Kirsty Young's castaway is the poet and writer Jackie Kay. Born in Edinburgh in 1961 to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father, she was adopted as a baby by a white Scottish couple, Helen and John Kay, and grew up in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow. Her father worked for the Communist Party and her mother was the Scottish secretary for CND. She began to write seriously at the age of 17 when recovering from a moped accident, and while reading English at the University of Stirling she became a feminist and politically active in the arena of gay and lesbian rights and racial equality. Her first book of poetry, the partly autobiographical The Adoption Papers, was published in 1991 and won the Saltire Society Scottish First Book Award. She won the 1994 Somerset Maugham Award for Other Lovers, the Guardian Fiction Prize for Trumpet and in 2010 published Red Dust Road, an account of her search for her biological parents. She is now Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University and Chancellor of Salford University and was appointed Makar - Scotland's Poet Laureate - in March 2016. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is the bbc hulu on Kirsty young. Thank you for done. In this podcast of desert island discs from BBC radio. Four right reasons. The music choices of shorter than in the radio broadcasts from information about the programme. Please visit bbc dotcom, dont uk slash radio. Mm. Castaway this week is the writer Jackie K, professor of creation, rising at newcastle and chancellor of sulphur university. This spring she also became scotland's mecca or poet laureates if page is another place to take difficult things. Then it's no wonder she so productive. Her life from its very beginnings, has given her Plenty to drawn brought up in
Glasgow's supper been whom full of love and words and ideas. She nonetheless understood the notion of difference from a very young age are moment at a white. She isn't for a time in her teenage years she says she was sick, an angry young black lesbian who lost her sense of humour lucky for all of us. She got back much of the power in her work comes from rising about heavyweight subjects, with a deft likeness of touch. She as poetry, is important because it manages to say in words, things you can't otherwise say it manages to express people's love people's grief. People's loss, poetry gives voice to the voiceless, so welcome jacket. you told me about about love and grief and loss, and I wonder why it is you think that we as people ten to the words of strangers at the most difficult times in her life, the most vigour times in my life. I think
when we have really difficult things happen to us where we are literally lost. Four words often and we for somebody else to have the words em to pit in for us and as soon as we hear those, whereas we recognize them with a permit her to have the experience and we say: that's it, that's it exactly and we feel a kind of a gratitude and we feel beyond that. A kind of sense of this writer news we feel known by a poem because expresses exactly how we we feel, and sometimes how we feel is complex and difficult. And even in an innovation poem that kind of complexity of emotion, am cost really really strongly. There are plenty people who think poetry is not for them. They're, like you know what I don't get it. I don't get that stuff that these people have. What would you What would you say to them? Finally, of converting the better
I've become an evangelical, I think, there's lots of people that will come to a poetry, reading and they'll come up to me and see I've never been to reading before, and I didn't think I would like this am but, but they tell me they do, I remember being in in orkney one time and sitting next to this woman and she said to me: do you think to branded goods- and I said hope so and then I got up and was indeed he did not like her afterwards. She said that she just just common. I love if people we just just common, just just take a risk. You said in your memoirs that some of you happiest memories are of people singing to you throughout your life, so when it is varied list and is a hard one list. Did it take a lot of time to to better out into shape,
the agony. Just because when you really really love music, you actually feel that you're hurting some of the people that you love find out, which is, of course, nonsense because see. This is your choice on a particular day, and perhaps another day your choice would be different. So let's hear some of the ones that you have and tell us about your first track. What is good we going to hear? well, this is m bessie smith, singing kitchen van. My by that bought me my first ever double album was bessie sway. Just always loved that raw unplug saucy voice kitchen is listened to, and I didn't have a clue and I didn't have a clue with the meanings. I just imagined the man that made her nice things to eat in the kitchen to a big white hat and there and then set of years later I understood what the the the double entendres of the songs. I love it for that, madam, why what
Then? Maybe you want then man agreed love have you been craving a yuppie. in that Now. Why not play, worms matchup quite the appetite it was bessie smith, singing kitchen man with clans williams on piano and eddy lange on guitar was recorded in nineteen. Twenty nine, so jacket tell
about your parents well but my parents, SAM, into one and eighty five. Now, they're really really wonderful people there, They lively, there are lots of fun to be without really enjoy their company, and my mom said to me: recently, I'm closer to you Jackie enough had given birth to you myself and that's it. The eye I feel em about them? The m almost feel like I was gonna event is meant to be with them and then the posting politically in gauged all their lives were members of the communist party, and without dad bestial organiser of the communist party. My mom is a primary school teacher, the rebirth locked up for protesting against flower didn't lose within it. clearly wore his submarines, that they were being the clyde. That's right at a ruler, he asked There was that song or get you to bully law, so they ve been positive actively.
Involved in it in the world and encouraged me to be all of their lives. Gives you told her it was spent in bishoprics Anna bishop rigs is the sort of risk, equitable fairly sedate, suburban at play, just on the outskirts of glasgow and your it the sends anything but sedate and suburban avenue. You had visitors from all over the world coming to see you and your parents, it ain't enough to come down in the mining and navy. Seventy nine in the fluid elena in the cage needs to step over them and be you know, somebody from vietnam or from nigeria from kenya. Uganda are from england and it was a great atmosphere, often fixing songs you have written about. I mean heart sinking, but not surprising, sadly, to see the racism that you experience from other kids in the playground. What is even more shocking. As I understand it was you experience racism from teachers in the classroom do it. Did you talk to your parents, about that? I talk to my pain,
one time when there is a particular em at each that she called me a donkey and they went into the school and em. My that you spoke to spoke to her. His first conscious that I wasn't the same colors my mom and dad when I was seven. I remember I was watching a cowboy and indian films and I was really shocked the treatment of the indians and I realise that ever the same color is me and my mom wasn't so I just better. Why aren't you the same? Color is me and she said because you adopted- and I said what does adopted You mean she said it means I'm no really mummy and that really distress May the idea that she wasn't really my mommy. That meant that she wasn't real for a second, that something was going to happen to her. and then a member finding it profoundly upsetting seven more to come. Turkey can tell me Your second discourse this this is my dad's party- face
sang it all. My life, that's right! My life, russia, if shakespeare, co worker, I love the lyrics abysses just just so much funding, always makes me laugh and it's really it is. It is alignment. Kick you right in the coriolanus that, when, without used to sing it years ago, you jump into a fine kick and now it is desolate movement with his walking stick amazing to think that the songs you really love will grow and change with you. You're shakespeare- Stop welding him now brush your shakespeare. while without whitefoot, the british ambassador dry and rang out and roy listen precedent by micro tiger watch around you like it
It's like jumping a race anus, the to north korea, the from the new broadway cast recording of cole porter's, kiss me kate's, that was Lee wilcox and Michael Moore, heron singing brush up your shakespeare He k. Is it true that even as a kid, then you mean that song is is full of words and, of course, is about shakespeare. Will new connected with with words and and the written word early to do you dated absent, I was a voracious either as a kid and I absolutely loved reading and like a kind of love, the idea of finding a character, that's You felt was your soul, mate and reading from a very early age. She would find his kindred spirits. You time characters of people or phrases that fell like they belong. to you and you find a way of attachment fastidious over. There is poetry or plays r r R.
To cite just loved the reading and your first published was you were twelve, I think, and it was in the morning star used. The communist new paper? What was it about? it is, then it is about poverty in glasgow tenements. We live in a tenement which was somewhat d hit, was damp and dusty and much too small business by all these things we managed to live adjusted in another, and love is the biggest fact, laval and it it just altogether not a dry eye in the house. At the end of that one, my dad used to stand as the communist party candidate, and so I used to grind tenements with him. Your first published collection of poetry was in ninety ninety one. It was called the adoption papers. It got a lot of attention, it won prizes. It was your story but it was also their story to what was european reaction to having their lives written about and read about. Well, I remember when I first to admit that those writing the adoption papers he said of you know, go Ebay, have a tip for yourself and he thought
There might be a massive indulges which I worried about to, but when, when it was published, there were a lot of people responded to it and people tickets are on is their story too, and I think he could see that it was just everybody's dirty. I think that it is, is inches easier, adopted already come as a story and the steward The thing is handed down. You come with it stood in a basket, really an incentive, since then dna, floods and biology. Is pastime stories and they you ve been bond over the stony. Is it true that every birth your mother, would not use celebrate our daughters birthday, but also talk about your birth mother? To you on your birthday, she would she wasn't? What did she say, my mama so generous, and that we should say so some weird Jackie jacket is a woman out there, thinking that child ahead will be nine to do so. If somebody's remembering your birthday as a
Well, it's an extraordinary thing to do, because you know mother too, I'm a mother, we feel probably ridiculously possessive about and the idea that you open your child's heart to the possibility of this other parallel Oh mother is a remarkable feat of warms agreeably is just so generous. I think my mom was just so generous. My mom to imagine my birth father too, and she used to I'm pictured nepal, ropes and figured Jackie, maybe a bit of nelson mandela, mixed in this, she actually have encouraged me to imagine them, and so that was that let that meant that it is all it was ok, and it meant that I didn't have to feel like an adulterer. I think that when here Health is on you're, very happy, and then you chase is new family. You can feel a bit like you're betraying them
disloyal are lacking adulteress, somewhere, music, Jackie your sword. Would we gonna hear this? Is elephants channels and can't busy? Honeysuckle rose I went to year alone when I was fourteen. Is my fourteen birthday present. While is my fellow gillian in this, and it is they just blew my mind being able to. To hear her. I could have reached out and touched her and I just I really loved her and jillian love jazz in the same way as me, whilst everybody else assisted to Donny osmond david Cassidy Gillian and I were listening to carol billion Ella Fitzgerald, dinah, washington, Sarah Vaughan and she used to come round and with andrew near the living room and my dad and hurried down something so love. Alice. Zest.
Can I use the transplant get better in my life and I waited all about them in a way that was elephants gerald and current lisi with honeysuckle ruse,
It was a serious accident. I think when you were around about seventeen on a moped motorbike accident that really began your writing in earnest was that to do with the fact that he just had to spend time on your own recuperating. Is that latest laid up? I couldn't walk. Probably for a year and a half and one leg is shorter than the other. So far from being a runner and chaining five days a week, competing scotty, schoolgirl champion, says m to having this walking stick is seventeen made me feel very self conscious, but it gave me a different way of of seeing- and I think sometimes things happen to you- that that make you a tick, I suppose, to see yourself in people. Shoes is it is. It is a good thing, Tell me about this, and I should tell listeners that I'm quoting directly or tell me more about this angry young black lesbian, who lost her sense of humor. Those are, I should stress, your words are not mine,
Yeah, I remember I went to university and then I became very feminist. Am I joined this consciousness? Raising women's grew cold, the women's collective and then I beg agriculture. wanna be furious at facts and furious it proposing So you'll rate, don't say I'm not your doll and then, if I suddenly realized I was black properly. I hadn't realized before I went to university and properly and so it'd be kind of a thank goodness, didn't. I probably know by it. Is like a I only by two inasmuch ass, with a negative weighing and been called names, but I didn't know about it in a conscious, please. always out that became part of my and to remember meeting the african american podgy large and she said Jackie. You dont have to choose
be black and scottish and and very long- and I thought- oh, that's great- since not really changed things for me. It kind of gave me back my sense of humor me seeing audrey learned. You met her in your early twenties as a student's euro student sterling university in the early eighties. I've read that you were subjected to this really extraordinary. It was was homophobic. It was racist, it was a poster campaign, targeted particular, look at you with your name on the posters ura yoda profess, no you're chancellor university. we hear a lot of discussion. Indeed, our prime minister herself has involved to herself in the discussion about safety, pieces in university camps is stifling free speech in that will have the right to see what we think and to offend. Will you on that.
I I really really believe in freedom of speech, and I find it very worrying what's happening in universities, I came from a particular time in the seventies where political debate, even if people were completely against you, was very, very important. I think when things are violent and aggressive, I mean these posters were violently put razors behind them. So as if anybody read them, then they will get their fingers shredded and that was pretty distressing and that was Very very far right to know that those can british movement began p, that kind of fascism. I fear will we might return to that. It feels like we're. Returning to a period, of time where things have become very charged claim for some music. Jackie tell me about your force may forced at check is needed. Someone mississippi god, damn it's a protest song, he wrote it herself raised at the death of the school girls in the church in alabama?
There's something about protest. Songs of sounds that I love too. I used to be the socialist sunday school choir and we used to sing songs like if I had a hammer and hammer in the morning and to end by the riverside gonna, lay down my sword and shield. They loved the idea that people collect together thing. They feel strongly about and make a song about it.
Dogs on the train school children sitting in jail black cat crossed my path. I think every day is gonna, be my last. The nod have mercy on this land mine. We all going to get it can do time. I don't belong here. I don't belong there. I've even stopped believing in the don't. Tell me I'll. Tell you me and my people just about do I've been bad, so I know people say and go slow. The Nina, Simone and mississippi go down. You said during that chunky keep it again. She was one of the people that you you went to see. You saw her live in concert. We were snaps, I went to say, hey Ronnie scott's, it was fantastic. You know, she's wearing a white, long white fur coat she's laid onto the stage and chance people too shy. I request a nice nice do that.
seeing sugar in my bowl and she looked straight at me and she pointed- and she says sugar in my bowl I'll be doing later and I nearly passed either. Seven directory lets from moments about your son, matthew, he's twenty eight snow in his his father is you're a good friend fellow poets and also academic, Freddy guy? Did he offered father a child for you, that's what I read every day the soviet one day we were in the cafe and they could see me sort of looking briefly at these kids and he said: do you want to be a mother because I'd be happy to be the dad, so that was fantastic and Mathias is racket. It's to me to have him in my life. Did you live as a were you a single mother when you were looking after matthew when he was small? No, I wasn't a single mom. He grew up initially with my partner at the time Yes, and he was very close to our still is very close to her and and fed was evolved in his in his ways. I wasn't, I didn't ever feel completely.
alone, and then, after that I am we we lived with that crime and she had a daughter too and became a family together. I think what was anew the time was they weren't that many lesbian mom I remember seeing till one time is correct. Kill you know having unless we now, mrs, when he was about sixteen, they said, no, he said is not cool it all it becomes. A lesbian gram, hedge It is always going out with things that I wasn't expecting. I remember when he was three. I thought well he's not a man in his life properly all the time, and so my dad was standing had gone. What scamper shave same enough as it did? You watch competitiveness, a jazz You didn't do it properly. You only went like this any kind of motioned under his chinese. They didn't do his legs, and I say this to my dad and my that said, you need to be careful. You know putting it up that boy into esoteric. A household has high
I thought that I was thinking the easiest, Eric high school video game, titles or something- and it was just a few days before his birth, before your son's birthday that you made proper contact with your your birth mother. Is that right? You did get a letter, that's absolutely I am. I know when you're pregnant, you just become really curious about the person who, who carried you. Let's have some more music jackie k, it's time for you fifth tell me about this. This is an area factory hagen. Ah I just love, If I was on my desert island it with lift my heart, not be singing along with it. Him all the time and they often dancing around the kitchen to make my partner denise
the alley prostitute, hey gunnar and ITALY. Three years later, then Jackie k that you did we were talking just a moment ago about this later. That came a few days before you gave birth from your mother. Replying to you Enquiry about her giving you up for adoption, three years later that you met face to face and its sons and anything that I've read like an awkward first encounter. Is that fair? Yes, it was, it was. Am
One strange thing was it: I'd bought her a bunch of orchids and she'd bought me a bunch of orchids, so that was em a strange coincidence but she was very nervous. What did you ask her. I didn't really get a chance to ask her the things that I wanted to ask her, because she was too nervous, as she was just talking all the time, but her neighbors and this, and that it seemed it seemed. Intrusion seem grid almost to ask her to things that didn't really get a chance asked her bit about my father though, and but she didn't really member. Too much about him. Then you did meet your father. You, You ve, written devices must fit senor memoir, red dust rose. You open the book with this. Well, I'm gonna go but tragicomic encounter because bits of it do make one lava, lighted and bits of it. Make one almost cry. I would you describe. It is I think that's pretty close to the mark garcia. I think I only saw the common
see in that meeting afterwards, when I was actually in the moment. I didn't find it funny at all, because my breath father no meeting with him. Was he sang and danced and clap drawing me they. We welcomed equity an idea. Thank you. Gotta might have for being here safely. god, almighty than he sang and danced round the room and clapped, and in that way for two and a half hours and there, and he said it was Making things will one point in the middle of this. I realise that you saw me as his past sin and I needed to be cleansed, and so that was then became quite it's doping and he didn't want to tell any of his family about me. He said if people were to know about you, they would lose their faith in god, and I thank goodness I didn't realize it was that the time I was really really happy that I met him, else. I realized it. My father was a stranger
we exchanged a relative stranger and I felt all churned up by it, but at the end of the day I felt not properly. No, Am I didn't probably know him either an did you settle with yourself? those feelings of being all turned up. Where did they go into writing a thing? I think, can I think you're you're lucky you can run. If you can find some way of of crafting experience because you can't just sturgeon to the page. You have to actually construct and structure the experience it will let other people in his people can open the door and walk into experience, and I call it there's an in that big of doing that that lesson itself gives you somewhere to go with it, And it means that you, you then can have can is almost like telling a story back to yourself after me. are traumatized by something we are as people the more
Tell the story neurons would be completely silent and not be able to talk at all, but I the term. Writing is one of the ways of of of expressing the inexpressible of giving voice. Two things are difficult. You Mother died earlier this year. Was there a sense of anything when that happened and indeed. Did you go to her funeral? Did you feel the need to mark that moment? I did go to vienna. Yes, I a poem her funeral. Am I wasn't. Introduced as her daughter, so people didn't know, I was her daughter. I was just pedantic. And the family, and so I find that quite difficult, and I find the whole thing upsetting. I find that I didn't really quite know what to do about at the funeral. Whether to have these
and since I was just get up and say, I'm her daughter, I either like you, don't get that and then I thought no just upset everybody. If I do that, so I just I just read the poem for her: let's have some music junkie We can listen to your your six piece. When you tell me about this choice, The chopin. I really love the way that they tell you and the piano talk to each other. I was really lucky In one of my ex lovers was a viola player and she introduced me to all sorts of pieces of music that I wouldn't have otherwise had. The the. the.
Hmm. there was and seriousness in energy minor, with Martin hungary, on piano and sizzler frost reports on cello, jackie by me, reckoning. I think you ve gone about twenty one set what's trumpets, one, the garden fiction prize. You got BP saltire the somerset ward for poetry, the life of a who is is surely a preseason financially
precarious one? Wouldn't you rather just have had a very nice regular income as a writer robin sort of having to find space in the house for all these various gangs and awards air that didn't have them in their eyes. The guns in the arts am, but I. I think the new, a wiser video, wonderful, because these they say it to you that this book something, but I think thing that really matters. This writing. It feels like a huge privilege to be please my son, you say to me when he was very minimum. Why always going to poetry without poyser was a place. You got it pain or of cleaner vassenka off at this place, called poetry only was coming, that in some ways, some places you go to tell me about your shakespeare. music, Jackie, it's your seventh! Well, NATO's? I absolutely love hit the road jack o. My friends call me jack, I just being on the roads. Traveling in june, a fuller of that being a petty pacific for it
ass, it came in the radio in nigeria when I was travelling to try and find my breath the father's ancestral village, and it makes me think of my son, because we ve beach house all the time and that thing of having kids and trying to pass on to them some of your musical enthusiasms and he loves ray charles, and I remember we went to settle him in to universe, city and we played right.
has already done and what should aim at the and I in the car, with only staff and in the way back acknowledges has again. Although he happened, rain was going courses declared sixty years. What you say. I guess I'll have the necessary tools and hidden Jackie Jackie. As your friends call you and you grew up, then of course, listening to poetry, burns nights at point and poetry nights in insecure.
ST went to those you one said we write to understand the things that are missing in our lives. You ve got a son, you ve got at least three jobs. You ve got a long term partner what is still missing. What keeps you writing that cetera? brilliant question. I think you know where else in I do have a minute have have so much in my life and I I feel very loved and I think that that law visiting that defines us more than anything else. Love is what gives us our identity and love is what makes us a strong by I think we will. We also are often shadowed in our life by by losses, will have lost people in different ways, and so I think can have the strange loss becomes actually a presence absence becomes a presence in our life and, I think often writers, I to try and grapple with the presence, absence makes
I fear is in some dominated by words? alone, on the islands. How do you think you would be my goodness I am I am I think that's funny thing about matters is that we have to be low earners and lots of ways like being alone? I I I I don't. ever feel lonely. Very, very sociable, so I would have to make. company of what was there and have to make mansionry friends, cheese, faded, asian plants, have to he conversations with them are probably, I think which I am a little bit mad yeah. I with my scrapping and be singing mississippi god to home and I'd be voting assured in that they see waves, probably turn into just an exaggeration version too. For I have altered, it is time for your final. This could work. You can tell us about this. Your aids, for this is that gene redpath singing depends on green grow. Their ashiel thinks disco,
the most amazing vices, and this makes me think but all the barn suffers, I used to attend as a kitten party paralyzer holly's to both these. These burn separate my dad would do the immortal mammy maisie hill. If somebody like that with a gesture haggis- and it was all fantastically dramatic- and I realise that there could be great drama in poetry
and in song the horde signify the gene weapons singing robbie burns song green grow, the russians who both of us rather dumping the corners of our moist eyes there. I think, Jackie kay and I'm going to give you the book snipe the bible, the complete works of shit spear. And of course you get stick along another book. to this lonely island. What will your book be have to take my old copy of the complete works? It burns cause burns would make me laugh we'd make me cry
I would remind me of my some of my favorite songs and would remind me of all the different burn sufferers in the time that we had with my moments: And all the different glinting knife suggests you think it's him and then it would be great company for me, that's your book, then, of course you gotta luxury to what we will actually be well m. Mama They would have to be very self filling hip flask of a good marks. nice and I ll come out. I'm pretty nifty near the we hit fast. We just keep filling it very hip everyone I am a bit get to be cured. What about wonders if you had to save one of these from the waves which which disk would it be I'd, have to take chopin with me and have to take a piece of music, the captain, changing in shifting and changing with the weather in the desert, island and changing with my, and I think that peace would probably do it for me, jack UK. Thank you very much.
Letting us here desert island discs. It's been a huge frazier kirsty. Thank you. You ve been listening to a download from the bbc.
You'll, find more information on the radio four website, bbc dot, co, dot, uk slash radio for the.
Transcript generated on 2022-06-19.