On making and knowing poetry

Jen Webb and Liz Lochhead met in Epicures of Hyndland, in Glasgow, to talk about the making of poetry; though initially, because they live at opposite ends of the globe, they talked about travelling, communication and distance.

 

Jen Webb: I often think, when reading eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novels, how long it took to get anywhere, how long it took for news to get back and forth, and how hysterical I always am about getting news instantly.

Liz Lochhead: Yes; except … I had to do a talk for the National Library a couple of weeks ago, and I was given access to the John Murray Archive. They hold little letters written from Mary Shelley to Byron and back, and they were stamped ‘noon post’. They used the post like email; it’s the opposite of how we think of it. You’d be getting the post at noon, and then you’d be writing again later in the day.

I saw those letters because when they presented the Makarship to me in the National Library, they said, ‘You must do one of our Inspirations series’.1 So I asked what they had on Mary Shelley, and there it was: all this stuff came in, maybe 30 or 40 letters between Mary Shelley and Byron. It was strange to read those letters, strange to be given them. There was one letter from Mary Shelley to Byron telling him about the daughter born to a half-sister: she’s clearly trying to mend a bit of a rift between Shelley and Byron. There also was a transcript she’d done of Canto 6 and Canto 7 of Don Juan and in one of them—in stanza 59 I think—she has missed out the last line because she disapproves of it.

It turned out quite nice, but of course it was a few days’ work, and they didn’t pay anything at all. I did enjoy doing it; and it’s nice to have a special ticket to the Library. But I think they assume I’ve got a private income, which I don’t.

Jen: There are a lot of assumptions about people in the arts generally, that we do it for love, that somehow we don’t need to eat or pay rent. I think a problem is that we do enjoy so much what we do, and so we do it for free, but it’s actually not okay. After all, engineers probably enjoy what they do too, but they are paid appropriately, and they are treated as economic actors.

Liz: I know; would you have a lawyer to dinner, and then expect him to do your divorce for free? I don’t think so.

***

On starting a poem

Jen: I want to ask you about the process of coming to make a work, and what influences, inspirations or thought processes you go through. For instance, do you find you do research before you start making a work? Do you start with an image or a sound, or perhaps with an idea?

Liz: It all depends. Sometimes you might know that you want to write a poem about something, or you wonder if you do, so you do some research—though necessarily it’s looser than what you would call research in the academy. And then you wait for something to catch fire, and what catches fire is always a bit of language. That is what makes the gift, what the French call the donnée: that bit of language you get.

Jen: So for your writing it’s always the words that drive the work, rather than an idea or image?

Liz: They’re interrelated, but it’s when they become language that you know you’ve started trying to write a poem.

Jen: ‘When they become language’—that’s a beautiful phrase. So the idea is that the words take on a materiality, a corporeal existence, and becomes the thing that is the poem?

Liz: It becomes the thing that starts the poem.

Jen: I suspect that, by and large, the donnée is the spark that makes us work, and then we have to have the drive to make, and make, and to keep investing in it. How we articulate that process might vary, but I think at the heart of it is a matter of committing: of allowing ourselves to be open and then closed.

Liz: Yes, you need to be open to the experience of the thing itself, as it comes along, and as it comes about its own business. ‘The thought fox’2 has to be one of Ted Hughes’ very best, I think, and he says he wrote that in a few minutes. It came after a long period of dullness. And I think that often happens: it’s a kind of what Sylvia Plath called the ‘rare random descent’3. In between times, you can forget how to do the writing. If I’m not writing at the moment, if I’m not actually working on a thing, I can’t really remember how to do it.

Making is keeping your mind thinking about making. The best person on writing, I think, is Flannery O’Connor in Mystery and manners.4 She says that the things we write are not about ideas; they are about life itself. It’s up to the writer to make it happen; and you aren’t making it for an end other than itself.

***

On making a poem

Jen: The word makar—what is its etymology? It sounds like ‘maker’ …

Liz: It is maker.

Jen: So the notion in Scotland was that poets were literally ‘making’ poems?

Liz: It was a group of poets called the Makars: early Scots poets, the medieval poets like William Dunbar or Robert Henryson. Because of that, when they inaugurated a national poet of Scotland they came up with the idea of using the term ‘makar’. It started with Edwin Morgan about 15 years ago. He hated the word because it’s antique, and because except for some scholars, nobody in Scotland would use it normally. I don’t mind it. I quite like teaching someone a new word. It’s quite archaic, but it might still be used in dialect: you can say ‘a makar of bread’, for instance. It just means ‘the maker of poems’. I think it’s quite nice, but you have always to say, ‘I’m Scotland’s Makar, or national poet’, just so people understand.

Jen: When you are making a poem, where is the line between composing and editing?

Liz: I don’t move between them. I do it all in one go, as one process. There’s absolutely no difference; they’re absolutely the same thing.

Jen: I have talked to some poets who say that they literally shift gears, and they can feel the analytical part of their brain kicking in, when they move away from what we might call the compositional process to the editing.

Liz:  I can see how that could be. But there’s nothing else but the language, so of course editing and composing, refining and shifting lines around are all the same thing, from the very initial phrase.

Jen: Language seems to me to be very central in your work, in all sorts of ways—the voices of the people, the use of Scottish dialect: what was your line about sounding ‘male, English, middle-class, dead’?

Liz: ‘posh, grown up, male, English and dead’.5 It was a little thing written for a London event, one of those times where you have to write something for an event. This one wasn’t written in my normal way of writing a poem. I was commissioned to write it for an education program, and it had to be a dialect poem for kids from John O’Groats to Lands End. So that gave me the problem. What they wanted was to encourage children all over Britain to write in hometown English, at least in their creative writing in school. I wanted to be a part of something like that, and do my best, and I came up with all the childhood Scots words that I still use, and listed them all and then made a deft story. I would never have written it had I not had a £50 gig to do it, and it’s not really a poem, but it’s one that is used a lot and I’m happy to own it.

Jen: Some poets talk about very consciously going out to make a poem, others find it just happens, or it comes to them. Do you fall into either of those camps?

Liz: Both! At different times. With ‘Kidspoem’ I had to think, ‘Oh, how am I going to make this poem, what will it be, how will I tackle the problem?’ It wasn’t anything until I got some idea of a solution, which was that I could write a translation, go around back to the beginning, and make a little dramatic monologue. It is not in my voice, because my mother didn’t speak like that; though my grandmother did. But all the words are words that I would still use on occasions, if I wanted to. I mean, I might say to my nephews, ‘Oh, wrap yourself up warm, it’s cold outside’, or I might say ‘Oh, hae yerself up ma scarf’. But if I was using the Scots I would probably be being half-ironic; Scottish people always do that; we’re very conscious of register.

Jen: Is that the effect of being semi-colonised?

Liz: Yes, yes definitely. And doubly colonised if you’re a woman. My friend Marilyn Reizbaum, an American academic, has written about how you’re allowed to deviate in only one way.6 So the Scottish writer was already the ‘other’, but if you’re a Scottish woman writer, or a gay man poet, you’re the other other.

Jen: And yet the second national poet of Scotland is a woman. You mentioned it’s a very male culture here. Is that true across poetry as well as across culture generally?

Liz: It was when I came into it. It’s not now. But at the time I started writing, it was a pure advantage, because everyone knew we needed some more women around. So once I was out there in the world doing readings, I was one of a little group of maybe twelve women poets, all of whom were a lot older than me, and it meant that I could get a lot of opportunities. It’s not a male culture now in poetry; but it was at that point, very much so.

Jen: Going back now to the process of making, either when you’ve deliberately gone out and sought the material, or it’s come to you in some way ...

Liz: I would only go and deliberately seek out the material if there was something I had to do: like, I had to spend all of last Sunday and Monday writing a poem for Commonwealth Day next Monday, on the theme of communication between cultures. Carol Ann Duffy did it last year when the theme was Girls of the Commonwealth. She did a great thing with just sounds of girls’ names: it was a lovely nursery rhyme, a pun on sounds.7 But I was stumped. Anyway, my theory is—and it’s always been true—that you can always come up with something.8 So I just sit down and do the research, and hope for something. The worst that will happen is a speech that’s got a rhyming element in it; or something that might be a bit polemical. It won’t necessarily be a poem.

Of the ones I’ve done since becoming the Makar, about half have been things that I do really like, that I do think of as proper poems. I didn’t feel that about the one I had to do for the opening of the Scottish Parliament.9 I did my best, but it was just a response to a great poem that Edwin Morgan wrote on the opening of the Parliament in 2004.10 But that’s not writing a poem; it’s just working on something. Writing a poem is the other stuff, the stuff that comes to you ... or the beginning might come to you as a gift, when you get the idea, or an idea pushes itself onto you; and it usually comes in the language.

For instance there was one I wrote for Carol Ann.11 She had to do something for the royal family, and it was a very clever way of doing it. She commissioned 59 other poets and herself to do a poem for each year of the queen’s reign, and she told us that the year was completely non-negotiable; she said they were just picked out of a hat. She gave me 1968, which was a good year. So I came up with a poem that I really like and I want to keep; and it gave me an idea to write a book of imaginary poetry, called Portrait of a girl, working class attitude, in 1968. I thought I’d like to write a whole series about portraits of women in various media. Some of them will be photographs, some of them will be paintings, some of them will be real, some of them will be imaginary. The poems will all be in some form, because the one I wrote for Carol Ann was ottava rima, Byron’s stanza—or my bastardised version of it. (It’s the same rhyme scheme, though sometimes I’ve gone for longer lines.) I want to do some more, but I haven’t had the time to sit down and force myself to do that.

You have to push yourself to write poetry, and I think if you don’t then you probably won’t write it. You’ve got to will it. There’s no really straight path. You have to be prepared to work. You only get a little bit of a free gift with it, and that gift might send you to—I wouldn’t call it research, I’d call it looking in different places for the result. My friend Helen Simpson, who’s a short story writer, wrote a lovely image that whenever you’re working on something, there’s something called the ‘iron filings’ effect.12 It means that the image is a kind of a magnet for all the things that could be associated with it.

Jen: So you begin to see your idea, and everything around it, from a particular perspective, and in seeing those connections you filter out other things, I guess? It sounds rather like William James’ notion of selective attention.13 His idea is that there is simply too much in the world, and we need to filter in, and filter out, all the material and the stimulant so that we can cope with our experiences, and make sense. In the process we miss a great deal, of course; but I suspect that the iron filings effect gives us opportunities—at least temporarily—to catch up on things we would otherwise not observe.

***

On finishing the poem

Jen: From the point where you receive the donnée, when you are just writing down the stuff enthusiastically, to when it’s done—how do you know when you’ve got it right?

Liz: I just write down that one gift, that phrase, and I hang onto it for a bit.

Jen: It’s like a lodestone?

Liz: Yes. It is like that. Sometimes the gift is the first line; often it’s not. It’s some sort of linguistic thing. For me, it used to be a sort of lighting up or turning itself on. But that stopped being the case, and now it might just be—well, I might take as a line just the way you say something. From then on you’re editing or composing, or whatever you want to call it, but it’s all the poem

Jen: When you know that a poem is ready—that is, when you’re ready to publish or ready to present it—how do you know it? What happens in your head, or your heart or wherever it is, that says to you yes, this is all right now, this is ready for someone else?

Liz: Sometimes it’s having completed the form that has begun to emerge. With certain poems I’ll start writing and think I know the form this poem is going to be in. I think I’d say if you can’t build the poem, it’s not right.

That’s the case even if there’s no rhyme or any established form, because there is obviously always an element of structure and gaming. If you’re not rhyming, you’re still doing something with the sound of the thing. I do use rhyme sometimes, usually when I’m writing a poem to order. I like rhyme; and I think people like rhyme. We grow up with it, we tell nursery rhymes to children. It’s one of the obvious sound patterns in poetry. I remember reading an essay by Ruth Padel about a poem of mine,14 and I didn’t know what she was writing about; she was talking about the patterning in a particular line, and the plosives or whatever; but it had been entirely unconscious as far as I was concerned.

Of course you can’t say that rhyme is unconscious, but sound is very important; and poetic rhyme has to have a poetic rhythm. Some poetry that I read is just chopped up prose, and it would be better written out as prose. You’ve got to have your own reason for stopping a line; but it’s your own reason; and it’s only the rules for that poem. It’s not supposed to be the rule for each poem; each poem has its own certain set of rules, and that’s how you know—or that’s one of the ways in which you know—that it’s finished. You know it’s finished when you’ve got it. It may not be precisely what you wanted to do, but you’ve got as much of the poem down as you think is possible. And that usually will be a good bit earlier than you thought.

Then you cut down a lot. You might remove a whole stanza. You’re not really writing until you’re cutting. Although the editing process starts instantly because it’s concluding the pattern, there’s also a conscious stage when I’m trying to edit down, at the end of what seemed the first draft, when I know that that wasn’t it after all. Of course you don’t know that when you’ve first done it. You just reach the point where it’s given you the peace to go and get a cup of tea and have a break.

Jen: Do you think of your readers when you’re writing the piece: what they might think about it; or what you want them to get out of it?

Liz: No. I’m trying to get it right for myself. But I do want it to make sense. I want it to make sense to myself. I know that if I wrote a Language poem, it wouldn’t make much sense to me so I wouldn’t do it. If a lot of people say they can’t make head or tails of a poem, then I tend to think I’ve left some clue out. Sometimes, I think, a clue can go in the title; you’ve just got to find the place for it.

I can’t be bothered to read poems that are gibberish. I hate the idea of postmodernism; it’s usually a cop-out. I know the world is chaotic, yeah, but that’s what art is, something that for a moment makes a wee bit of sense. I don’t mean it in that literal, dogmatic, ‘there’s only one meaning’ sense, but it has to make some sort of sense or it’s not worth it. I don’t think poetry can be just about the expression, and anyway I don’t see how you’d feel that you had expressed yourself if you hadn’t communicated to someone else. Otherwise it’s just about yourself.

So I’m not conscious of the actual readers, but I am conscious of the idea of audience. It’s not a real audience, and I don’t mean that I write to talk to people, but you have them in mind, you certainly place them. That’s what you’re doing all the time, thinking, what does the audience know at this point?, and thinking, how can I get them to be knowing more than the characters?—which is always exciting for an audience. It’s a mixture of the conscious and the unconscious, isn’t it? I mean, you must always switch back and forward. You must be able to get back to the bit where you’re not worried, and put down just anything for a bit, and then you must be able to access that bit you’re trying to make something of. You have to be able to make head or tails of it.

So no, I don’t worry about the audience for the poems; I worry about whether the poem is making sense to me. I think I quite quickly have an idea, with either a play or a poem. But it starts happening when it becomes something, when it starts to make sense to me rather than being something I’m making up. That’s where I think there’s a shift: between making things up, or thinking up things and then sticking them in to see if I can get anywhere with it; to listening to the poem. It’s a subtle tilting, like the tilting of a seesaw, a coming and going. The poem has got to tell me how much it needs to get it in order, and I need to hear what it seems to be trying to say. It sounds a bit mystical but I don’t mean it that way.

Jen: It’s perhaps not mystical but ineffable,15 and so it isn’t something we can easily state. But you talked about poems making sense: there’s an American poet called Carol Frost who says when you’re writing a poem it’s a good idea to draw it. Look at the lines and see if you can draw what is said there. If you can, then you have a coherent poem; and if you can’t draw it, then there’s possibly something wrong, and it might be worth looking at it again.

Liz: Really? I can’t imagine what that would be like. My equivalent of that would be that you’ve got to say it. And if you can’t say it, if you stumble over the words, then they’re the wrong words, or in the wrong order or the rhythm’s wrong. If the rhythm’s not right the poem’s not right. I love her idea but I don’t understand it; how would you draw a poem?

Jen: I’ve tried it with some that I have written, or some I like to read. Take Robert Frost’s poem ‘Stopping by woods on a snowy evening’.16 You can take the images in there, and try to sketch them out. So you might try drawing the woods—what do they look like, according to the poem? Where are they in relation to the frozen lake, or to the village? What is the little horse like; do you know right away that the speaker is in a carriage rather than mounted, and does it matter? Do you get a visual image of the staging of that poem?

Liz: But everything you draw has got to be put there in the poem, yes? So if the poet hasn’t written it, then it’s simply not there. Ah ha. I think that’s what lots of these poets who I can’t make heads or tails of are doing; they’re probably imagining that they’ve put down a lot of images that they’ve not, or that aren’t there for other people.

But getting back to Frost’s poem: how could you draw that? Because it’s somebody speaking, and at first you don’t know who’s speaking: that’s the point of it. You gradually find out ‘Whose woods these are I think I know’, but how can you draw that? That is somebody speaking, and you’ve not seen that person yet: you’ve got to wait until he emerges, but it will be several lines before I know if, for instance, he’s on a horse. I don’t know how you could do it: but it sounds like good fun. I’ll try; just to see; because you’ll obviously find something. My friend Helen talks about ‘drawing’ the short story. She writes different aspects of it in different colours, and she lays it out on the floor, like a painting, and thinks ‘Oh, that’s too much of that colour, the proportion’s wrong’: seeing it physically you can tell if there’s the right balance and shape.

***

Poetry and knowledge

Jen: WH Auden wrote an essay about poetry, and one small section of it reads: ‘In so far as one can speak of poetry as conveying knowledge, it is the kind of knowledge implied by the biblical phrase—Then Adam knew Eve his wife—knowing is inseparable from being known.’17 Does that resonate with you?

Liz: Not really, no. ‘Then Adam knew Eve his wife’ is just sexual, isn’t it? That’s the meaning of it. And I don’t see how it connects; the biblical phrase ‘to know somebody’ doesn’t seem to me automatically to mean that knowing is inseparable from being known, or that Eve necessarily knew Adam back …

Jen: … or that he necessarily knew her either, except  …

Liz: … in that sexual sense. And then there’s that line ‘so far as one can speak of knowledge’. I can’t say it means much sense to me actually, about poetry. Why would one speak of poetry as being knowledge? I think poetry is very instinctive and non-theoretical for the writer of it. And I don’t think I know what knowledge means in that sense. There’s a sort of encyclopaedia tone that’s upheld by that phrase, and then all kinds of stuff bounces off from that and obscures its meaning. You never know what something means, but sometimes you think you know what the person meant when they were writing it; and I don’t really know what Auden was meaning. What is conveyed by ‘knowledge’?

Jen: What sort of knowledge does poetry, or can poetry, or should poetry convey, and should poetry be conveying knowledge at all?

Liz: Not really, no. But I could re-say it: ‘As far as one can speak of poetry as conveying experience, it’s the kind of experience implied by Biblical phrase “then Adam experienced his wife”. Experience is inseparable from being experienced’.

Jen: But experience is a kind of knowledge, isn’t it? Because it does bring the feeling of being to us. Perhaps it needn’t be knowledge per se; that does seem quite controlling and rational.

Liz: Auden says ‘knowledge’, and then he immediately obscures it with something that is so clearly archaic, that sexual language. Why would he do it?  That line doesn’t necessarily say that the poet has to know his or her work in the way that Adam knew Eve his wife: i.e., intimately, viscerally, sexually. 

Jen: Perhaps it’s not about conveying knowledge beyond the self, but conveying knowledge from me to me and back to me; perhaps it’s not about talking to other people in that intimate way.

Liz: No, it’s not necessarily about talking to other people. I think the thing, the poem, has got to become something separate from you: it’s got to become something that you just muck about in. It’s a way of thinking, but it’s not necessarily about conveying knowledge to others.

Knowledge? Do I go to a poem for knowledge? Well, we were talking about Frost before, so I can ask, do I go to ‘Stopping by woods on a snowy evening’ for knowledge?  To understand, say, snow? No. I just go to the poem to know it itself, to know that poem. Art isn’t about something, it is something. It isn’t even about experience, it is an experience in its own right. It needs to be allowed to be. It’s different from academic knowledge because it’s connected up with making something, with making a thing that exists.

Jen: And the poem exists outside yourself, as a thing in itself. You, the poet, cook it up, then take the lid off it, and there it is, your other self, or the Eve to your Adam ... I feel a bit more forgiving of Auden now.

 Liz: I don’t know if I do! But it’s just one quote from an essay, and I might understand the argument if I were reading it from the start, and weren’t just reading a couple of sentences out of the middle of it. I do like reading poets on poetry: I like reading TS Eliot’s essays, and Edwin Morgan too is a wonderful critic. And I do like reading good critics. Good criticism doesn’t separate you from the thing, or annoy you; it illuminates something that you enjoyed, without in any way stopping the sheer physical enjoyment of the encounter.

Jen: Perhaps that’s because good criticism respects the thing in itself, as itself.

Liz: It must do. If they don’t respect what the thing is, if they just want to run off and prove their own cleverness, then they’re in trouble, really. Critics need to give themselves over to it, and connect with it, rather than giving it a rout for not fitting in with their theory: which a lot of them seem to do.

Jen: A lot of your work seems political and it has a strong gender aspect to it, especially in the way you tell women’s stories.

Liz: Yes, well it hadn’t been done enough in Scotland. And also, why wouldn’t I? I have a woman’s story. No one says to a man, ‘You should try writing men’s stories.’ We’re still not quite of the norm, are we? But I don’t worry about that any more. When you can do something about it, do it; and when you can’t, just feel rotten.

Jen: Is it difficult, as the Makar, having to take perhaps a more positive position on local politics?

Liz: No, you don’t really have to do that; the Makars, the original ones, were satirists who told the king off. David Lyndsay, the man who wrote the A satire of the three estates,18 he was very much making a cheeky protest about the king. And Dunbar did the same sort of thing. It would be great if we still thought that’s what poets are for, but we would never take on such a role. Still, I’m quite comfortable with it because it’s mostly just about being positive about poetry and language and schools and so on.

Jen: Do you feel a responsibility, as a poet, to realise a sense of your country; or is it just what you do when you’re making work?

Liz: It’s just what I do. I think any idea of responsibility attached to art is deadly. I think it’s your duty to make art and let things fall where they may. Of course your politics is going to affect how you do that; but if you felt that you had to … well, you do feel you have to, but you have to shrug off that duty thing. You can’t be preaching; that’s not what poetry’s for.

Jen: ‘Poetry makes nothing happen.’19

Liz: Yes, yes: it doesn’t, and it shouldn’t. The purpose of art is not to instruct; it’s to delight. I always think that’s true.

 

 

End notes

  • 1. See Paul F Cockburn, ‘Inspirations at NLS: Liz Lochhead (23.02.12)’, Scottish Review of Books, http://www.scottishreviewofbooks.org/index.php?option=com_kunena&func=view&catid=18&id=761&Itemid=122 (accessed 22 May 2012).
  • 2. Ted Hughes ‘The thought fox’ in The hawk in the rain, London: Faber and Faber. Hughes writes that there was a six-year period of ‘total confusion’ between the writing of his earliest lyric, ‘Song’, and the writing of ‘The thought fox’. ‘Six years! That’s when I read myself to bits, as Nietzsche said students do’. When that poem finally arrived, he goes on to say, ‘I had less of a sense of bursting out, I think, more of a sense of tuning in to my own transmission. Tuning out the influences, the static and interference. I didn’t get there by explosives. My whole understanding of it was that I could get it only by concentration’. (Ted Hughes interviewed by Drue Heinz 1995 ‘The art of poetry No. 71’, The Paris Review 134, Spring).
  • 3. This is the final line from Plath’s poem ‘Black rook in rainy weather’, in her 1971 volume Crossing the water: transitional poems, London: Harper and Row, 41-42. … Miracles occur,
 / If you care to call those spasmodic
 / Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait’s begun again, /
 The long wait for the angel.
 / For that rare, random descent.
  • 4. O’Connor critically discusses writers who ‘want to write because they are possessed not by a story but by the bare bones of some abstract notion. They are conscious of problems, not of people, of questions and issues, not of the texture of existence … the result will be complete dullness’ (68). As a consequence, she writes later in this essay, a work ‘must carry its meaning inside it. It means that any abstractly expressed compassion or piety or morality in a piece of fiction is only a statement added to it’ (75). See Flannery O’Connor 1972 ‘The nature and aim of fiction’, in Mystery and manners: occasional prose, London: Faber & Faber.
  • 5. This line is from ‘Kidspoem/Bairnsang’, in Liz Lochhead 2003 The colour of black and white: poems 1984-2003, Edinburgh: Polygon.
  • 6. This is directly expressed in Reizbaum’s 1992 essay ‘Canonical double cross’, where she points out that ‘when we speak about opening the canon to literature from marginalized cultures, the issue of gender is subsumed by the cultural imperative’; and then, writing about Liz’s own oeuvre, Reizbaum states, ‘what she sees in the reductive presentation of her culture by the British and even the Scottish media is the historical interaction between the marginalization of culture and sexism’ (Marilyn Reizbaum 1992 ‘Canonical double cross: Scottish and Irish women’s writing’, in Karen R Lawrence (ed), Decolonizing tradition: new views of twentieth-century British literary canons, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 166; 182).
  • 7. Carol Ann Duffy 2011, ‘A Commonwealth blessing for girls’, Commonwealth Secretariat 15 March, http://www.thecommonwealth.org/news/175982/235059/140311observance.htm (accessed 22 May 2012).
  • 8. Liz Lochhead 2012 ‘Connecting Cultures’, available on Royal Commonwealth Society: Commonwealth Day 2012, http://www.thercs.org/society/239 (accessed 22 May 2012).
  • 9. Liz Lochhead 2011 ‘Open’, The Scottish Parliament/Pàrlamaid na h-Alba: News, 1 July, http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/newsandmediacentre/31671.aspx (accessed 22 May 2012).
  • 10. Edwin Morgan 2004 ‘For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004’, The Scottish Parliament / Pàrlamaid na h-Alba: Events and Exhibitions, http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/Eventsandexhibitions/A_Poem_by_Edwin_Morgan(1).pdf.
  • 11. Carol Ann Duffy (ed.) 2012 Jubilee lines: 60 years in 60 poems, London: Faber & Faber. Explore as multimedia project at http://thespace.org/content/s00007p8/ (accessed 22 May 2012).
  • 12. See Helen Simpson 2005 ‘Every third thought’, in Constitutional, London: Vintage, 20-34.
  • 13. William James writes: ‘Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind—without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground—intelligible perspective, in a word’ (William James 2007 [1890] The principles of psychology 1, New York: Cosimo Press, 402).
  • 14. Ruth Padel 2000 ‘The Sunday poem: No 61 Liz Lochhead’, The Independent, 19 March.
  • 15. Poetry is often associated with the ineffable: over many centuries poets have attempted to express what cannot be said through the highly intensified use of ‘ordinary language’. This is what Cazeaux terms ‘the sensuous embodiment of conscious enquiry [that] invites us to reassess our understanding of the way we interact with other objects and minds’ (see C. Cazeau (ed.) 2000 The Continental aesthetics reader, New York: Routledge, xiv-xv). See in this light, poetry can be understood to be a device for thinking.
  • 16. Poem written 1923, available in The poetry of Robert Frost (ed. Edward Connery Lathem), 1969, Henry Holt and Co.
  • 17. WH Auden 1968 ‘Words and the world’, in Secondary worlds, The T.S. Eliot memorial lectures, London: Faber and Faber, 130-31.
  • 18. David Lyndsay, A satire of the three estates, a play first performed in 1552, and first printed in 1602 as Ane (Pleasant) Satyre of the Thrie Estaits, in Commendation of Vertew and Vituperation of Vyce. A recent edition by Capercaillie Books (2012) publishes this play alongside an updated version by John McGrath, A satire of the four estates, which adds the the media to the three medieval estates of the church, the nobility and the people.
  • 19. A line from WH Auden’s ‘In memory of WB Yeats’; available in The collected poetry of WH Auden New York: Random House (1945) 48: For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives / In the valley of its making where executives / Would never want to tamper, flows on south / From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, / Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.