level, domestic universality.

Social History and 1966, a poem specially commissioned by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, further mined this social seam whereas What the Pool Said, on Midsummer’s Day and The Year’s Midnight were more enigmatic companion pieces.

Lochhead moved on to recite two heartfelt and moving poems in tribute to her great friend the late singer-songwriter Michael Marra who died recently. Her choice of tribute included Ira and George which expresses the often complex nature of the creative process.

Finishing the first part of the reading with The Newly Married Miner, Lochhead paused to receive rapturous applause before taking questions from her audience. Ensuing questions reflected the knowledgeable and inquiring nature of those in attendance.

Lochhead concluded the evening with a final gem- the wry opening recitation from Mary Queen of Scots Got her Head Chopped Off, perhaps her best known and best loved play.

Signing copies of her books rounded off a wonderful and engaging evening, which lived up to its billing as a chance to ‘Meet the Makar.’ Carol Ann Duffy followed by Liz Lochhead… the poetry-loving Borders audience must be wondering who The Eildon Tree and Tower Mill will present next?