Liz Lochhead (1947 – )

 Liz Lochhead (Copyright: Norman McBeath; Used by permission of the Scottish Poetry Library)

Liz Lochhead (Copyright: Norman McBeath; Used by permission of the Scottish Poetry Library)

Elizabeth Anne Lochhead was born on December 26, 1947 in Motherwell, Scotland. Her father’s job as a government clerk caused her family to move to Newarthill when she was young. It was this mining town where Liz grew up and attended primary school (Scottish Poetry Library). Her old primary school was the inspiration for her poem ‘A Protestant Girlhood’. Lochhead grew up in what she considers a normal Scottish, middle to lower class lifestyle. Her grandmother used to tell her stories when she was young and oftentimes these stories rhymed. During her spare time, Lochhead would often go to the public library. There wasn’t a lot to do in Newarthill so she spent her time reading. Lochhead developed an interest in art and by the time she was fifteen years old, she knew she wanted to attend art school. She was highly encouraged to go into English in university. However, she followed her passion for art and enrolled in Glasgow’s School of Art (STV).

Lochhead’s dream was initially to become a painter and she expected her interest in art to guide her to a career as an art teacher. During her time at art school, the popular style was modern and abstract. She did not particularly enjoy this form, as she much preferred to paint or draw people and objects (STV). This abstract movement made Lochhead question her career as a painter. She felt like the narrative component was missing from her art and thus she turned towards writing. However, she did not immediately start writing complete poems. Lochhead would often scribble things into the margins of her notebooks, developing concepts and ideas that interested her. She became interested in length and rhyme. Lochhead began to read a lot of poetry but it was only until Lochhead came down with the flu during art school that her talent began to show. While she was sick, Lochhead became bored and decided to try and complete the ideas she had oftentimes developed but never concluded (Scottish Book Trust). Her biggest struggle was to complete a work but with all the time she had while being sick, Lochhead wrote ‘The Visit’.

Lochhead’s writing is inspired by magic realism – she is not interested in fantasy. Instead, she appreciates the ability to turn normal, daily activities into an interesting story. Lochhead enjoys ironic female novelists as well as different styles from what she herself uses. She has declared Alice Munro and Margaret Lawrence as some of her favorite authors (Scottish Book Trust).

During her final time at art school, Lochhead began to participate in a writing group. Some members were Alasdair Gray, Jim Kelman, and Tom Leonard (Scottish Poetry Library). Within this group, Lochhead was a rare female presence and her ability to represent Scottish female writing has continued into modern day. In 1971, a year after she graduated, Lochhead won a Radio Scotland poetry competition. She developed her writing style, preferring to use rhymes for humorous purposes. Her writing began to pick up speed and in 1972, she attended a festival in Edinburgh where she did a reading with Norman MacCaig, a well-known Scottish poet. She claims she didn’t intend for her poetry to be performed and prefers for her poetry to be read on the page (Scottish Book Trust). Lochhead began to write monologues, poems, and plays. She published her first collection in 1972 titled Memo for Spring.

Lochhead earned her living by teaching art for eight years. She taught at secondary schools in Bristol, Glasgow, and Cumbernauld. She personally did not consider herself a very good teacher. She claims that she was too caught up in her own goals and what she wanted to do. She does not think she was encouraging enough for students and she didn’t get any satisfaction from the job. Too many children came through the schools for her to develop any connection. Her poetry however, gave her plenty of satisfaction. Lochhead considered writing to be fun and an exploration. She found it challenging and much more rewarding than her career as a teacher (STV).

In 1978, Lochhead was awarded the first Scottish/Canadian Writers’ Exchange Fellowship. The fellowship was a huge opportunity for Lochhead because it allowed her to write full-time and quit her teaching job. During her time in Canada, Lochhead identified Canadian writers with Scottish writers. She thought that Canadians suffer from a sort of cultural imperialism under the United States that is similar to that which Scotland deals with under London (Scottish Book Trust). She went to Toronto during her fellowship and then moved to New York after it ended. Lochhead spent lengthy periods of time during the next few years returning to New York. However, in 1986 she made Glasgow her permanent home when she married an architect named Tom Logan (BBC).

Lochhead’s success in poetry was rivaled by her writing for the theatre. Lochhead wrote Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off as well as Blood and Ice, both of which have become very well known. Mary Queen of Scots is especially popular because it is based on Scottish history. Lochhead said that in the play, she tried to present Mary as a queen who used her sexuality to be known as a woman and a ruler whereas Queen Elizabeth essentially gave up her female identity and acted like a man to maintain her power. Lochhead has claimed that she bases a lot of her plays on historical characters because she is interested in experimenting with archetypes. Her use of famous characters such as Dracula and Frankenstein in her writing displays her unique perceptions of classic stories. Lochhead has said that she enjoys working on plays because they often take much more time than a poem, which usually takes only a week to finish. She considers plays to be more difficult and it appears as if she enjoys the challenge (Scottish Book Trust).

A common theme that is considered to run throughout Lochhead’s work is a feminist perspective. While Lochhead does consider herself a feminist, she does not consider herself a feminist writer despite a lot of her work focusing on women (STV). Lochhead claims that female perspectives and experiences are not expressed enough in Scotland. She is not explicitly trying to write about feminist women; instead, she focuses on problems and ambiguities women face in daily life. One of her main points is that she wants to represent women as truthfully as possible.

When asked why she thinks there are not a lot of female writers in the west of Scotland, Lochhead objects to this statement. She says that oftentimes people invite her as a speaker or celebrity and consider her to be sufficient in representing female writers. Oftentimes people forget about other female authors because they do not think any further to invite more women and expose other generations that have come after Lochhead. Lochhead claims that there are plenty of female writers in Scotland. However, their challenge lies in finding a market (STV). Due to Lochhead’s fame throughout Scotland, she does not have the issues other female writers face. Nevertheless, she is very upfront with the lack of exposure female writing receives and often advocates for the exposure of other female writers.

Liz Lochhead  [By: Vincent Butler], Edinburgh Park, South Gyle, Edinburgh statue (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Liz Lochhead [By: Vincent Butler], Edinburgh Park, South Gyle, Edinburgh statue (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Lochhead was appointed as the Scotland’s Maker in 2011. It was very unfortunate that Lochhead’s husband passed away in June of the same year and was not able to see her receive such an esteemed title. However, she has been well supported by colleagues and friends during her time in the role. UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy describes Lochhead as a “funny, feisty, female, full of feeling; a fantastic performer of her work and a writer who has tirelessly brought poetry to the drama and drama into poetry. Liz Lochhead possesses the deeply Scottish qualities of independence, inquisitiveness and inventiveness” (Kennedy and Carrell).

Lochhead became the Maker of Scotland, following her friend, Edwin Morgan who was appointed the title in 2004. Although Lochhead has been widely welcomed as Morgan’s successor, there was quite a bit of controversy during the process of finding the new Maker (Kennedy and Carrell). The ministers refused to release any information about the decision making procedure during the time they decided Lochhead would be perfect for the role. As the national poet of Scotland, her obligations are to write about national events and do educational work in order to promote poetry. The Scottish Maker is appointed for a five-year term, during which they are paid £10,000 annually by the government arts agency Creative Scotland, as well as given grants to travel to international literature festivals and invitations to attend Scottish book festivals as the national poet. At the end of her term as Maker, the Scottish government will also publish a volume of Lochhead’s poetry (Kennedy and Carrell).

Although Lochhead herself says she is still not sure she is a poet, her accomplishments and numerous works speak for her (Scottish Book Trust). Lochhead shows a lot of modesty because she says that one only feels like one is a poet only a few days after a poem is completed. Despite all of her accomplishments and her title as the Scottish Maker, she remains humble. Lochhead is very proud of her personal success and is very involved in the Scottish community. Her use of Scots in various poems as well as her inclusion of Scottish history in some of her works emphasize her pride and emphasis of Scotland and its culture.

KidspoemBairnsang (Courtesy of YouTube) – Trying to inspire kids to keep writing in Scots – Really shows her support for the arts as well as the Scottish culture

Works Cited:

Authors Live with Liz Lochhead – Question and Answer Session. Perf. Liz Lochhead. Scottish Book Trust, 2012. YouTube.

Kennedy, Maev, and Severin Carrell. “Liz Lochhead Appointed as Makar, Scotland’s National Poet.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 19 Jan. 2011. Web.

“Liz Lochhead – Year of Creative Scotland.” Crown Copyright, Nov. 2012. Web.

“Liz Lochhead (b. 1947).” Scottish Poetry Library, 2013. Web.

“Liz Lochhead …” Liz Lochhead. Edinburgh International Book Festival Ltd., n.d. Web.

“Liz Lochhead.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web.

Off the Page: Liz Lochhead. Dir. STV. Perf. Liz Lochhead. STV: Scotland: Off the Page, 2010. YouTube.


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