'Must this be a woman's cross? This dissonance between what 'seems' and what 'is?' - Jane McKie, 'Change, Continuous Change'
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About Jane McKie
Jane McKie’s is a poetry of wonder. But rather than describing work that is uniquely in awe of its subjects, ‘wonder’ might instead be taken here as indicative of McKie’s poetic approach, which is open and engaged, but always interrogative and searching. Operating within and beyond the purely personal, McKie addresses a range of sources as starting points for her poems. In her most recent pamphlet, From The Wonder Book of Would You Believe It? (Mariscat, 2016), precious stones, bats, insects, an underground city flanked by ‘white palisades’, swimming pools, fish and Marianne Wehde – the so-called ‘tallest woman in Germany’ – all find themselves at the centre of her imaginative perception.
Originally from West Sussex, England, McKie now lives with her family in Scotland, where she runs Knucker Press and teaches on the MSc in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. She is the author of three full-length poetry collections: her first, Morocco Rococo (Cinnamon Press, 2007), winner of the Sundial/SAC prize for best first book of the year; When the Sun Turns Green (Polygon, 2009); and Kitsune (Cinnamon Press, 2015). Her first pamphlet publication, Garden of Bedsteads, was the 2011 Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. In 2017 McKie contributed a poem, ‘Archipelago’, to Writing Motherhood: A Creative Anthology on Motherhood and Writing, Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s groundbreaking editorial project with Seren. Her poem ‘A White City Underground’ was a finalist in the 2015 Mslexia Women’s Poetry Competition. McKie has also frequently collaborated with other poets and artists. A project, ‘Turning the Elements’, saw her working not only with another poet, but with two composers and two musicians (a soprano and a clarinetist), resulting in two commissioned suites of music that were performed as part of Scotland’s Sound Festival 2015 and StAnza International Poetry Festival 2016.
Formally and thematically eclectic, McKie’s poetry presents her readers with a series of disparate images that are continually surprising. However, there is more to these texts than sheer variety. In McKie’s poetry, imaginative truth meets the hard dream of the real, with poems such as ‘Change, Continuous Change?’ where ‘It’s my hair that strikes you./ In some lights/ ordinary chestnut curls, in others / lavish’, incorporating a line of thought that has the politics of gender at its heart (‘Must this be a woman’s cross?/ This dissonance/ between what ‘seems’ and what ‘is?’). McKie’s strong and distinctive sense of visual play is evident in poems such as ‘The Underground Observatory’, where ‘pale rhizomes and spores, / white vermicelli nematodes’ flourish in dirt that is ‘black as chewed tobacco’. Linguistically, such poems are able to communicate the ways in which familial lineages meet those of natural history, with the poet turning to a specialised lexis without ever alienating the reader. The result is a delicate surrealism, a spare, dexterous style that circles thoughts before pinning them down with remarkable precision. The familiar questions are thus made new by McKie’s unique poetic treatments; in ‘What Are We Made Of?’ the poet manages to imbue the biological question that is its title with unexpected emotional resonance. In these recordings, McKie’s deft handling of her complex inquiries can be clearly heard and felt, her lucid reading style reinforcing her poems’ generous porosity.
Jane McKie's reading was recorded at The Soundhouse, London on January 31st 2017. The recording was produced by Richard Carrington.