Renfrewshire appoints first Makar

Councillor Eileen McCartin, with Makar Brian Whittingham, Provost Lorraine Cameron and Councillor Andy Doig
Councillor Eileen McCartin, with Makar Brian Whittingham, Provost Lorraine Cameron and Councillor Andy Doig
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A shipyard worker-turned poet has been appointed as Renfrewshire’s first ever official Poet Laureate.

Tannahill Makar Brian Whittingham, who previously worked as a plater in the Clyde shipyards and is now a poet, playwright and creative writing lecturer, will write poems to mark important events in the local area and encourage locals to forge an interest in poetry.

The move came after Renfrewshire Council agreed to a proposal by two councillors at a council meeting last year to appoint a Makar. Children’s author Jack Hastie originally put forward the proposals, then campaigned for support from local councillors Eileen McCartin and Andy Doig.

The Makar – who has been appointed for the next three years – will also visit schools, libraries and local groups to give readings and talks aimed at encouraging an interest in poetry.

Renfrewshire Provost Lorraine Cameron said: “The Makar will reflect the life of Renfrewshire through formal readings of poetry and will write at least five poems every year to mark moments of cultural importance or local life.”

Mr Whittingham, 68, lived in Renfrew for many years and became interested in writing poetry while attending the Paisley Writers’ Group while working at the shipyards, latterly as a draughtsman and steelworker, including a stint on the QE2. The writer, who left school aged 15 and has also worked as an oil rig inspector and taxi driver, has had nine collections of poetry published - as well as plays and short stories - and spent the last 16 years lecturing in creative writing at the City of Glasgow College. He has drawn on his

experiences as steelworker and draughtsman in both poetry and plays and performed his steel-working poems as part of the BBC’s ‘Ballad of the Big Ships Live’ in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall in 2007.

He said: “I would like to leave some kind of legacy by developing a love of poetry in the local community. I hope to get people to be more aware of poetry and appreciate that particular art form.”

‘Makar’ is the Scots word for the author of a literary work, and particularly for a poet or bard. The post has been created in all five of Scotland’s cities: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Aberdeen and Dundee.

Writer Jackie Kay was appointed as Makar for Scotland two years ago and will hold the position until 2020. The position of Scots Makar – initially held by the late Edwin Morgan - was created in February 2004 by the Scottish Government. Whittingham, who has also worked as Writer in Residence for East Lothian Council, recorded Morgan’s poem ‘The Loch Ness Monster Song’ as a tribute along with other invited poets, to celebrate the 80th birthday of the poet.