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StAnza raises a glass to Scotland’s new Makar: Kathleen Jamie

Wednesday 18 August 2021, 12:22

Photo of loch, small house and boat

 

by Lucy Burnett, Festival Director

 

Kathleen Jamie has described her poem ‘Lochan’ as simply being about feeling tired, but in the context of the past year-and-a-half of lockdowns it has had particular resonance:

 

When all this is over I mean
to travel north, by the high

 

           drove roads and cart tracks
           probably in June…

Makars and laureates might be thought of as occasional poets, writing poems to mark ‘occasions’. And with this in mind, Kathleen Jamie perhaps seems a strange choice for the makarship. Certainly (and literally) her poems can be occasional in that she isn’t afraid of not writing, of silence. But in my reading, Jamie’s poems are themselves occasions, in their direct simplicity of language and their rooted solidity; as realisations of those moments of intent listening and looking – attention – from which they issue. Substantive pauses… my descriptions aren’t adequate. You need to read the work itself.

 

‘Lochan’ was published in Jamie’s 1999 collection Jizzen, so many years before the pandemic. Yet its sense of poetic occasion enables it to resonate with ‘occasions’ far beyond its inception. I’m minded for some reason of the hand-polished stone from a stream in Galloway that I carry around with me in my pocket, and which my Mum carried around in her own pocket before me. Perhaps appropriately to this blog piece, ‘Lochan’ is dedicated to Jean Johnstone, the wife of the late Brian Johnstone, one of the three founders of StAnza. The poem has echoes of Basho’s A Narrow Road to the Deep North, and an equal sense of spirituality in direct, honest simplicity which one would associate with the haiku master.

 

These are some of the aspects of her work that make all of us at StAnza thrilled by the choice of Kathleen Jamie as Scotland’s new Makar. Edwin Morgan, Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay…the poets who have come before are as varied as they are illustrious, and Jamie equally offers something new. Her poetry requires attention without drawing attention to itself. She writes on her website that, ‘I still don’t know what poetry is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not about my “voice”.’ This self-effacing approach finds realisation in her work, as in the following lines from ‘The Wishing Tree’, the poem she read at this morning’s announcement with the First Minister:

 

And though I’m poisoned

choking on the small change

 

of human hope,

daily beaten into me

 

look: I am still alive –

in fact in bud.

 

Here is a poet aware of all our human limitations and failings, including her own, most especially in the context of environmental crisis. I think the way in which Jamie de-centres her own voice and emphasises the importance of paying close attention to the more-than-human world makes her ideally suited to this role right now.

 

Headshot of Kathleen Jamie, smilingJamie resists being labelled an environmental / nature poet, as she rightly resists many labels! But it’s certainly the case that the environment and a commitment to the more-than-human world are core concerns and preoccupations. In her introduction to the recent anthology of Scottish nature writing Antlers of Water, Jamie refers to its interest in the ‘intersection of modernity and nature in a rapidly changing Scotland,’ and such a description equally suits her own practice. In the context of Glasgow’s upcoming hosting of COP26, then, Jamie’s appointment is hugely apposite (can I go as far as to say inspired?!) Only the other week, the latest climate change report emanating from the IPCC described anthropogenic climate change as ‘unequivocal’, while setting out both a warning as to the consequences of continued inaction, and also a sense of hope that it’s not quite too late yet. But what can poetry do about that? I hear you ask. I quote Jamie from the introduction to Antlers of Water:

 

As we realise we must halt destruction, reduce emissions and renegotiate our relationship with the natural world, our noticing is a vital contribution. Out of our noticing comes our art and our writing. For me, this noticing and caring, this attention, this writing from within personal circumstances, whether about an insect or a mountain, amounts to a political act. In a time of ecological crisis, I would argue that simply insisting upon our right to pay heed to natural landscapes and other nonhuman lifeforms amounts to an act of resistance to the forces of destruction. It doesn’t actually take much to be an eco-writer or a nature poet. It begins when you pay attention to the world, and to language, and strive to bring the two together. This writing matters. And so, crucially, does our reading.

 

I first read Jamie’s work in 2005 when I was gifted a copy of Findings upon departing my role as Parliamentary Officer at Friends of the Earth Scotland to complete a Creative Writing MA. Subsequently her name and work proved hugely relevant to my doctoral and postdoctoral academic research into the relationship between literature and the environment (specifically climate change). Of all the writers I read in this regard (and there were many), perhaps she captures the problem of writing the scale of climate change most evocatively in the opening of Surfacing:

 

D’ou venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Ou allons-nous?

 

At your cave mouth, you wonder if the ice will ever return, a natural cycle, or if we’ve gone too far with our Anthropocene. But who can answer that? We just can’t grasp the scale of our species’ effects. But the single falling stone which could smash our brains out – we understand that.

 

In this context, and also elsewhere, she quotes Hugh MacDiarmid’s line, 'Scotland, small?' I both imagine, and am hopeful, that during Jamie’s Makarship we will experience an enlarging of our understanding of who and what Scotland is, through an encouragement to focus upon its smallest details and relationships. She certainly has the refreshing art of saying everything by saying nothing, and not letting us become complacent in our Scottishness. I quote from a poem whose jingoistic sounding title ‘Wings of Scotland’ sits in marvellously constructive tension with the poem itself:

 

Glenogil Estate: poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran).

No prosecution.

Millden Estate: poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose).

No prosecution.

Millden Estate: poisoned golden eagle ‘Alma’ (Carbofuran).

No prosecution.

 

I needn’t continue…When Kathleen Jamie last read at StAnza in 2017 the event was so oversubscribed that we had to livestream (how 2021!) it into another venue so that everyone could attend. I very much look forward to welcoming her back over the coming years. I conclude here by inviting you to raise a glass / cup to Jamie (my own is a morning mug of coffee right now). I'd also like to turn to the Chair of StAnza, Robyn Marsack, who has a knack for finding the right line of poetry for every occasion. One of her favourites is from Edwin Morgan and feels appropriate here, at this moment of embarking:

 

It’s hard to go.

Let’s go!

 

The Makar position, in the current context, will undoubtedly bring its challenges over the coming years; all of us at StAnza wish Kathleen Jamie well. We hugely look forward to working with her to the benefit of Scottish poetry, and Scotland itself, over the next three years.

 

Categories: News

Poetry Map of Scotland: poem no. 418

Saturday 31 July 2021, 18:48

Elgin

I fell in love with the magic of Elgin.
No, not the famous marbles, nor the Earl who lifted them from the Parthenon in Greece.
A place named Elgin.
A town in Moray, Scotland that modern guidebooks frequently ignore.
An ancient site with nearly a thousand years of recorded history.
Home to a cathedral city founded in medieval times.
Without warning, Elgin stole my heart, and I have become its suitor.
There is much to discover about this magical place.
But first, let me tell you this story...

Deb Hosey White

View our full map of Scotland in Poems as it grows »

For instructions on how to submit your own poems, click here

All poems from our Poetry Map of Scotland  are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet's permission.

Categories: Poetry Map

Poetry Map of Scotland: poem no. 417

Thursday 29 July 2021, 16:55

A Journey to Caithness

Ranald Mackechnie, "A Journey to Caithness"

Ranald Mackechnie, "A Journey to Caithness"

Ranald MacKechnie

View our full map of Scotland in Poems as it grows »

For instructions on how to submit your own poems, click here

All poems from our Poetry Map of Scotland  are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet's permission.

Categories: Poetry Map

Poetry Map of Scotland: poem no. 416

Tuesday 27 July 2021, 14:39

Bey’s Day

Kittiwakes waken the morning
high cry, plaintive song and
my sleep-smeared eyes
blink in the dawn
I give thanks for daybreak

Sea-slap waves on sea-stack columns
I curve into my stone sanctuary
carved, cached in the red cliffs
home is bare, simple, solitary
I give thanks for home

Child comes with loaf, fish, smile
I smile too, and together
we prepare the eating place
one small table, two small bowls, three small gifts
and I give thanks for each mouthful

Noon brings the rain
and the chill and howl of wind
I fold myself into my cloak
bow my sodden head
and give thanks for this wild, good earth

Woman comes aching, weeping
I’ve known her sufferings before
we hold hands and gather comfort
the balm of herbs and hope
I give thanks for the kindness of creation

Evening comes quiet, firelight and prayer
behind the cliffs voices raise
village anger drips into my peace
and shatters the dusky light
I give thanks for blessed solitude

Bright moon and scattered stars
make brilliant the waves in the night
I cannot sleep, though it is late
and I am cold, weary too
Yet I give thanks for sleepless delight.

Vicky Allen

Note: St. Bey is the patron saint of Dunbar.

View our full map of Scotland in Poems as it grows »

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All poems from our Poetry Map of Scotland  are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet's permission.

Categories: Poetry Map

Poetry Map of Scotland: poem no. 415

Monday 26 July 2021, 14:35

"Slipway Frequencies," by Julie Laing

This is a concrete poem by Julie Laing.

Julie Laing, "Slipway Frequencies" (Poetry Map of Scotland poem no. 415)

Note: The poem responds to the present and past at Queens’ Quay, formerly John Brown’s shipyard. From here the QE2 and Queen Mary were launched. Its format is inspired by sound theorist R Murray Schafer’s work on soundscapes.

View our full map of Scotland in Poems as it grows »

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All poems from our Poetry Map of Scotland  are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet's permission.

Categories: Poetry Map

Poetry Map of Scotland: poem no. 414

Sunday 25 July 2021, 16:18

Loch Voil Dance

slow trusting movements
sun on my face
my hand on yours
                                                                        guiding me through air
                                                                        through water
                                                                        eyes closed
river flowing
hands touching
following bodies
                                                                                                up and down
                                                                                                ebbing and flowing
                                                                                                feet on Earth

                                                spring green grass
                                                grounded
                                                total trust

my hand on yours
deep sense of peace

                                                                                                your hand on mine
                                                                                                leading
                                                                                                taking care

                                                slow body sways
                                                soft sweeping curves

lightness of steps
lightness of touch
contact so subtle
                                                heartbeat so fast
                                                direction unknown

feeling unsafe
afraid to go far
afraid of the speed

                                                as if in a storm
                                                I am calm

                                                                                    sun on your face
                                                                                    hands still for a moment

Loretta Mulholland

View our full map of Scotland in Poems as it grows »

For instructions on how to submit your own poems, click here

All poems from our Poetry Map of Scotland  are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet's permission.

Categories: Poetry Map
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