Poetry News

Scotland's new poet laureate still unnamed, undefined

By Harriet Staff

The Guardian reports on Scotland's difficulties in naming its new poet laureate nearly three months after the death of Edwin Morgan. Morgan was the first ever poet laureate of Scotland and while he was appointed with no debate because he was considered to "be the obvious choice amongst all those who would've expressed an opinion at the time," the challenge isn't just about coming up with someone to fill his particularly large shoes.

Unlike other countries, Scotland has yet to make any distinctions about what the post would officially entail, which would effect both the choice of poet, and whether the poet would choose to accept the honor.

There had been no public discussion about whether it would be a "working" role or purely honorary. [Robyn] Marsack said some poets would relish a time-limited appointment; others would be ideal if it involved visiting schools and promoting poetry to new audiences; while some very popular poets could be great ambassadors even if they were not technically the best.

The UK's poet laureate, now Carol Ann Duffy, also a Scot, is appointed for 10 years and receives an honorarium of £5,750 a year. In New Zealand, the laureate produces a book of work at the end of his or her tenure.

Marsack, the director of the Scottish Poetry Library and chair of the Literature Forum for Scotland, feels strongly that in order to do justice to the process, it must be transparent for the public as well as for the poets themselves. Her belief that no one should be throwing around names until Scotland decides what exactly is being named hasn't slowed the speculation any.

Duking it out at the top of the list to succeed him as makar are Don Paterson and Robin Robertson... But this is by no means a two-horse race. John Burnside's darkly shadowed poems blend nature and philosophy across sinuously musical lines; Jackie Kay's expansive, compassionate voice runs through all her writing; Kathleen Jamie's superb book of essays, Findings, proves her credentials as Scotland's foremost landscape writer. Last but not least are the reigning mother and father of Scottish poetry, Douglas Dunn – whose work encompasses both the political and, in 1985's Elegies, the deeply personal – and Liz Lochhead, who has spent nearly half a century investigating politics, gender and place in lubricious, lyrical verse.