Jackie Kay was inspired to write much of her fourth collection, Life Mask, after having a bronze bust of herself made by Michael Snowden for Edinburgh Park, and meeting her Nigerian birth father for the first time.
Her mixed heritage (she was adopted by a Scottish couple) imbues much of her poems, with red deer, snow, Scottish dialect and place names both Scottish and African (“the old red land”) featuring frequently, sometimes together. The idea of estrangement from this heritage also appears – ‘ Old Tongue’ refers to her gradual loss of much of her Scottish vocabulary after moving to England, and ‘Kano’ on her immersion in Africa after meeting her birth father: “People – are they my people? – / drag their bare feet like camels // in this humped Sahara heat.”
Some of the masks are literal (including some on the creation process) and some are figurative, about the personae we wear.
There are poems of failed love (“to think again about love: / when it is all used up, when the pain is sunk / and betrayal is launched like a splendid ship”), the recovery process post breakup (“When I closed my eyes, / my love kept fluttering under my eyelids”) and whirlwind affairs (“In the small brave night, / her lips, butterfly moments. / I tried to catch her and she laughed / a loud laugh what that cracked me in two, / but then I had been told about her, / how she would always, always. How she would never, never.”)
The poem I’m sharing, though, is about none of this, but auld lang syne:
Remember, the time of year
when the future appears
like a blank sheet of paper
a clean calendar, a new chance.
On thick white snow
you vow fresh footprints
then watch them go
with the wind’s hearty gust.
Fill your glass. Here’s tae us. Promises
made to be broken, made to last.
View the intro/roundup.