On the Edge of our Seats with Jackie Kay

By Betty Mayhew and Day Lilico

To conclude the brilliant Saturday line-up at the North Cornwall Book Festival, Jackie Kay takes to the floor and we’re immediately thrown into a beautiful, traditional poem written in Scots.

‘Some of you might not understand some of the words’, she smiles, ‘but that’s just life’. When she laughs, the whole tent follows, you can’t help but be caught up in it; from the older man near me who quietly giggles, to the lady a few rows forward who roars with laughter.

As she reads her poems and excerpts from her memoir Red Dust Road, she gleefully inserts stories from her everyday life. It doesn’t feel like a traditional reading, but more like a meeting between a group of friends to swap and share stories. Her charming Scottish brogue takes you completely unaware, and throughout the session we move from sorrow and joy in her poem ‘Darling’, to confusion and comedy as she narrates her first meeting with her biological father. No topic is left untouched, from religion to love to orgasms to bread bins, Jackie Kay invited us into her world with stunning results.

You can tell how much she loves performing, she’s always moving, never staying still in her narration. She shows us her father’s dance, sways to the beats in her poems, physically responding to the words that she speaks – she is the performance. Her passion shows in every movement, every gesture that expansively invites the whole room to share in her memories that are almost visible in front of us.

‘If you could bottle baited breath…’ she says, smiling, and she’s right. Every single person in that room was waiting on the edge of their seat, attentive to every word she says.

Photo credit: Daniel Hall Photography