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This review is taken from PN Review 86, Volume 18 Number 6, July - August 1992.

OUT FOR THE COUNT Jackie Kay, The Adoption Papers (Bloodaxe) £5.95
John Hughes, Negotiations with the Chill Wind (Bloodaxe) £5.95
John Dixon, Scots Baronial (Polygon) £5.95
Elizabeth Garret, The Rule of Three (Bloodaxe) £5.95

Jackie Kay pitches the tone of 'The Adoption Papers' somewhere between documentary and myth. Despite its autobiographical origins, this story of a black child's adoption by a white Scottish couple in the early 1960s cantains some very perfunctory characterization. This may have something to do with the prevalent sense of disorientation which ultimately renders both mother-figures in the poem insubstantial, each haunted (and ghosted) by the other's existence. There is also a strong impression of a political stance being maintained somewhere outside the action which subdues even the most intimate writing to a tender irony. The subsequent combination of emotional restraint and sprawling, colloquial verse is curiously forceful. Throughout the narrative is negotiated between the alternating voices of the protagonists, represented on the page by a bewildering variety of typefaces. It is principally Kay's dramatic facility in deploying these monologues that rescues the poem from its own democratic tendencies.

Unfortunately her technique is less assured in much of the rest of this book where many of the themes broached in the title poem are given more overt treatment. Kay, who as a black Scottish lesbian seems well qualified to discover new emotional territory, repeatedly fails to live up to the expectations raised by her complex inheritance. These expectations may of themselves be a part of the problem. It is as though, cut off from the impetus of autobiography, she becomes distracted by an oppressive range of moral responsibilities, those under articulated areas of experience she might have ...


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