Jackie Kay Poems - Poem Analysis (2024)

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Keeping Orchids

‘Keeping Orchids’ by Jackie Kay is a highly personal poem that explores Kay’s experiences meeting her birthmother and the ways in which she attempted to hold onto that experience.

This piece is a wonderful example of Kay's poetry. It explores many of the themes that she's best known for, including love, identity, and family. She specifically references the moments she spent talking to her birthmother for the first time and how that impacted her later.

The orchids my mother gave me when we first met

are still alive, twelve days later. Although

some of the buds remain closed as secrets.

Twice since I carried them back, like a baby in a shawl,

My Grandmother’s Houses

‘My Grandmother’s Houses’ by Jackie Kay is a thoughtful recollection of youth and a young speaker’s relationship with her eccentric grandmother, who is forced to move homes.

The poem is typical of Kay's work, insofar as it is deeply imbued with memory and marked by the poet's own personal history.

She is on the second floor of a tenement.

From her front room window you see the cemetery.


‘Rubble’ by Jackie Kay is a dramatic monologue that was included in her collection, Darling: New & Selected Poems. It conveys an individual’s cluttered and chaotic mind.

Despite not being one of her best known poems, Rubble still contains many of Kay's usual themes and sense of drama.

What was the thought that I just had in my head?

Late Love

‘Late Love’ explores the transformative power of love, contrasting its passionate heights with the fading memories and passage of time.

This poem is a good representation of Jackie Kay's poetry. It showcases her signature style of introspective and emotionally resonant writing, exploring themes of love, longing, and human connections. The poem demonstrates Kay's ability to capture nuanced emotions, employ vivid imagery, and evoke a sense of nostalgia. While it is just one example of her work, 'Late Love' reflects the depth and artistry found in many of Kay's poems, making it a representative piece of her poetic repertoire.

How they strut about, people in love,

how tall they grow, pleased with themselves,

their hair, glossy, their skin shining.

They don’t remember who they have been.

Brendon Gallacher

‘Brendon Gallacher’ uncovers the tender yet harsh transition from the innocence of childhood to the reality of growing up.

He was seven and I was six, my Brendon Gallacher.

He was Irish and I was Scottish, my Brendon Gallacher.


‘Darling’ by Jackie Kay describes a woman’s death on a beautiful summer day and her close friend’s reaction. It was inspired by a personal loss the poet experienced.

You might forget the exact sound of her voice

Or how her face looked when sleeping.

You might forget the sound of her quiet weeping

Curled into the shape of a half moon,


‘Divorce’ by Jackie Kay is about parent-child relationships and how children are impacted by adults’ issues. The speaker is a teenager who is struggling to contend with her parent’s relationship with one another.

I did not promise

to stay with you till death do us part, or

anything like that,

Dusting The Phone

‘Dusting The Phone’ by Jackie Kay is a a monologue of a woman yearning for a single phone call from the man she loves.

I am spending my time imagining the worst that could happen.

I know this is not a good idea, and that being in love, I could be

spending my time going over the best that has been happening.

Going to See King Lear

‘Going to See King Lear’ by Jackie Kay describes what happens when a young girl is taken to see a traumatizing play by her mother.

On the big red smooth seat

I watch the giant television

Got You

‘Got You’ by Jackie Kay is an interesting poem about sibling jealousy and the strength of sisterhood. The speaker is a discouraged child who believes her sister is superior to her in every way.

You know I am the shy one really, don’t you,

Explore more poems from Jackie Kay

He Told Us He Wanted a Black Coffin

‘He Told Us He Wanted a Black Coffin’ by Jackie Kay is a heart-wrenching poem narrated by a mother whose son passed away from AIDs.

and he cried when Gavin moved to Aberdeen

In the Seventh Year

‘In the Seventh Year’ by Jackie Kay is a short, beautiful lyric poem. It describes the timeless and changing nature of a speaker’s relationship.

Our sea is still mysterious as morning mist

its flapping arms stretched out for dry sand

Love Nest

‘Love Nest’ by Jackie Kay depicts the difficulties that same-sex couples face and society’s cruel infiltrates their relationships and homes. The poet uses a skillful, multilayered extended metaphor in this piece.

The mice come first. In our bedroom

My Grandmother

‘My Grandmother’ by Jackie Kay depicts the poet’s understanding of her grandmother. The includes a juxtaposition between her positive and negative qualities.

My grandmother is like a Scottish pine,

tall, straight-backed, proud and plentiful,

a fine head of hair, greying now

tied up in a loose bun.


‘Plague’ by Jackie Kay is a poem about death, specifically about the plague in London and how a mother is forced to contend with the knowledge that both her sons are going to die.

Our black door has a white X.

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Jackie Kay Poems - Poem Analysis (2024)


What are Jackie Kay's poems about? ›

This piece is a wonderful example of Kay's poetry. It explores many of the themes that she's best known for, including love, identity, and family. She specifically references the moments she spent talking to her birthmother for the first time and how that impacted her later. some of the buds remain closed as secrets.

What is the poem the answer about? ›

'The Answer' by Sara Teasdale is a short poem that describes the respect that one speaker is hoping to receive from others after her death and the joy she felt during her life.

What is the poem "While Leila Sleeps" about? ›

This is a topical poem about a mother who is forced to flee her home with her daughter in the middle of the night. It is suggested that she is an immigrant woman perhaps facing deportation.

What is the message of the poem "If I should have a daughter"? ›

It explores themes including overcoming adversity, providing support, and the recurring patterns of life that one must inevitably face.

Why does Jackie Kay write? ›

At first Kay wanted to be an actress and attended part-time classes at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. She was encouraged towards writing when a teacher sent some of her poems to Alasdair Gray, who recognised their merit and told her that she really was a writer.

What happened to Jackie Kay as a child? ›

As a child, Kay suffered racism from children and teachers at school. John Kay died in 2019 at the age of 94. As a teenager she worked as a cleaner, working for David Cornwell—who wrote under the pen-name John le Carré—for four months. She recommended cleaning work to aspiring writers, saying: "It's great ...

What is the main message of the poem? ›

The theme of a poem is the message an author wants to communicate through the piece. The theme differs from the main idea because the main idea describes what the text is mostly about. Supporting details in a text can help lead a reader to the main idea.

What is the main idea of the poem? ›

A poem's core concept is the subject of the poem, or 'what it's about' if you like. While many shy away from poetry being 'about' something, at the end of the day, as it was written, the poet had something in mind, and that something, whatever it was or may have been, is the central concept.

What is the message by the poem? ›

The message of a poem is often conveyed through the emotions and ideas expressed by the poet. By examining the language and structure of the poem, readers can gain insight into the poet's intended message.

What does sleep symbolize in the poem? ›

In this poem, 'sleep' refers to death, which overcomes everything in the material world. The speaker says that life is like a journey and we will get attracted to various things on our way.

Who wrote "While Leila sleeps"? ›

Whilst Leila Sleeps by Jackie Kay - Scottish Poetry Library.

What is the main idea of the poem night? ›

"Night" is a poem in the illuminated 1789 collection Songs of Innocence by William Blake, later incorporated into the larger compilation Songs of Innocence and of Experience. "Night" speaks about the coming of evil when darkness arrives, as angels protect and keep the sheep from the impending dangers.

What sort of beauty does the poet want his daughter to be blessed with? ›

The speaker of “A Prayer for My Daughter” makes what might seem like a strange request: he wants his daughter to be blessed with beauty, but not too much beauty—to be attractive to men, but not so attractive that men become "distraught" at the sight of her or that she herself can't stop looking in the mirror.

What is a metaphor in if I should have a daughter? ›

Another instance of figurative language occurs when the speaker relates that “this world is made out of sugar” (Line 46). This metaphor refers to world's tendency to “crumble so easily” (Line 47), but the mother hopes the girl will not be too afraid to stick out her tongue and taste it.

What is the idea message of the poem? ›

The central idea is what the poet is writing aboutor conveying to the reader. The message of the poem is the poet's feelings of position regarding the central idea. For example, the central idea of a poem might be war. The message might be opposition to war, the devastation, loss, suffering.

What is the poem lessons by Jacqueline Woodson about? ›

Answer and Explanation: The poem Lessons, written by Jacqueline Woodson, is about perseverance and navigating the hard times in life, be it financial hardship, racial discrimination, or larger societal and family issues.

What is the poem to the mercy killers about? ›

Dudley Randall's To the Mercy Killers is a moving appeal against the practice of mercy killing and the tormenting affect it has on its victims. The poem was written in 1973 by the African-American poet and librarian Dudley Randall and has since become one of the most effective …show more content…

What are the themes in trumpet by Jackie Kay? ›

Throughout the story, Kay touches on many issues: the racism that Joss and Colman face; the transcendence and energy that Joss finds in his music; the costumes we wear to embody different personalities; and the many roles we play in the course of our lifetimes.

What is the poem in times of peace about? ›

While 'In times of peace' it talks about the emotional conflict between feeling after the war. They both – Wilfred Owen and John Agard – write about war. They use guns within their poem to help show their message.

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