Liz Lochhead's debut poetry collection, Memo to Spring, is as moving and vital as it was 50 years ago – Laura Waddell

Newly published this week is the 50th anniversary edition of Liz Lochhead’s debut poetry collection. For modern Scottish women writers, Memo for Spring is a landmark.

It cannot be underestimated what it meant to other, budding woman writers to see Lochhead appear on the very male-dominated scene of the 1970s. As the introduction by Ali Smith says, “A poet who’s a woman, and a Scot! That you could be all three of these things!”

It’s a pleasure to reacquaint myself with Memo for Spring, which I first read as a teenager. I like Lochhead’s dispatches from Lanarkshire. “My hard edged steel town/ seen through the blur of bus windows” in ‘On Midsummer Common’ evocatively summons June in central Scotland: “So much is spilt –/ the steel clang, the crash of creeds,/ the overflow of shouts and songs,/ the sprawl of litter,/ the seep of smells,/ the sweat, the vinegar, the beer –/ so much slops/ into that night nothing goes gentle into,/ not even rain.’

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Here too is the absurdity of everyday life. “It’s as if/ upstairs/ from me/ lives some crazy projectionist/ running all his reels at once.”

In Morning After is an eerie touch of the prophetic, “the Sunday papers/ held like screens before us… I shiver/ while you flick too quickly/ too casually through the pages, with/ too passing/ an interest.”

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This, remember, was published in 1972. The technology has changed, but the tender-hearted study of human behaviour has endured.

And there’s the nostalgic. In Poem on a Day Trip, she writes, “I rush for Woolworths’ anonymous aisles,/ I feel at home here/ you could be anywhere –/ even in Glasgow.”

Liz Lochhead's debut poetry collection, Memo for Spring, has stood the test of time (Picture: Toby Williams)Liz Lochhead's debut poetry collection, Memo for Spring, has stood the test of time (Picture: Toby Williams)
Liz Lochhead's debut poetry collection, Memo for Spring, has stood the test of time (Picture: Toby Williams)

When Lochhead published this collection, she was in her mid-20s. When I was in my mid-20s, I was living in Glasgow city centre and Woolworths was closing down. I felt the pang of loss.

The Woolworths on Argyle Street wasn’t so different from the one on Coatbridge Main Street, in which I’d whiled away hours with my best friend looking at cassette tapes and sniffing the fruity scented bubble baths. This tribute to the comfort of familiarity – being somewhere that you can afford to be – resonates with me most.

The everyday life that Memo to Spring describes still touches a nerve, 50 years later.

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