Unmaking the Makar?
9th February 2016
An apparent proposal to change the title Scots Makar to National Poet for Scotland led to heated debate this week. Robyn Marsack, retiring director of the Scottish Poetry Library had told the Sunday Herald that the panel which chooses the successor to Liz Lochhead will be “...calling the role the National Poet for Scotland, not Scots Makar...” as past figures had suggested the title was confusing for people outwith Scotland. Marsack also argued that the title Scots Makar suggested that the appointee should only write in Scots, which is not the case. A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government affirmed that the official title was, indeed, National Poet for Scotland “...which allows for a poet in Gaelic, English or Scots...”, but also stated that people could still refer to the post as the Makar. Several writers and actors have argued that Makar should be retained as the official title and that it made little sense to change it simply because people outside Scotland were unfamiliar with the term.
In this context the title Scots Makar may be translated into English as “Scottish master poet” and makes no reference to any specific language. It derives from the verb mak, meaning “to create or produce” and so the makar is literally a ‘creator or producer’ of verse. While the use of a title in Scots may imply to some the use of that language only, it may also be argued that the use of a title in English (National Poet for Scotland) may imply to others only the use of English. It all depends on the perspective of the language community with which an individual indentifies. No doubt each community will continue to refer to this post in its own appropriate idiom, regardless of committees.