Nature writer Kathleen Jamie unveiled as Scotland's new Makar

Kathleen Jamie has been unveiled as Scotland’s new national poet – nearly 40 years after her first collection was published.

Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 12:44 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 5:35 pm
Kathleen Jamie was unveiled as the new Makar at the Scottish Poetry Library. Picture: Robert Perry/PA Wire

The award-winning poet, one of Scotland’s leading nature writers, has succeeded Jackie Kay as Makar and is the fourth writer to hold the title.

The Fife-based writer suggested she was likely to focus much of her writing on environmental issues and the natural world during her three-year tenure.

She has been appointed Makar five years after winning the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year prize for her collection The Bonniest Companie.

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The appointment will see Jamie champion Scottish poetry around the country as well as produce new work for significant events.

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The Scotsman Sessions #77: Kathleen Jamie

Born in Renfrewshire and brought up in Edinburgh, Jamie won her first award at the age of 19 while she was studying philosophy at Edinburgh University. Her first poetry collection, Black Spiders, was published the following year.

The Scottish Government created the role of Makar in 2004 when Edwin Morgan was appointed. After he passed away in 2010, Morgan was succeeded by Liz Lochhead.

Kathleen Jamie has been unveiled as Scotland's fourth Makar.

Jamie, who was appointed by the government for the next three years, was recommended for the role by an expert panel drawn from the Scottish literary sector.

Unveiled as the new Makar by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Poetry Library, Jamie said: “I was asked about a week ago if I would take a call from the First Minister to be invited to take up the role.

“I was actually on holiday in Orkney at the time and ended up taking the call sitting underneath a standing stone at the Ring of Brodgar, so it felt like I was channelling the energy of the stones.

"I was honoured, but also daunted to be asked. The role is for three years now, rather than five, as it has been previously, which I think is more manageable for everybody and means there will be more variety of Makars in future.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled Kathleen Jamie as Scotland's new Makar at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh. Picture: Robert Perry/PA Wire

"It's come at a perfect time in my life and it’s a role that comes with a lot of opportunities.

"It’s still a relatively new role, but I don’t think I could imagine the country without it now. It's been a good thing. We’re all very different.

"You have just yourself to be yourself and bring your own stamp to it.

"For the last 20 years or so, my work has increasingly concentrated on the natural world and the environment. I wouldn't say that will be a theme for me, for the next three years I can really think about that, although that wouldn’t be the sole extent of what I do.

“There is such an enormous amount of new nature writing now. It was nowhere 20 years ago.

“I think I will be asked to respond to certain occasions throughout the year, but I have no idea what yet.”

Jamie first started writing poetry when she was still at school in Edinburgh. Her writing came to the attention of poet Douglas Dunn while she was at university, where she won her first award, from the Society of Authors, when she was 19.

Jamie added: “I started off writing wee poems in my parents’ house in Edinburgh when I was around 15 and just kept going.”

Kathleen Jamie read out her poem The Wishing Tree after she was unveiled as the new Makar.

THE WISHING TREE

I stand neither in the wildernessnor fairyland

but in the foldof a green hill

the tilt from one parishinto another.

To look at methrough a smirr of rain

is to taste the ironin your own blood

because I hoardthe common currency

of longing: each wisheach secret assignation.

My limbs lift, scabbedwith greenish coins

I draw into my slow woodfleur-de-lys, the enthroned Brittania.

Behind me, the landreaches toward the Atlantic.

And though I’m poisonedchoking on the small change

of human hope,daily beaten into me

look: I am still alive –in fact, in bud.

By Kathleen Jamie

From The Tree House (Picador, 2004)