Below, you’ll find Jackie Kay’s essay questions for those studying her poetry collection.


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Life Mask:

  1. Discuss the way in which the poem explores the idea of fighting the endless challenges of life. 
  2. How does Kay use the motifs of nature and seasonal cycles symbolically in her poem ‘Life Mask’? 
  3. Explore Kay’s attitudes to identity and self-expression, as presented in ‘Life Mask’ and one other poem from your collection. 



  1. Examine the role of religion in the poem, particularly the burning of Gambia’s Bible and how it impacts Gambia’s views on identity and self-worth.
  2. Discuss the significance of the title ‘Gambia’ and its connection to the character’s sense of identity. How does Gambia’s lack of a last name reflect the dehumanising effects of slavery?
  3. In what ways can the poem ‘Gambia’ be interpreted as a wider commentary on the exploitative nature of colonialism?


Dressing Up: 

  1. Compare how the theme of violence is approached in ‘Dressing Up’ and another poem in your collection.
  2. Discuss the role of gender and sexuality in the poem by exploring how the speaker’s desire to dress up challenges or reinforce traditional gender norms and expectations.
  3. In what ways does the poem explore the theme of family relationships?


  1. In what ways and with what effect does Kay present familial relationships in her poems? In your answer, you should refer in detail to three poems in your selection.
  2. Write a critical appreciation of the poem, considering in what ways it is a characteristic of Kay’s poetic methods and concerns in your selection.


Compound Fracture: 

  1. Explore how the metaphor of the poisoned apple relates to the theme of betrayal in the poem.
  2. Discuss the themes of trauma, vulnerability, and pain in ‘Compound Fracture’, exploring how the speaker’s experience reflects the impact of traumatic events on individuals.
  3. In what ways could the title ‘Compound Fracture’ be considered symbolic or metaphorical? Explore this notion with reference to the speaker’s relationships with the adults in the poem.


Childhood, Still: 

  1. ‘Childhood, Still’ by Jackie Kay is a meditation on time and its passage. Discuss how the poem explores the relationship between memory, time, and the transience of human experience.
  2. Discuss how the poem explores the relationship between childhood and adulthood. How does the speaker depict the transition from childhood to adulthood?
  3. Compare ways in which imagination is explored in ‘Childhood, Still’, and one other poem in your collection.


Church Invisible: 

  1. Discuss the role of religion and spirituality in ‘Church Invisible’. How do the speaker’s views about faith and religion influence her experiences of abuse and survival?
  2. Explore the role of power and control in the poem and how the speaker’s husband uses his position of authority to perpetrate abuse.
  3. How does the irregular structure of the poem contribute to the overall impact of the piece, and what effect does it have on the reader?



  1. How does the speaker use humour to cope with trauma in ‘Blues’ by Jackie Kay? Explore the role of humour and laughter in the poem and what effect this has on the reader.
  2. In what ways does ‘Blues’ by Jackie Kay engage with the tradition of blues music and language? Comment on the specific tone and mood of the poem.
  3. How does the objectification of women’s bodies feature in ‘Blues’ by Jackie Kay? Explore how the poem challenges or subverts traditional gender roles and expectations.


Away From You: 

  1. Examine the use of nature imagery in the poem, exploring how it functions as a metaphor for the speaker’s emotions and experiences of longing and loss.
  2. Explore the ways in which memory and imagination intersect in the poem, and how the speaker’s fantasies and imaginings help them cope with the reality of separation and loss.
  3. In what ways does Kay encourage us to feel sympathy for her speaker in ‘Away From You’?


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