Jackie Kay
Royal Exchange Theatre

Jackie Kay received a Forward Prize for her first collection The Adoption Papers which was also adapted for radio. Her most recent publication is a first novel, Trumpet. She has published two books of poetry for children (Two's Company, with Shirley Tourret; The Frog Who Dreamed She Was an Opera Singer, with Sue Williams) and has written widely for stage and television.



The residency has been going brilliantly and I have been really enjoying myself. The theatre is a friendly and fascinating place to work, and is providing, in its way, food for my own work

What have I been doing? I have been working with a range of people - those who work at the theatre and the general public.


For Staff in the theatre


Every week I send out a POEM OF THE WEEK on a Monday. It seems a good start for the week - I send them out by email. I also send out a FEEDBACK email asking for people's responses. Sometimes I get some, sometimes I don't. But I do know that people enjoy reading the poems. I also ask people to suggest poems that they have enjoyed.

Then there was the anonymous POETRY COMPETITION (prize - good bottle of champagne) for the staff. We got over thirty responses and the winner and runner up were announced in the green room where they read the winning poems.

At the moment I'm running another POETRY COMPETITION for the children of the staff and their friends. That is a poetry by email competition. I thought it would be a nice way to involve the children in their parents' workplace. So far I've done one reading to the staff in the green room at lunch hour which was a challenge, what with the forks and the knives, the sausages and the mash. I plan to do another few readings around the theatre: I want to go and read to the women and one man who work in the wardrobe section of the theatre whilst they are sewing up costumes. I plan to pick poems about dressing up, acting and costumes to suit the place. I also want to do a reading in the theatre when it is in transition, from one set to the other, of poems about light and sound.


For the General Public


Every week I've run a POETRY SURGERY where people drop in to the Great Hall on their lunch break with their poetry. This has been very popular, to the extent that some people have had to come back other weeks. It has been striking the range of people locally who write: women and men, old and young. Some people have come from further afield: Todmorden, Halifax, and Leeds. People often come and drop in some of their poems and then retum the next week for the feedback. Often I've suggested ideas and the person has gone away, written the poem and returned. These sessions have been very enjoyable and intense! I could actually go on forever - people would always bring poems. I could imagine myself in a strange play where I just sat waiting from morning to night and night to morning and people, all different people, a steady stream, keep coming with their poems.




I've run a four-week workshop called 'The Journey Back' which was really exciting because the writers were really good. And the group bonded. Each week we wrote poems focusing on our memories and the borders between fact and fiction, imagination and reality. Each week I gave the group homework and everybody did it! That was great. We'd begin with the homework and move on to the new subject: childhood enemies, and heroines, houses... We have produced a course magazine, a la Arvon, called The Journey Back.

A three week READING POETRY course which has been great. I'm in the middle of that at the moment. The idea, though, was to read and share poetry in the way that people do at the reading groups organised by Waterstones and the like. Some of the people who attend write and some don't. Some write fiction, but like reading poetry. Some have always loved reading poetry all their lives. I generally photocopy (eek) four or so poems and we discuss them in depth. It is amazing how many different ways there are of seeing the same poem. It is a very enjoyable way to spend an hour or so.

A four week POETRY AND PERFORMANCE evening course for trainee drama and English students (PGCE, I believe are the initials.) In that course, the students created and performed their own poems and also performed monologue poems by other poets - Robert Browning, Liz Lochead, Simon Armitage, Ian Duhig, Carol Ann Duffy, Selima Hill, Grace Nichols. Jean Binta Breeze. That went well. We were hoping to organise a public performance in the theatre, but there wasn't enough time.

I've also run four all day workshops with schools that have a partnership with the theatre - schools ranging from primary to secondary to sixth form. These have been successful and the students have enjoyed being in the theatre and making up poems. The first of these I ran with a young director here and we did a mixture - drama and poetry - workshop. That was a bit hairy because the kids were wild and one of their teachers lost her temper completely and spoke in this big booming voice that came from her stomach: LEON, I'M BEGINNING TO DISLIKE THE SOUND OF YOUR NAME INTENSELY. But the rest of the schools workshops have been fine. Really.


Still to come


POEMS TO GO - This will be a series of four half an hour workshops for the staff during their lunch breaks. The idea is to get people to write a poem very fast and leave with it, munching their sandwich from Pret a Manger as they do so! Well, we'll see lots of pesto on the pages, but some of the poems might benefit from the tight time restriction.

JACKIE KAY PRESENTS... on Monday April the 10th, there is going to be a celebratory evening of people, who have been involved in the workshops and come along to the surgeries, reading their work We have sent out the invites for this already and it looks set to be a good evening. Needless to say, I've had excellent help with all the administration, photcopying and organising of everything. But most of all I've had lots of moral and practical support from Amanda Dalton and Sarah Jane Rawlings. In fact, I have never done a residency where I have felt so supported. No wee petty notes. Nothing.

I have had such a good time working in the theatre. I love the unexpectedness of everything - suddenly coming across somebody on the stairs, dressed up for A Woman of No Importance, or seeing cookers and beds in the middle of the hall, or feeling the terrible first night nerves flutter around the building. It is inspiring how many ordinary people come to and use this theatre. For a lot of people it forms the fabric of their lives.

That's it for now.



Young Poets Network