Is there a poet more passionate about poetry in Edinburgh than the city’s Makar Christine De Luca? Perhaps, but if so, I have yet to meet them. From my perch in the Scottish Poetry Library, I’d watch De Luca attend just about every event that the SPL held. Syrian, Polish, young Scottish – no matter the provenance of the poets, De Luca came along to listen. We often have poets come to our events, but no-one on De Luca’s scale. You’d think she had a season ticket.
Her enthusiasm for poetry from all parts of the world was one of the reasons the SPL invited Edinburgh’s Makar to become the latest guest in its My Life in Poetry series on October 14 (NLS, 2pm, £3 / £2). What, I hear you ask, is My Life in Poetry? It can be summed up in a few words – Desert Island Discs with poems replacing songs.
Since the artist Brigid Collins kicked-off the series in August 2002, My Life in Poetry has featured Jackie Kay, Andrew O’Hagan, Michael Longley, A. L. Kennedy, Louis de Berniere, Mark Doty and Joanne Harris. The chosen poems touch on important moments in the guest’s life. Audiences leave the event with a new way of looking at the guest, not to mention a bunch of new poems to enjoy. Choices are often personally and artistically revealing. For example, Simon Armitage, who chose both Wordsworth and John Cooper Clarke, said, ‘Looking through [my list], there’s little or no ‘modernism’ here. This is because of my preference for poetry which sounds like some form of speech, or has a direct relationship with the human voice.’
De Luca’s own poetry is very much concerned with the human voice, perhaps as a consequence of her upbringing. Born in 1947 and brought up in Shetland, De Luca moved to Edinburgh in her late teens to study at the University. Although she didn’t return to live again in Shetland, she began to write in the native dialect she grew up speaking. She has since become an advocate for Shetlandic, taking the language round the world and fostering links with similar linguistic cultures, especially in Scandinavia.
In 2014, her words were featured on the BBC and ITV, her conciliatory poem about the Independence Referendum, ‘The Morning After’, introducing a much needed note of calm into then febrile proceedings. It was fitting then last year, when Ron Butlin stepped down as Edinburgh Makar that De Luca’s name be put forward. She has since proved to be a marvellous ambassador for poetry, whether it be her work with schools such as her ‘Tweet Your Street’ project, or unveiling the SPL’s Big Words project, which saw the UK’s largest printed poem put up on the side of the Sailor’s Ark building in the Canongate on a 12m x 8m scaffolding sheeting.
Personally, I’m looking forward to hearing which 8 poems the Edinburgh Makar chooses. And as a ticket costs a mere £3 (or £2 concessions), who could say no? A post-lunch treat for the capital’s poetry fans.
My Life in Poetry with Christine De Luca
Wednesday, 14 October
National Library of Scotland, 2pm
£3 / £2
Reserve a ticket online here