Life Mask by Jackie KayI remember reading Rapture when it was relatively new, back in 2006 or 2007. Id been introduced to Carol Ann Duffy, as Im sure many are, through studying The Worlds Wife for A-Level English Literature. It was my first encounter with contemporary poetry, and it was exciting and edgy and erudite, and Ive always maintained a fondness for and interest in Duffys work.
As I began exploring the poetry of Jackie Kay recently, I was struck by some of the similarities between her and Duffy - both biographical, albeit superficial (Scottish, lesbian, Laureate/Makar) and stylistic (deceptively simple, lefty themes, a penchant for ventriloquist monologues - especially given to characters of recent history/culture - and a fondness for lists). So to discover that the two writers had a fifteen-year relationship was a sort of delightfully-surprising-satisfying confirmation, and that knowledge throws light on both poets break-up collections.
Life Mask continues the trend which Kays earlier collections follow of revealing a little more of the author, as she further explores her roots - both Scottish and Nigerian. This collection was the first published after Kay went to meet her biological father in Abuja, and a central sequence (Things Fall Apart, The Wood Father, A White African Dress, Kano, and the embedded sequence African Masks) - explores this encounter and its aftershock in depth.
But throughout, both before and after that centrepiece, it is the poetry of lost love, of relationship ruins, of betrayal and mourning which really defines this volume. This is Kay at her most vulnerable, exposed. All of the shades of heartbreak are here: wounded (Glen Strathfarrar), forlorn (The Spare Room), bitter (Mugs), bewildered (Notice), lost (Husky), self-chastising (Her), philosophical (Clay), pensive (Wax), self-pitying (The Mask of the Martyr), disoriented (Rubble), and, finally, in the collections closer, hopeful (Life Mask):
When the senses come back in the morning,
the nose is a mouth full of spring;
the mouth is an earful of birdsong;
the eyes are lips on the camomile lawn;
the ear is an eye of calm blue sky.
When the broken heart begins to mend,
the heart is a bird with a tender wing,
the tears are pear blossom blossoming,
the shaken love grows green shining leaves.
the throat doesnt close, it is opening
like a long necked swan in the morning,
like the sea and the river meeting,
like the huge herons soaring wings;
I sat up with my pale face in my hands
and all of a sudden it was spring.
Scotland's Makar Jackie Kay opens up about life, love and writing
In previous decades, perhaps, not many beyond bearded and ponytailed literary circles might even have known the identity of a new makar or even the purpose of the post. The profile and efforts of the two previous incumbents, Edwin Morgan and Liz Lochhead , though, have helped to raise awareness of the position so that it has begun to insinuate itself into our national life. Her poem George Square conveys this as well as the quiet affection of old age and a hint of the politics at the heart of these relationships. Jackie Kay was born in Edinburgh in to a Scottish mother and Nigerian father whereupon she was given up for adoption. Many years later, she located her biological father and made plans to meet him while harbouring some anxiety as to how this might be received by her adoptive parents who had given her and her brother so much. She met her birth mother, too, in and has recalled how Helen Kay constantly told her that this woman must love her too and miss her every day. There was no suggestion, though, of a young child being politically indoctrinated.
THE KAY FILE
She is a professor of contemporary poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University , and was appointed Britain's Poet Laureate in May ,  resigning in - Kevin Crowe 11 January She is also a broadcaster, columnist and librettist.
And 18 months into her stint as national poet, Kay is attempting to mak' it her own way, her own style, distinct from her predecessors Liz Lochhead and Edwin Morgan. Partly it means travelling the length and breadth of the country, taking poetry to the islands and remote peninsulas. But also it means changing how the Makarship works. The idea that poetry should get out and about and not be seen as a small thing. Kay has other ideas, too, yet to be put into action, that would extend the reach of poetry within Scotland.
It was a nightmare. I remember the bus kept having to be stopped for him to get out and pee in all sorts of different places. You could see him at a roundabout, baring his willy to the skies. They are good friends, and collaborators. Not to mention ex-partners: Kay and Duffy met at a poetry reading in London in and later embarked on a relationship that lasted 15 years; their conversation is punctuated with familiar laughter.
Adopted by a communist couple as a baby and brought up in s Glasgow, she has documented her own struggles with selfhood in her writing. Although she lives in Manchester, where she and fellow poet Carol Ann Duffy raised two children together during a year relationship, Kay spends half of her time in Glasgow where her adoptive parents still live. She added that she planned to use the role to read poetry in places where it is usually unheard. The role will see Kay, who is currently chancellor of Salford University, create new work and promote poetry throughout Scotland and encourage young people to engage with the art form. Her appointment was also welcomed by Duffy, her former partner and the current Poet Laureate.