Edinburgh’s Makar, Christine De Luca writes for ELISA – Part 1: What is a Makar?

Happy New Year
Bliadhna Mhath Ùr
&
a Fine New’er tae all!

Over the next three weeks ELISA is very excited to be presenting some guest posts by Edinburgh’s current Maker, Christine De Luca.  In Part 1 Christine tells us about her work as Maker and her recent visit to Kraków, another City of Literature…

 

What is a Makar?
The Scots word Makar means ‘one who fashions, constructs, produces etc.’ (Dictionary of the Scots Language).  In a literary context it is the role of the poet or author as a worker in the craft of writing.

 

Why does Edinburgh have a Makar and how did it come about?
In 2002 four organisations came together in the city to establish the role of Makar (Poet Laureate), to celebrate the importance of writers in the life of the city.  These organisations were the Scottish Poetry Library, the City of Edinburgh Council, Scottish PEN and the Saltire Society.

About this time Edinburgh was encouraging UNESCO to establish a worldwide network of Cities of Literature; and to designate Edinburgh as the first. The bid was successful and, in 2014, Edinburgh celebrated its 10th anniversary as the first City of Literature. So now the UNESCO City of Literature Trust is another key body involved in the selection of the Edinburgh Makar.

The criteria guiding the choice of Makar by the five bodies are that nominees must:

  • be resident in, or have a strong connection with, the City of Edinburgh
  • have an established reputation as a poet
  • have the ability to act as the City’s literary ambassador.

It is a civic appointment, an honorary post, lasting generally for a period of three years. The Makar receives a small honorarium from the Council.  Previous Makars were Stewart Conn, Valerie Gillies and Ron Butlin.  My tenure is from 2014 – 2017

 

What are we expected to do as Makar?

  • to act as the City’s literary ambassador: meet & greet; do short talks; take part in events; do a ‘reflection’ for the full Council; occasionally act as a poetry judge; help with promoting poetry
  • to write the occasional poem for the city

And it seems we can

  • react to requests which may be relevant. (I am, for example, currently working on a poem for the traders in the Royal Mile.)
  • proactively engage with citizens through poetry. (I am for example, currently planning a project with primary schools; and creating a dedicated Makar website to help communication.)

Most of my work is in Edinburgh but, in late October 2014, I was invited as Edinburgh Makar to join a small Scottish contingent at the Conrad Literary Festival in Krakow, Poland.

a Polish version of 'Edinburgh Volte-Face' projected onto a wall in the Rynek Główny (main square), Kraków
a Polish version of ‘Edinburgh Volte-Face’ projected onto a wall in the Rynek Główny (main square), Kraków

This was a wonderful opportunity to visit a city I had long wanted to see, a city which had recently been designated a UNESCO City of Literature.  To welcome us they had projected poems on to a wall in a city centre square.  The poem of mine selected was less than flattering about Edinburgh! (But I did write it a long time ago and balanced it with a love poem to the city, written more recently!)

I chose to read these two poems because they are simple, direct and contrasting poems. Also, they are both written in English; not in Shetlandic (my mother tongue):

 

Edinburgh Volte-Face

 

City of seven hills

rivalling Rome: you are

the big sister of all cities,

forever tut-tutting.

 

City of venerable skylines;

each morning you un-do yourself

like someone more anxious to save

the wrapping than enjoy the gift.

 

City of open spaces: for you

no strollers in the forum; merely

a scurry of solicitors, vellum-faced

with long north-facing days,

and little women, worn

from cleaning other people’s stairs.

 

City of the great estates;

you have no outer wall,

but numerous apartheids

charitably maintained.

 

City of seven hills

rivalling Rome: I hold

your negative to the light,

and see your true topography.

 

the poem, projected in english
the poem, projected in English

 

Getting to know you
Edinburgh

 

It was never love at first sight

though my heart skipped a beat:

your fingertips, skyline’s stroke;

your crisp couture, the cut,

the allure; just a hint of the roué.

But there was something reserved

resistant – Namaste, that divine spark –

your self-assurance; respect perhaps,

that made me keep my distance.

 

We took our time getting intimate

lowering our defences bit by bit.

I’ve all but forgotten that coldness,

the standoffishness you cultivated,

a particular view of refinement.

We are still falling for one another.

You’ve opened your arms; I’ve opened

my eyes. You’re under my skin now.

I defend you against all-comers.

 

You can read more from Christine in Part 2: Mysterious Book Sculptures next week…

the Rynek Główny, Kraków
the Rynek Główny, Kraków
flower stalls, Kraków
flower stalls, Kraków
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