Review: Jackie Kay ****

Book Festival

4 Star ****

Jackie Kay

Tues 21st August @15:15

Chaired by Ruth Wishart, this was a lively and personable poetry event. Jackie Kay – our new Makar, is one of the most likeable and relatable poets of today. On introducing her, Wishart quipped that Kay has ‘One of the most infectious giggles in Scottish literature’ raising a loud applause from the audience. I have to agree; any time I have seen Jackie or met her at events she has been warm and friendly. She is someone comfortable in her own skin who extends that energy to those around her.

Apart from her broad smile and natural charisma, I was struck by her snazzy shiny yellow shoes as she took to the stage. She treated the audience to a wide selection of poems, mostly from her new book, Bantam. The poems that stood out the most for me were ‘A Day Like Today’ which she wrote on her birthday when Trump was voted in (It was a ‘dreich’ and ‘doon aboot the mooth day’), ‘Jane Eyre’ which appears in an earlier collection, ‘Welcome Wee One’ written specifically for the new baby box scheme in Scotland, and the hilarious but cutting, ‘Planet Farage.’

Bantam is her first collection as Scotland’s Makar. Appointed in March 2016 she still has two and a half years in the post which takes her all over Scotland. In a recent trip to Uist she was surprised at the number of lesbians who attended her event. When she said this to her driver the next day she proudly announced, ‘Aye, we’ve managed to hold on to our lesbians.’ Jackie said it was a good indication of the way times have changed.

Of all the poems she read, I felt she took a risk with the poem about a family holiday entitled ‘Caravan Avielochan’ where she remembers first starting her period and that same night, kissing a girl. The kiss is described in intimate detail, tongues and all. I looked around at the audience, made up of many women but not all of them lesbians, and thought that indeed times have changed. I am sure that poem would have been received very differently even five or ten years ago. She may not have been at liberty to share such a blatant lesbian experience with the historically prim and proper Book Festival audience.

Bantam is described as being about ‘the fighting spirit’, and ‘crosses borders from Rannoch Moor to the Somme’.

Sharon Jones