About Jackie Kay – Children's Poems
Jackie Kay (b. 1961) is an award-winning writer of fiction, poetry and plays, whose subtle investigation into the complexities of identity have been informed by her own life. Born in Edinburgh to a Scottish mother and Nigerian father, she was adopted as a baby by a white couple. Kay's awareness of her different heritages inspired her first book of poetry for adults, The Adoption Papers (1991), which dramatises her experience through the creation of three contrasting narrators: an adoptive mother, a birth mother and a daughter. Subsequent collections, including Bantam (2017), have continued to explore questions of identity. Kay has also written several collections of poetry for children, beginning with Two’s Company (1992), which won the Signal Award for Poetry, and, most recently, Red, Cherry Red (2007), winner of the CLPE Award. Her first children's novel, Strawgirl, was published in 2002. Jackie Kay currently lives in Manchester and was named Scots Makar – the National Poet for Scotland – in March 2016.
Jackie Kay’s poems for children are immersed in stories about who we are and where we come from. These stories often leave a mark not only on the people we are close to and grow up with, but on the very environments in which we live, so much so that the ‘kitchen can still hear my aunts fighting on Christmas Day’, or the ‘wallpaper covers up for the whole family’, in ‘No 115 Dreams’, which breathes life into inanimate objects. Stories, in Jackie Kay’s poems, are shown ultimately to make up who we are, or, in the case of ‘Brendon Gallacher’, to make up a whole new person in the form of an imaginary friend. Listen to the repeated phrase, ‘my Brendon Gallacher’ in this poem, and hear how Kay brings it into rhyme with phrases like ‘cat burglar’ and ‘being poor’, as the web of little lies the speaker spins to keep the story of Brendon Gallacher alive add up to what Kay describes in her introduction as a ‘whopper’. In her comments on ‘Double Trouble’, Kay states her interest in ‘opposites and doubles’, which is echoed in the chiming of whole phrases across two-line stanzas in the poem (‘war and peace’, ‘man and beast’). ‘My Face is a Map’, partly inspired by Kay’s research done in connection with Saving Faces, a charity for facial diseases, imagines a girl born with a map of Australia on her face; the map, stitched to the mouth, inflects everything the girl says with ‘the edges of down under’. And yet, as the speaker suggests, the map may be inscribed with not just Australia but the girl’s individuality: ‘where I am; where I have been’.
Kay has recalled in interview her memory of going to Burns suppers as a child: ‘I loved that poetry could be performed, that poetry could be dramatic. I really do see myself as part of a tradition that wants to see the drama that is in poetry, through its poetic voices.’ Her own reading voice is sweet, spirited, and her Glasgwegian accent distinct, particularly with the use of Scots dialect ( ‘burn’, ‘skelped’ ‘skelf’ ‘scunnert’), words and sounds with their own stories to tell.
This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 26 November 2013 at The Soundhouse and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.