5 Things We Learned from Jackie Kay at Authors Live

Jackie Kay Authors Live

On Thursday 8 October we were joined by the award-winning Scottish poet and novelist Jackie Kay – a name which may be particularly familiar to those studying her work as part of the National 5 curriculum. This wasn’t just any Authors Live episode, though: we were celebrating National Poetry Day, so it was only fitting that two additional Scottish poets, MiKo Berry and Jenny Lindsay, came along to give us a taste of their work.

This episode was jam packed with poetry from our three guests and insight into how they get their inspiration, so it was tricky to select these five highlights! Don’t trust our judgment, though; watch the full event on demand.


I thought it was exciting that a piece of food had a poem

For Jackie Kay, poetry started with haggis…

‘I used to really love going to the Burns Suppers and seeing the address to the haggis, it was all very dramatic to me. "Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, great chieftain o' the pudding-race! Aboon them a' yet tak your place…" I thought it was exciting that a piece of food had a poem.'


...Then a mixture of reality and fiction…

‘The first book that I wrote was The Adoption Papers, and the birth mother was made up and the adopted mother was based on my own mum. It was a mixture of reality and imagination.

'I suppose I really like fusing those two things, reality and imagination, and trying to see what you can get out of it. I think if you sail close to the wind like that, sometimes interesting things come out.'

...Followed by a LOT of editing!

‘I write several drafts. Kids don't like to write loads of drafts, they like to write the thing and go "that's it!" and maybe [rewrite it ] once again, neatly, in their other jotter. But they don't like working and working and working on things. And yet editing and being able to rework and rework is as important as the writing itself.

‘I love the editing. I love the fine tuning and the trying to get it right. And even once a poem's published you're looking, thinking there's always things that you could still be changing. So I think you have to rewrite. Rewriting is writing.'


I think if you're a writer you need to be a reader

Recommended Reading from Jackie

‘I think if you're a writer you need to be a reader, they're opposite sides of the same coin. Toss one up and you get writer and toss the other and you get reader. [Reading is] as important to me as it is to write, and I exist to be a reader as much as I exist to be a writer.’

Jackie followed this up with a massive list of specific poets and authors who have inspired and influenced her, from Edwin Morgan to Chinua Achebe. Watch the video for the full list!


Responding to Poetry

As reading and writing are so closely connected, it makes sense to gain inspiration from what we read, and that’s exactly what we see in this episode of Authors Live, with impressive results.

MiKo Berry and Jenny Lindsay each chose one of Jackie’s poems and wrote a poem in response. For example, Jenny drew inspiration from Jackie’s presentation of family and memory in 'The Gap Year' to write ‘The Gap’, which explores her relationship with her grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. This is a great way to encourage students to give writing poetry a try, especially because it provides a starting point rather than the daunting blank page!

Check out our brand new learning resources for Jackie Kay's poems Gap Year and Divorce from English teacher Gordon Fisher.

To hear Jenny and MiKo’s readings and more from Authors Live with Jackie Kay, watch the full event on demand.

If we’ve sparked your interest in poetry, check out our Authors Live Poetry Slam scottishbooktrust.com/video/authors-live/poetry-slam