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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Back to school with Makar, Liz Lochhead

This feature appeared in The Herald Arts section on 2/3/13
It's always hard to write about your writing heroes... this took me forever. Rewriting, subbing, tinkering. Wanting to do justice.
Liz is very down-to-earth and warm and so far, she hasn't loomed over me with a red pen. There's still time.
I've met Liz and her sister, Janice, several times at George Wyllie-related events. She works away tirelessly behind the scenes of the world that is our creative Scotland; speaking at events, visiting schools, accepting invitations to write forewords for poetry books (mea culpa) and all sorts.
People who work in the corporate world would be gobsmacked if they knew how little she gets paid to be our Makar, or National Poet. I was. (She didn't tell me, by the way...)
It's probably not about that for her and for the other people like her and I'm sure in the greater scheme of things her contribution is far above rubies. One to ponder though...

Art work by Liz Lochhead, now on show at Competent at Peever
Competent at Peever 
Scotland Street School Museum
225 Scotland St, Glasgow
0141 287 0500
Until April 7 

Memory, as Liz Lochhead, puts it, is a collage. An intricate, interwoven miscellany. No matter how hard we try, ‘those wee imaginary snapshots of the heart and mind’ tumble and fall in the mind’s eye. 
“Memory is a creative process,” adds our national poet, or Makar, to give Lochhead the official title bestowed on her by the Scottish Government in 2011. “There is no difference between memory and imagination.”
Lochhead, who is now 65, has often mined the landscape of her childhood in the small North Lanarkshire village of Newarthill in her writing.
She is turning back the clock once again for this new exhibition, Competent At Peever, at Scotland Street School Museum, a Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed building on Glasgow’s south side.
Lochhead, who studied at Glasgow School of Art (GSA ) from 1967-1970, has spent a year at Scotland Street School after a successful application by the Glasgow Mackintosh Group to the Iconic Artists in Iconic Places programme, run jointly by Museums Galleries Scotland and Creative Scotland.
The title of the exhibition, in which she has collaborated with Glasgow-based designers designers Pauline McCloy and Sha Nazir, is taken from a line in Poem for My Sister, which Lochhead wrote for her younger sister Janice’s 12th birthday in 1969.
The older sibling’s compliment-meets-put-down ‘She is competent at peever’ describes how Lochhead liked to watch her little sister play hopscotch. 
This poem, according to Lochhead, is the one she reads most to young people, and the one which pupils want to talk to her about when she does one of her many visits to schools in her role as Scotland’s Makar.
It is doubly fitting that her sister enters the frame of this exhibition from the outset, since its starting point is a wall of panels Lochhead made about their primary school in Newarthill for her second year thesis at GSA in 1968. 
As she explains: “When we first started thinking about this exhibition in November 2011, my first thought was, ‘what am I going to put in...?’
“I knew I wanted to have poetry – my own and friends’ work – in the exhibition but I mentioned to Janice that I wish I still had the work about our old primary school and she told me she had kept it in her loft because she thought she was one of the pupils at the school I’d drawn.
“The interesting thing is that by 1968, I had been away from the school for eight years and it felt like a long time ago. Now I’m revisiting it again at the age of 65, which is another step removed.”
These storyboard fragments of Village and Village School provide a pivot for the rest of the exhibition to revolve around.
Mixing words and pictures, the storyboards paint a vivid picture of the life of a small primary school in central Scotland in the years following the second world war.
Lochhead’s pen portraits of school characters, such as Mr Richie, the headmaster, teachers Miss Lewis, Miss Robertson and Mrs Rhind, are vivid and compelling, giving an early indication of her talent as an exceptional writer.
The yellowing typed out texts, made with love by Lochhead’s late mother Margaret, add to the intimate feeling.
Now, four decades on, Lochhead has used copied fragments of these panels to make new collages, on display here alongside more recent pastel drawings, interwoven with poetry ‘boards’ on a schooldays theme by Lochhead and fellow poets, Jackie Kay, Carol Ann Duffy, Liz Berry, Adrian Mitchell and James McGonigal.
Lochhead laughingly describes this exhibition as her ‘first show since my graduation in 1970’, adding ‘I have not got any more planned!’
“After art school, I drew in a feartie way,” she says, “and of course I was working as a writer, but recently, I have been doing a lot more drawing and painting and I’m really enjoying it. And I loved sitting at my kitchen table doing these collages.”
Having a residency followed by an exhibition in the former school building she describes as ‘the neglected jewel in Mackintosh’s crown’ has been an education for Lochhead. “It was my late husband Tom’s favourite building and it has been fantastic to be around it for an extended period.”
This exhibition is a classic Lochhead creation. It is direct and graphic in its imagery, be that through the written word or in her artworks drawn or assembled on paper. You get the impression that the two meld in Lochhead’s imagination. “A poem is an image,” she says simply.
“I don't get a big bang out of my own work,” she says, typically forthright. “Of course I want people to get that with my work, but I look to other artists and writers to get that feeling.”
Her hope for this exhibition, which also includes educational memorabilia from Glasgow Museums’ monumental Resource Centre at Nitshill, such as a tawse and a copy of Schonell’s ‘The Essential Spelling List’, is that it makes people get personal about their own memories.
“There’s no difference between memory and imagination,” states Lochhead. “This is not about childhood but memories. The hope is that people will do their own work after seeing it.”

There will be a series of events over the weekend of April 6 & 7, featuring Liz Lochhead, including a creative writing workshop, from 10am-3pm on Saturday April 6. All events are free but must be booked in advance.

Here is a link to The Scottish Poetry Library's page about Liz Lochhead.
It includes a link to Liz reading Poem for My Sister


  1. Hullo Jan,
    always browsing art bits & pieces for inspiration, so dropped by here.

    I do like Liz's style - a gaggle of thought & colour - graffitti-like I guess...a splash here a dash there, that does the job nicely.
    Cheers, ic

  2. Thanks Ian. Nice to get a comment that isn't trying to sell something too!! You're right. That is Liz L to a tee!


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