Jackie Kay is a Scottish writer of mixed ethnicity. She was born in Edinburgh in 1961 and adopted by a family from Glasgow, where she grew up. She often draws on her childhood and family situation in her writing. As a Scottish, half-black lesbian woman, adopted as a small child, her experiences are interesting and unconventional. This may be why her poetic voice and the subjects she tackles are so intriguing and relatable.
Kay is known for dramatic performances of her work at readings, in the Scottish tradition of public poetry. Her work has strong, simple images and she often uses repetition, associated with the theme of loss. Music is a strong influence on the rhythm and style of Kay’s work.
The poem, Brendan Gallagher, tells an unusual story about Jackie Kay and her imaginary childhood friend, in the context of her life in Glasgow. GCSE students in the UK may also be familiar with Jackie Kay’s poem Yellow. The two can be usefully compared, in that they both describe family life and how children deal with their internal lives and their place within the family.
The poem comprises five stanzas of five lines each, known as quintains'. There is an interesting and subtle rhyme scheme. Nearly all the line endings are consonantly rhymed. For example, ‘dinner’, ‘burglar’, ‘Novar’. ‘Trousers’, ‘years’ and ‘indoors’ make up another set of consonantly rhymed line endings.
Langauge and Imagery
The voice is the first person singular ‘I’, and the language is colloquial and easy to understand, though the poem expresses complex ideas and emotions. The depiction of the childhood imaginary ‘friend’ is vivid; notably the ‘impish grin’ and ‘funny, flapping ear’.
He was seven and I was six, my Brendon Gallacher.
He was Irish and I was Scottish, my Brendon Gallacher.
His father was in prison; he was a cat burglar.
My father was a communist party full-time worker.
He had six brothers and I had one, my Brendon Gallacher.
He would hold my hand and take me by the river
Where we’d talk all about his family being poor.
He’d get his mum out of Glasgow when he got older.
A wee holiday someplace nice. Some place far.
I’d tell my mum about Brendon Gallacher.
How his mum drank and his daddy was a cat burglar.
And she’d say, ‘why not have him round for dinner?’
No, no, I’d say he’s got big holes in his trousers.
I like meeting him by the burn in the open air.
Then one day after we’d been friends for two years,
One day when it was pouring and I was indoors,
My mum says to me, ‘I was talking to Mrs Moir
Who lives next door to your Brendon Gallacher
Didn’t you say his address was 24 Novar?
She says there are No Gallachers at 24 Novar
There never have been any Gallachers next door.’
And he died then, my Brendon Gallacher,
Flat out on my bedroom floor, his spiky hair,
His impish grin, his funny flapping ear.
Oh Brendon. Oh my Brendon Gallacher.
From Two's Company.
Why not try...
talking about Brendon Gallacher. What do you think about him?
watching the video below where Jackie Kay tells you more.
answering this question: Have you ever had a friendship like this?