January must be the peak of the poetic year, especially this year, in Scotland. For one thing, the vacant post of Scots Makar has been filled, to general acclaim, by Liz Lochhead, who modestly responded, “I am as delighted as I am surprised by this enormous honour, which I do know I don’t deserve! Nevertheless, I accept it on behalf of poetry itself, which is, and always has been, the core of our culture, and in grateful recognition of the truth that poetry—the reading of it, the writing of it, the saying it out loud, the learning of it off by heart—matters deeply to ordinary Scottish people everywhere.” It seems Lochhead is approaching the position as not so much a laurel for her own head, but a pulpit from which she can be a spokesman for the art as a whole, in the manner of so many American Poets Laureate.
The other reason, of course, for the prominence of January in the Scottish poetry calendar is Burns Night, the annual celebration of the life and work of Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns, a cultural icon whose name is to this day synonymous with Scottish life and the Scots language. And this year, Burns Night (January 25th) is extra special, because the BBC has completed its huge new audio archive of Burns poems:
from BBC News, Scotland:
“BBC Scotland completes Robert Burns audio archive”
“Three years in the making, The Complete Works of Robert Burns features more than 700 poems recorded by some of Scotland’s best-known figures.... Contributors include Scotland’s new national poet Liz Lochhead, Robbie Coltrane, Robert Carlyle and Brian Cox....” plus “My Heart’s in the Highlands” and “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose” recited by Prince Charles.
Also, on the eve of Burns Night, an unpublished letter by Robert Burns was discovered at a castle in the Scottish Borders, and with it was an early draft of his anti-hunting poem, “On Seeing a Wounded Hare”:
from BBC News:
“Robert Burns letter found at Floors Castle”
“An unpublished letter written by Robert Burns more than 220 years ago has been found at Floors Castle in the Borders. Experts have called it a ‘remarkable discovery’ at the home of the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe. The letter was found in a 19th Century autograph album containing a variety of historical documents.”