To mark the 30th anniversary year of Glasgow Women's Library (GWL), Art UK has commissioned a poem by Jackie Kay in response to Ingrid Pollard's work, and her inspiring exhibition 'No Cover Up' held at GWL in 2021.
In this video, Jackie Kay explains the inspiration behind the poem, and performs the piece. You can scroll down to read the text of the poem and see more of Ingrid Pollard's artworks.
A Life in Protest
Straight from Elsie Inglis, more or less,
onto a demo – five months –
Och och get oot the Holy Loch
(Fancy putting submarines on the HOLY loch!
The HOLY loch) for we dinny want Polaris!
My brand-new mum carrying wee me.
My brother in a pram pushed by
Hugh MacDiarmid, black beret on, bead eyes.
Lined face, – but greet and in yer tears
ye'll droon the hale clanjamfrie!
1974: When Madame Allende comes to Glasgow,
After Pinochet's coup and Allende's murder,
We learn Venceremos, raise our fists.
Mil cadenas habra que romper.
Hasn't Madame Allende got beautiful hair?
My mum says, isn't Madame Allende eenty-teenty?
At seventeen, you learned the truth
And took to the streets, umpteenth time.
BACK TO THE NIGHT! – candlelit processions.
Because the night belongs to WIMMIN,
blazing, banging saucepans, tins.
Why should we stay in? Make men stay in.
Why should the Yorkshire Ripper rule our lives?
Fear in the night air; the moon cleaved
by a butcher's knife: the stars jagged in the sky's dark bed.
1984: marching, marching with Pride through London!
Lesbians and Gay Men dressed to the nines.
Me with my double headed axe, yes,
My denim dungarees, bless, my pink triangle badge,
My red Kickers. Don't mess with me!
Sing if you're Glad to be Gay
Sing if you're happy that way
Watching people watching us,
Out in the streets staring, shouting.
Peering into the depths of us.
Like we were barely human,
Strange new creatures,
Many feathered, flamboyant.
What do I remember, Ingrid?
I remember staying with Shaila Shah
in South London, I remember coming down
from Glasgow and everything being different.
I remember the first OWAAD like a first kiss,
and the first BLG, the euphoria, faces
I'd been missing my whole life:
Olivette, Mo, George, Carmen, Gloria
Gail, Liliane, Hansa, Adjoa
Femi, Berni, Claudette, Vadnie, Grace.
Change your life meetings at A Woman's Place.
Or singing and dancing in that house in Brixton
Police and Thieves, Junior Marvin
Chaka Khan's I'm Every Woman
Grinding and waacking, heads thrown back,
we are family, we are familly
I got all my sisters with me, tossing the dreads
Locked smiles on our black and brown faces.
I remember wearing an Afro like Angela Davis.
Or joining the women at Greenham Common,
peering into their made-up lives, their tents,
and woolly jumpers, camp cookers and tin mugs of tea,
their sparky, fence-cutting defiance,
and campfire peace songs.
Woman tiger, woman love
Help to save the world we love
Velvet fist in iron glove
Bring the message home
And the summer before last, nearly sixty
I joined the protest, masked, in my local park
And we took the knee next to the Beech and the Ash
For a full nine minutes for George Floyd and the rest.
And we were silent, just the breath of the trees
In and out, in and out. Out and In. Out and In.
On our bended knees.
I remember my mother, my father
Marching to free Nelson Mandela,
And Matthew, two, in his push chair
Raising his tiny fist, and everyone singing
The Specials Free Nelson Mandela, I'm begging you
The black and white anti-apartheid banners,
(Which some pronounced a part theid
And others pronounced apar theid).
And much later in the lived life,
My mother, my father, back
At George Square under the Green Party Banner
My dad with his silver Infirmary issued stick
My mum with her William Morris groovy one
Singing Give Peace a Chance at 78 and 73 in 2003!
NOT IN MY NAME banners. STOP THE WAR IN IRAQ
I'll not stop till I drop, my mother used to say
Singing Paul Robeson's Joe Hill or
Suddenly, randomly on a clear May day
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.
Later still, housebound with Suzanne at her side
My mum relaxed in her
Lift-your-feet-up turquoise armchair,
A revolutionary in red dressing gown
Her I may be old but I voted Remain badge on
Sent by Frankie, her
wide width red slippers on.
Let me go away from the Mississippi, Suzanne roars.
Mum joins in: Sure thing, she says, sure thing.
A call and response sister, you tell it sister
As next door's high fence blows down in the winds
As city seagulls swoop down for stale scones
As winter rains flood the back garden.
As the weeping willow weeps along
Your willow O willow when the sun goes down
Across a lifetime
You and me we sweat and strain,
Body all aching (sure thing)
I'm tired of living but scared of dying
Cos old man river, he just keeps rolling along
Keeps rolling, he just keeps rolling
(sure thing sure thing sure thing)
Jackie Kay, poet
This content was supported by Creative Scotland