The Scotsman Sessions #62: Jackie Kay

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts world shutting down for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Scotland’s Makar Jackie Kay reads two new lockdown poems, “Still” and “Mask”

“Whether it’s Black Lives Matter or Coronavirus,” says Jackie Kay, “we are living in tinderbox times. Everyone has a layer of skin less than they normally would.”

As Scotland’s third Makar, or national poet, Kay has thrown herself into the job of trying to articulate the swirl of emotions these troubled times have brought to the surface. “Everyone has felt the pressure of lockdown in different ways,” she says. “For myself, I found it difficult not seeing my mum for three whole months.”

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Some of those feelings found their way into her poem “Still,” the first of what became a series that she put online every Sunday, starting on Mother’s Day (16 March), for three months. “They are very much like a poetry diary. I’m not planning on making a book of them, though they might well make a pamphlet - a pandemic pamphlet!

Jackie Kay

“I decided as soon as lockdown began that I wanted to be actively Makar, to get poetry oot and aboot, so that it’s not in a corner - especially not a dead poets’ corner - but part of the fabric of our lives. Particularly around lockdown, people have been turning to it more and more.”

Proof of that came in the reaction to her poem Essential, commissioned by the Scottish Government to celebrate those workers outwith the health sector who helped us to retain any semblance of normal life. On the day of its release it was downloaded 100,000 times, which almost certainly makes it Scotland’s most-read poem of the year.

Unlike most poets, she is busier than ever - not least in setting up and hosting an excellent online festival with top-line guests such as Don Paterson and Val McDermid in an hour-long show mixing poetry and music which runs every Thursday until 26 August on www.Makar2Makar.com

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