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 some place nice. Some place far.
I’d tell my mum about my Brendon Gallacher
how his mum drank and his daddy was a cat burglar.
And she’d say, ‘Why not have him round to 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 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.
Jackie Kay’s poem explores one of childhood’s most provocative visitors, the ‘imaginary friend’. I say provocative, as in this poem, the speaker/narrator is verbally punished for creating a friend who does not literally exist. The poem feels as if it is about betrayal.
But who is betraying whom in the poem? What is being betrayed? And why?
Conjuring up an imaginary friend is seen in this poem by the adult world as a dangerous deceitful activity to be sorted out, crushed and denied.
By contrast, we readers find the poet’s evocation of her childhood friend witty, joyous and moving. Perhaps we are rediscovering or remaking our own memories through the lively imagination of Jackie Kay?
Imaginatively of course, Brendon is very much ALIVE to the speaker and to the reader, even ironically to the adults dare I say within the poem: hence their reaction when they find out Brendon is all ‘made up’!
For if Brendon has been very much alive to the adults too, this explains their need to point out Brendon’s non-existence very smugly to the child narrator. They feel they have been taken in and must reassert their authority over childhood’s anarchy.
They feel they have been duped by the narrator’s imaginary creation and therefore must sort things out quite harshly, in order to re-establish the proper ‘status quo’, where they retain power and intellectual stability.
In brief, the poem explores a battle between the imaginative resourcefulness of the child and the rational ‘rightness’ of the adult world.
Ironically the pleasure of this poem comes from the reader’s enjoyment of the very special creation who is Jackie Kay’s ‘Brendon Gallacher’. Our enjoyment parallels that of the speaker/poet and we find again in the poem, some of the very special aspects of richly imagined childhood ‘play’ .
The poem celebrates the art of making things up! Perhaps Kay is subtly suggesting that education and ‘adult rationality’ deny children creativity and improvisation.
It has always seems rather ironic to me, that children nowadays have designated ‘play areas’ as if play can be organised and somehopw limited by space and the choice of activity.
Whatever happened to the joy of cardboard boxes?
Worth Thinking about?
Do we enjoy reading about childhood as it allows us to revisit aspects of ourselves that have been lost? Do we even want to alter aspects of our childhood where we may have felt imaginatively cheated or dis-empowered?
Is ‘childhood’ an illusory object, that is not ever properly separate from us or even finished? How then can we look at it, or scrutinize its meanings?
Or do we find symbolically powerful examples of childhood through memory where ‘something’ recurs and becomes a nostalgic event again, before our mind’s eye?
Brendon Gallacher is certainly a poem that allows us the joy of the imaginative lie! In this way it has a healing quality too.
The repetition in this stanza gives a conversational, yet yearning rhythm to the poem. It feels like a song, sung by someone looking back at a very special time in their evolution as a person.
Its structure and tone resemble that of a ballad and we expect the ‘tale’ to explore loyalty and romance and even death.
We are not surprised therefore that the poem explores an unique ‘meeting’: we are surprised perhaps by the youthfulness of the speaker and her friend.
The poet describes ‘Brendon Gallacher’ with tenderness and awe: ‘His father was in prison; he was a cat burglar.’ The end-stopped lines in the stanza give a loving power to each declaration about the very special friend. Here we feel the excitement of the poet about the acrobatic criminality of Brendon’s dad!
The ‘r’ sound is very prominent too. This gives a rhythm to the memories of Brendon and makes everything that happens seem fated and inevitable. This is a tale of ‘doomed’ love!
The dull earnestness of the poet’s father’s profession as a ‘ Communist Party full-time worker’ fails to challenge, even through memory, the mischievous charisma of Brendon’s character and family situation: ‘He had six brothers and I had one’ . How extravagantly large the other family is, again revealing the more ordinary family circumstances of the poet’s home life.
It is striking that the speaker repeatedly uses the personal pronoun ‘my’ when referring to Brendon Gallacher. He is her exclusive, very special friend. We do not realise how special he is until the last stanza when the loaded irony of the personal pronoun ‘my’ becomes clear. Brendon is the poet’s creation so he does literally belong to the poet!
Further stanzas to follow!
How to write a good essay!
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