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Entry #4 in the series Poetry Tuesday.

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poeticconnection21.blogspot.com

poeticconnection21.blogspot.com

Since the end of the fall semester, I’ve been reading more and more poems by Jackie Kay. She is a Scottish poet and novelist; I read Trumpet a good while back, which I fully recommend, but it wasn’t until last year I really got into more of Kay’s stuff. One of the characters in my novel is a poet and I was – kind of still am – figuring out what kind poetry this character would read.

I feel that Kay falls under my category of “character’s favorites,” not just because I love her poems myself, like “Other Lovers,” “Keeping Orchids” and “The Year of the Letter.” When I read a poem by Jackie Kay, any poem, I feel as though she is speaking directly to me. Plus, the emotions captured within those lines, no matter if it’s joy, heartache, anger or whatever, they seem to linger in the room even after I’ve finished reading. Something about that ghost feeling makes me think of my character.

I could pretty much pick anything by Kay, but I’ve decided to go with “Late Love” since it’s so miserable outside, and there’s something heart-warming about this one. Little bittersweet at some places, but all the same…

Late Love
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.

How filmic they are just for this time.
How important they've become – secret, above
the order of things, the dreary mundane.
Every church bell ringing, a fresh sign.

How dull the lot that are not in love.
Their clothes shabby, their skin lustreless;
how clueless they are, hair a mess; how they trudge
up and down streets in the rain,

remembering one kiss in a dark alley,
a touch in a changing-room, if lucky, a lovely wait
for the phone to ring, maybe, baby.
The past with its rush of velvet, its secret hush

already miles away, dimming now, in the late day.
Jackie Kay

from Life Mask (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2005)

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During the first two stanzas, it feels as though the speaker is watching couples through rose-tinted lenses. It could be that the speaker notices which ones are in the middle of the honeymoon phase, which is when everything is brighter, when everything about the person you’re dating is awesome and sweet. As the speaker describes how more beautiful and younger the couples seem, there is yet the underlying tone that they know this is too good to be true or that it won’t last, that not every love story has a happy ending. The latter of which I’ll get more into in a bit.

Remember, at the end of stanza one, they say, “They don’t remember who they have been” (line 4, Kay). This might sound cliche, but maybe the speaker is implying that in the beginning of a relationship, people are putting their best foot forward, and therefore hiding the ugly sides of themselves. Just like how their date seems like they’re an angel placed on earth, the person is also not themselves entirely at the moment.

Stanza 2 speaks volumes to me, because it’s something I can relate to and I’m sure most of you can, too. The speaker says, “How important they’ve become – secret, above/ all order of things,” which I interpret as the speaker wondering how these two people were able to find each other (6-7, Kay). For this moment, these people the speaker is watching act like all is well with the world and they got everything figured out. While there’s a sense of yearning for that thing they’re having, I don’t think the speaker believes the invincibility will last. In line 5, they say “filmic,” like a movie, it’s not real. Then again there’s the mention of marriage: “Every church bell ringing, a fresh sign” (8, Kay), which furthermore implies that once you’ve found true love, your life will work out fine.

Honestly I feel as though the speaker is saying one thing, but really meaning the opposite of what they’re saying, because throughout the rest of the poem, they talk about how difficult it is to fall in love and life isn’t as neat as it is in the movies. It’s hard to feel comfortable with someone and trust them completely. There’s a lot of trial and error –

how clueless they are, hair a mess; how they trudge
up and down streets in the rain,

remembering one kiss in a dark alley,
a touch in a changing-room, if lucky, a lovely wait
for the phone to ring, maybe, baby.

– and lots of heartbreak, waiting and several mistakes. Like I was saying earlier, this may sound cliche, but if you’re the type of person who really, really wants to find the One, single-hood involves uncertainty. It involves hope and begging. Going back to the couple in the beginning, remember how the speaker says, “They don’t remember who they have been.” Before these two people got together, they were probably in a similar situation as the single people. So in reality, no one has it all figured out; it’s nothing but luck.

At the end of the poem, however, things change. It seems like the speaker leads the audience to this moment when they have found love, too. Considering the poem is called “Late Love,” I assume they got together with their person late in life. Additionally, since they’re in love and with somebody, they also forgetting their life as a single.

The past with its rush of velvet, its secret hush

already miles away, dimming now, in the late day.
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