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Reviews / Scots Makar Jackie Kay opens Wordplay

Scots Makar Jackie Kay: warm, witty, friendly, captivating, sensitive, funny, moving - Photo: Dale Smith

WARM, witty, friendly, captivating, sensitive, funny, moving. These are some of the words I jotted down trying to describe Wednesday night’s talk by Scots Makar, Jackie Kay.

Appointed national poet for Scotland in March of this year, Kay’s event opened the Wordplay 2016 festival, and a better opening it would have been difficult to find.

Reading excerpts from her memoir, Red Dust Road, as well as several poems and a short story, she delved into issues of identity, power of place, friendship, family, sex, race and politics.

Kay has visited Shetland several times, and on this occasion she instantly put the audience at ease with her affable manner, beginning with a poem entitled Fiere, about the friendship between two old women.

Writing from the point of view of older women is something she tends to do, she said, following up with her poem The Knitter, written from the point of view of an old Shetland lady who has lived her life through knitting: each stage of her existence intertwined, in some way, with yarn and makkin’.

Kay was born in Edinburgh and raised in Glasgow by her adoptive parents, and her quest to find her birth mother and father, from Nairn and Nigeria respectively, is documented in Red Dust Road.

She read a chapter detailing the first and only meeting with her father, a highly religious born again Christian who attempts to “cleanse” her, seeing her as a sin from a past life. This must have been sad and confusing, but Kay’s writing, so full of humour and insight, tempers any sorrow.

In Bread Bin, a short story, she tells of a woman who having found love – and her first orgasm – at 49, is relating this to her elderly Grandmother, who is altogether sceptical and feels it would be no bad thing to have experienced neither, as long as she had a clean bread bin. None of this came across as smutty or crude, but frank and funny.

The poignant tribute to her parents, April Sunshine, reminds us to think of the lives behind the faces we see in hospital beds. The range of emotion running through her poetry is as varied as the subject manner and her joyous, warm delivery made it a delightful – and extraordinarily quick – hour.

Kay’s talk was the first of a packed festival programme that will include talks, workshops and events for adults and children.

Visiting authors include children’s author Debi Gliori, while Horatio Clare and local illustrator Jane Matthews team up to tell the tale of Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot.

Between Islands authors Kevin MacNeil, from the Western Isles, Alison Miller from Orkney and local Roseanne Watt will be reading from their work on island living.

Roseanne will also be exploring the integration of poetry and the moving image in a film poetry discussion, while graphic novel writer Edward Ross invites you to create a comic book in his masterclass.

With song writing workshops, quizzes and more, Wordplay 2016 looks set to be brilliant. The full programme can be found here.

Louise Thomason