There was an audible buzz around Scottish writer and poet Jackie
Kay's appearance at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival on
Saturday. A last minute venue change from Library to rather grand
and ornate town hall cemented Kay as the festival's star
With its lefty lesbian populace, Stoke Newington was the prime
location for last Saturday's event and the town hall was bustling
with hoards of adoring female fans as well as north London's
literati. Attendees were treated to miniature G & Ts on arrival
courtesy of sponsors Hendricks. These proved necessary in fooling
the very PG mid afternoon audience into thinking they just might be
at a post watershed show. The content was certainly steamy, with
Jackie launching straight into all things vaginal. Her closing bow
was a wonderfully silly poem that sent up a female relative's
naivety in sexual matters and left us wondering where she picked up
her x-rated rhyming dictionary.
Despite the racy content, Kay's event never teetered on smutty
or gratuitous. She is so warm, friendly and self-effacing on stage
you can be tricked into thinking you're across a pub table from
each other. She also knows how to flirt with an audience and kept
telling the technicians to raise the lights up on our faces.
We were treated to stories from her well-received new collection
'reality, reality'. She read extracts from 'The Last of the
Smokers', a love letter to the romance of smoking. She tells us the
story was based on her time living with three "mad lesbians" in
Stoke Newington, this gets a cheer from the "mad lesbians" in the
She reads another nostalgic and wistful story called Bread bin
in which a woman recounts the great orgasms of her life to her
grandmother who is sceptical about the whole idea of an orgasm.
According to the grandmother women who have orgasms don't have time
to clean their bread bins. 'Bread Bin' is a touching story about
family, different generations of women and the smarting pinch of
first love. Unfortunately Jackie stops herself just as the main
character is recounting a lover kissing her stomach and mid giggle
claims it's far too racy for her to continue, what a brilliant
'Mini Me' got the most laughs and featured a gutsy overweight
woman trying and failing to lose enough weight so she would
resemble the mental image of Michelle Obama she stored in her
Kay book-ended the event with two poems from her collection
Fiere. It is in her poetry that her words really sing. Her lilting
Glaswegian voice is instantly reassuring and makes the lines from
Fiere about enduring friendship the most touching ones we hear all
"The snow ne'er looked sae
Nor the winter trees sae pretty.
C'mon, c'mon my dearie - tak my
hand, my fiere!"
That is not to say Kay's stories are poor relatives of her
poetry. They complement each other very well. 'Reality, Reality'
revolves around those ever enduring themes of love, sex, discovery
and loss. She imbues with a warmness and wit the day-to-day comedy
of existing. Her often un-glamorous tales are made to shimmer.
Catch Jackie Kay at her next reading on 30 June in