on 29 March 2005
I wasn't sure at first what to make of a book so obsessed by illness that it opens with three and a half pages on 'where it hurts'. I thought Jackie Kay might turn out to be some kind of malingering weirdo. Instead when I saw her she was larger than life, revelling in Scottish voices and the poems were transformed into suffering as performance, a way of warding off the evil lurgy by naming its parts.
Read these poems and think of a cheeky show-off Jackie Kay reading the poems out loud in a Glaswegian accent and playing for the half-rhymes and the rhythm.
There are the virus poems, that infect the next poem with their last word or line and make it grow.
There are short story poems, ones that connect with her prose short stories - like 'Maw Brown Visits the Therapist'; and one called 'Love Nest' which is a tale of vermin infestation in Dalston that escalates from mice in the bedroom.
And there are personal recreations of historical trials - from the perspective of the black woman, one on trial, the other the victim.
Read these poems - and the Adoption Papers - if you like Jackie Kay's stories and novels, even if you don't always read poetry. And try reading them out loud.
on 4 August 2002
Often beautiful and humorous, Kay's third collection is an astonishing and entertaining read: from the very first poem to the last one, you will find yourself amazed at the language and puzzled by the stories. True, some of the poems are worse than others, and may sound hollow after a second reading - but many (such as 'Pride' and 'Where it hurts') are simple masterpieces that can touch your soul. Though these poems are painful and angry and often dark, they have also made me snicker a hundred times. Kay complains with skill and a glint in her eye...
(You can also find Kay's performance mp3s [completely legally] on the internet; they are definitely worth hearing.)