The house is full this afternoon, and quite rightly so. Jackie Kay is the current Scottish Makar; a woman who promotes inclusivity and whose poetry is accessible, lyrical and, particularly when read aloud, mesmerising.
She opens today’s Edinburgh Book Festival reading from her latest poetry collection, Bantam, which explores who we are and where we come from, traverses the generations and speaks eloquently about death, grief and also of life and celebration. Linking the poetry readings with the stage production of her memoir, Red Dust Road, currently showing at The Lyceum as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, she ends this section with a deeply personal poem written following the death of her birth mother, Margaret’s Moon.
“The sea lochs and the sea and at last,
At least it seemed to me, you were free.”
And this brings her discussion with Tanika Gupta, the playwright tasked with adapting Red Dust Road for the stage, neatly round to discussion of putting such a personal work in the hands of others. Kay was honest. It was not easy and she felt that she could have had more input at different stages. Gupta, for her part, was equally truthful, speaking of the difficulties she had choosing whether to use a narrator (she decided against it) or to stray from the higgledy-piggledy narrative structure of Kay’s original work and make it more linear for the stage. On the advice of Elaine C Smith, who plays Kay’s birth mother in the play, she opted against this too. Smith saying on reading the translated version that with a linear form the story “lost its magic.” And she was right. Kay’s words are like magic which is precisely why she is such a popular figure in literary circles and why she was chosen to be the third Scottish Makar.
The final strand of the hour focusses on this “term in office” (the way her father describes this work) and her plans for the remaining 18 months in post. Excitingly she plans to have a Poetry day in Parliament, hoping to engage politicians to see the world differently when their debates are given poetic license, and she is well on her way to completing a 500 poems by 500 people work working across cultures, generations, races and locations.
As she reads once more from her poetry collection you realise it is no surprise that this event is called National Treasures, for Jackie Kay surely is one.