Edinburgh Makar Hannah Lavery is a poet who can move football fans to tears – Laura Waddell

This week I’ve been enjoying and mulling over the debut poetry collection Blood Salt Spring by Hannah Lavery, who was named Makar of Edinburgh at the end of 2021.

Hannah Lavery's debut poetry collection Blood Salt Spring is a book rich in hope and love
Hannah Lavery's debut poetry collection Blood Salt Spring is a book rich in hope and love

There are lots of gems within; I’m drawn to the poems Backwards, Spilt Milk, and Rewrites. Scotland, You’re No Mine is a particular standout of Lavery’s performance repertoire, and here too it jumps off the page.

It’s by turns stinging, frustrated, loving and heartsick about being a Scot, a swaggering, staggering appraisal of race and belonging in contemporary “sweet forgetful Caledonia". It contains the beautiful, firm line “I am limpet stuck on you” and the gritty image of “sweat-stained sugar for your tablet".

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The poems Thirty Laughing Emojis and Abigail Says She’s a Witch conjure the claustrophobic and malevolent atmospheres of online culture wars; they are interspersed with pieces like I Sang You Rainbow Songs, which, coming like a rush of fresh air into the room, shares the quiet, reflective conversation between mother and child; honest, empathetic, and tender.

An anecdote I love about Hannah Lavery, and one that shows the connecting power of words, relates to when she performed her show The Drift for the cooperatively run The Workers Theatre on their launch weekender festival in Glasgow. A programme of theatre, spoken word, discussion and talks happened across small venues in the South Side of Glasgow, with the Glad Cafe as a sort of base camp.

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On the last night, it was filled with artists and poets, when some of the football crowd who'd left Hampden came in. They’d already had a few pints, and you know how it goes, with all live performances there’s a risk of hecklers – but they started listening to Hannah’s words, getting right into it, totally enraptured to the point of openly weeping.

And when I heard about it, I wished I’d been there, to see these two groups, each representing a side of Glasgow, sharing a moment together. Football fans and lefty artists, dreamers alike in the end.

With a debut collection like this, it’s no wonder Edinburgh chose Lavery as their Makar; here is all the struggle of nationhood and identity, everyday racism, and anxieties both global and domestic in scale; but at its heart, this is a book rich in hope and love.

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