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Jackie Kay is Scotland's first black national poet. Adopted as a child, much of her poetry and prose speaks to her own experience of not feeling entirely welcome in her own country. “I wrote the poems that I wanted to read and I wrote about the experiences that I wanted to find,” she says. Jeffrey Brown reports.
Now a Scottish literary talent whose work on identity and belonging, among other themes, has helped propel her to a unique role and a popular writer there.
Jeffrey Brown has our profile.
JACKIE KAY, Scottish Poet & Novelist: "And this is my country, says the fisherwoman from Jura. Mine, too, says the child from Canna and Iona. Mine, too, says the Brain family. And mine, says the man from the Polish deli."
Jackie Kay wrote her poem "Threshold" for the Scottish Parliament and a special guest, Queen Elizabeth.
Let's blether some more about doors, revolving doors and sliding doors.
In the wake to of the recent Brexit vote to leave the European Union, it was a plea to keep doors and the country open to the outside world. As Scotland's new national poet, Kay made it personal.
Scotland's changing faces — look at me!
I like the idea of trying to change the face of Scotland. But, traditionally, when somebody thinks of somebody Scottish, they see a white man with red hair in a kilt and a — and they don't see me.
Jackie is the adopted daughter of John and Helen Kay. Her birth mother Scottish. Her father was then a Nigerian student studying in Scotland.
I was an illegitimate child. And being picked to be a national poet is probably a pretty legitimate thing.
I will say.
She grew up in Glasgow in a loving home, but very unaware of her difference in the outside society. She told her story in a bestselling memoir, "Red Dust Road."
There weren't many positive stories about adoption. And when I was growing up, we just saw negative stories about adoption. Every story that you heard was horrendous. And I wanted to try and tell a positive story about adoption.
So, I felt a bit like one of my favorite writers, Toni Morrison. She said she wrote the story she wanted to read. And I did that, too. I wrote the poems I wanted to read and I wrote about the experiences I wanted to find.
She began to write as a student at the University of Stirling and, over the years, has authored volumes of poetry, novels, children's books and more.
Often, the work speaks directly to her own experience, as in the poem "In My Country."
"A woman passed by me in a full watchful circle, as if I were a superstition or the worst dregs of her imagination. So, when she finally spoke, her words spliced into bars of an old wheel, a segment of air. Where do you come from? Here, I said. Here, these parts."
Kay now has a major public role in this poetry-loving country and she intends to use it to expand the voices of Scotland.
You could have a real long, long, long poem with all of the different things that you come from, couldn't you?
We joined her recently on a return to Stirling, where she was working with local high school students, part of a project called Out of Bounds, giving a greater voice to black and Asian British poets.
Want to have a mixture of images and metaphors as well.
Kay encouraged the students to play with language in her poems, something she herself loves to do.
I found the coin, and I found the (INAUDIBLE) in the sparking granite June, just as the (INAUDIBLE) was coming (INAUDIBLE) just as the coyotes (INAUDIBLE) at the moon.
Her official title is one she clearly loves. She is Scotland's Makar, rhymes with lacquer, she told me.
It's an old Scottish word. And it means maker, maker of words.
I mean, it's a great word because of this idea to make, right? And people — I don't know if people think about poetry, as something that's made.
Well, a poem — we make a poem in the way other people might make a table. A poem is a physical thing that you make. And, for me, Makar fits perfectly.
And it seems to have kind of captured people's imagination, because people keep stopping me and say, Makar, congratulations, even in other — so, for some reason, it just sort of excited people. I think it's maybe — it's because there's not been a black national poet in this country before maybe. Or I don't know.
But, for some reason, here you are. What are you doing here talking to me?
I don't know. I mean, I do know. Because I wanted to talk to you.
Just as granite comes (INAUDIBLE) then there will be grown folks search in vain, tracking during the past in the rain, for as long as you would call a stain a stain.
Jackie Kay will take her infectious love of poetry and country to every corner of Scotland.
Come bend the living room. Come join our brilliant gathering.
From Scotland, I'm Jeffrey Brown for the "PBS NewsHour."
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