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Alan Spence's Name Put Forward as Next Edinburgh Makar

Alan Spence has been nominated to become the next Edinburgh Makar.

A report to the City of Edinburgh Council’s Culture and Communities Committee next week (Tuesday 12 September) recommends Spence as the next writer to be inaugurated as the Edinburgh Makar.

If agreed, Spence will take over the honorary role from Christine De Luca later this year at a special reception hosted by the Lord Provost within the City Chambers.

A novelist and playwright as well as a poet, Alan Spence succeeds Christine De Luca in the post. Spence is a long-term resident of the capital, where he runs the Sri Chinmoy Meditation Centre with his wife, Janani. Born in 1947 in Glasgow, he went to the University of Glasgow in 1966 and started a Law degree, then switched to English and Philosophy, completing his degree a few years later after spells of living in London, the experience feeding into the capital-set sequence in Way To Go (1998). He spent 1972 in Milan, and 1980 in New York, an era described in the final section of his first novel The Magic Flute (1990).

As a poet, Spence is unique amongst his contemporaries; his poems are a witty blend of Glasgow demotic and cosmic perspective:

                                   On the suchness of things
                                                                   AYE, THIS IS IT
                                                                   THIS IS THE THING

Spence has spent his writing career reconciling where his mind is at with where he came from ¬− a surprisingly cohesive match, as his poetry demonstrates.

He first came across haiku at school, which became his way into Zen; soon he was ‘was making the connection between haiku and a state of mind, a state of being – clear-eyed seeing into “the life of things”’. Spence’s poetry has revealed a debt to the Eastern tradition of poetry, with haiku and tanka favoured forms. After his first book of haiku was published in 1975, Spence took another quarter of a century before publishing a follow-up, Seasons of the Heart (2000), which, as the title suggests, follows the seasons of the year. Glasgow Zen (2002) provokes laughter and contemplation in equal measure as Spence mashes-up Buddhism and Glasgow folk wisdom. Clear Light followed in 2005. He’s also collaborated on projects with artists Alison Watt and Elizabeth Blackadder.

In Spence’s 2013 novel about the life of eighteenth century Zen master Ekaku Hakuin, Night Boat, one character comments, ‘Poetry is what is happening here, right now, in the moment.’ It goes to the heart of Spence’s own approach to poetry. Like Blake, who could hold infinity in the palm of his hand, Spence can see the universe in Paddy’s Market or graffiti or hear it in the lingo of football: ‘HERE / WE / GO’, ‘NO / EXTRA / TIME’, ‘GET / IT / CLEAR.’

Alan Spence said: ‘I’m delighted and honoured to be nominated as the fifth Edinburgh Makar, the Poet Laureate for this wonderful city that has been my home for over 40 years. I look forward to following in the footsteps of my illustrious predecessors, Stewart Conn, Valerie Gillies, Ron Butlin and Christine De Luca. I know them all and they’re fine poets who have done a great job. We live in troubled times and poetry has never been so important.’

The Library is delighted that Spence’s name has been put forward and looks forward to seeing how he chronicles Edinburgh during his time as the city’s Makar.

SPL Director Asif Khan says, 'Alan Spence is a marvellous addition to the roll call of Edinburgh Makars. He is a spellbinding poet, notably in the form of haiku. The Scottish Poetry Library looks forward to working with Alan on themes of compassion and the natural environment.'

Category: poets