Blues is a haunting and introspective poem by Jackie Kay, a renowned Scottish poet and novelist. In this piece, Kay delves into the depths of the human soul and explores the complexity of emotions such as grief, pain, and sorrow. Through the use of vivid imagery and powerful language, she creates a sense of raw vulnerability that resonates with readers. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the poem and examine the vocabulary and story summary.
Hell, I can`t even take my own advice,
that`s what she thought often, when her left eye
(always the left) was swollen and a blue river
ran underneath the brown; or when
whole parts of her body could not
(Full poem unable to be reproduced due to copyright restrictions)
Blues – a genre of music, characterised by its melancholic and sorrowful tone, often expressing feelings of pain and loss.
Swollen – enlarged or puffy, often due to injury or inflammation.
No-go areas – parts of the body that are too painful to touch or use.
Wooden – stiff, rigid, or lacking in flexibility, like wood.
Furtive – sneaky or secretive.
Swerving – suddenly changing direction or veering off course.
Persuade – convince or influence someone to do or believe something.
Howl – make a loud, prolonged, and mournful cry, like a wolf or dog.
Barrelhouse – a style of blues music that emphasises a strong, rhythmic beat and fast tempo.
Embellish – add extra details or decorations to something, making it more elaborate or ornate.
Endow – provide something with a particular quality or attribute.
Growl – make a low, rumbling sound like an animal, typically in a threatening or angry way.
Grunt – make a short, deep sound in the throat, often expressing effort or dissatisfaction.
Minstrel – historically, a performer who blackened their face with burnt cork to mock African Americans. Here, it suggests the speaker’s feeling of being a performer or a caricature, putting on a façade to cope with her pain.
Aunt Jemima – a brand of pancake mix that features a stereotypical image of a black woman, often used to refer to a black woman who conforms to racist stereotypes.
STORY + SUMMARY
“I can’t even take my own advice”, she thought regularly. Every time she was beaten again and ended up with a swollen eye, she remembered how she promised herself she wouldn’t go through this again. When some parts of her body were too sore for herself or someone else to touch, she remembered this promise she couldn’t keep. She thought about it when the pain was too intense for her to function normally, and a barrier appeared around her body, petrifying her after enduring so much violence.
People looked at her in a peculiar way; it wasn’t just her imagination. They either stared at her intensely or quickly looked away as she approached. Yet, nothing could persuade her to stop being funny. It was her forte – making people laugh so hard that they would burst into tears, hit themselves, or cry like wolves. She was a skilled master of this craft.
However, after the abuse, she often was unable to express herself as she once did. Her small performances that brought joy to others were gone. She could only laugh to herself or moan or giggle. Once, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and thought she looked like one of those performers who blackened their faces to mock African Americans. She tried to look at herself without moving, but she could only see a clown, a black woman conforming to racial stereotypes. She had a beautiful smile and a contagious laugh, but these were the only things she had left beyond the pain.
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