Liz Lochhead’s tenure as Scotland’s Makar from 2011-2016 is celebrated in the publication of a new poetry collection, Fugitive Colours. Poems written for public occasions during her time as Scotland’s national poet sit alongside poems about people, places, and relationships. Previously unpublished work is also included.
Fugitive Colours, Liz Lochhead’s stunning new poetry collection, begins with an intensely personal journey inscribed upon Scotland’s familiar landscape. The poem ‘Favourite Place’ recounts a habitual journey from Glasgow to Lochaber, made joyfully for years, now undertaken as a pilgrimage in the shadow of grief. This powerful, deeply felt beginning to a collection of poems from the years of her Makarship is a testament to Lochhead’s knack for the unflinching and the unexpected. These are not bland poems about public occasions, they reflect a life and honour its places, enthusiasms, loves, fears, and friendships.
‘An inspirational presence in British poetry – funny, feisty, female, full of feeling’ – Carol Ann Duffy
Befitting its celebration of her tenure as Makar, the collection joyfully invokes the poetic tradition. The most affectionate and attentive treatment is for the Scottish pantheon: the tables are turned on Robert Burns (and on Lochhead herself) in ‘From a Mouse’, for example, but poets as diverse as Ben Jonson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Lowell, and the Romantics en masse are all drawn into Lochhead’s referential scheme. Her reflections on the samples from other poets’ verse are incisive, invigorating both their work and her own.
Lochhead has long been a bold commentator on the Scottish cultural scene. Many poems in the collection pose the question of their own efficacy: again and again, particularly in the section of ‘Makar Poems’ on public life, the discrepancy between speech and action is interrogated. ‘Open’, written for the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 2011, concludes with the exhortation to, ‘close the gap between what we say and what we do.’ The sense emanating from Lochhead’s pages is that ‘getting it right’ on paper is to do something by saying it in the best possible manner.
Throughout her career Lochhead has been described as a poet, playwright, translator and broadcaster; she maintains that, ‘when somebody asks me what I do I usually say writer. The most precious thing to me is to be a poet. As a playwright, I’d like to be known as a poet in the theatre.’ The collection reflects this with aplomb; the corner devoted to the theatre contains a celebration of the reopening of Glasgow’s Theatre Royal, a tribute to David MacLennan and Òran Mór, and a rendering of Shakespeare into Scots, ‘Nick Dowp, Feeling Miscast in a Very English Production, Rehearses Bottom’s Dream.’