Last night I went to the Shore Poets and had a great evening. The music was by The Linties, a vocal three-piece who sang both funny songs and more serious ones. I confess I often dread the music slot at the Shore Poets, but last night’s was very good.
Mandy Maxwell was the first poet on. She is from Glasgow and her poems tend to reflect the city – its dialect, sense of humour, and music. They were humorous and sad in turn.
Christine de Luca was second on the bill. Most of her poems are in Shetlandic dialect, a curious hybrid of English, Norwegian, and home-grown language. It sounds fantastic. She read some of the poems in English first, and with others, she gave definitions of difficult words before reading. She also read some of her translations into Shetlandic from Welsh and Latvian. A real experience to hear this, and an excellent and charismatic performance.
Finally, on came Jackie Kay. It’s hard for me to know how well known Jackie Kay is outside of the UK. In Scotland she is a extremely well known writer with several award winning novels and poetry collections. She is the official virtual poet-in-residence for this years UK National Poetry Day (October 5) and is keeping a blog for that, which is well worth looking at.
Her performance was ebullient, one of the most engaging I’d ever seen. She connected immediately with her audience by sheer force of personality. She got lots of laughs, but her poetry’s humour is often dark. She combines natural speech rhythms, narrative and wit with real depth and poignancy. And her anecdotes in between poems were hilarious, a real lesson for anyone thinking of performing.
A few choice examples – you need to know that Jackie is Scottish and black (black Nigerian father, white Scottish mother):
Jackie and her mother are in a clothes shop and Jackie tries on a dress.
Mother: That colour really suits you.
Woman standing nearby: I’d just like to say I agree. That colour really does suit you.
Woman: Can I ask? Where do you come from?
Jackie: Eh… I’m from Glasgow.
Woman: Oh… that’s interesting. (pause for thought…and then turns to mother) You know, I once knew someone from the Dominican Republic!
Jackie and her mum are in a shop and a woman falls into conversation with them.
Woman: Excuse me, but (I hope you don’t mind me asking) did you say you are mother and daughter?
Mother: Yes, that’s right
Woman: Oh… you know, your daughter looks just so… tanned.
Mother: Ah well…
Woman: I hope you don’t mind me asking, but is she that colour every day?
Jackie: I woke up one morning with a terrible hangover, and I thought, as a hangover cure, that I’d write an erotic poem about a donkey… And it worked!
If any of you get the chance to see Jackie Kay perform her poems, don’t miss it!
And you can hear Jackie read here, a recording from 2001. Pride is especially good, I think, and English Cousin Comes to Scotland is a hoot.