LitScope: The Living Photograph by Jackie Kay

LitScope: The Living Photograph by Jackie Kay

For Malaysian Form 4 Students.

The Poem

The Living Photograph

My small grandmother is tall there,
straight-back, white broderie anglaise shirt,
pleated skirt, flat shoes, grey bun,
a kind, old smile round her eyes.
Her big hand holds mine,
white hand in black hand.
Her sharp blue eyes look her own death in the eye.

It was true after all; that look.
My tall grandmother became small.
Her back round and hunched.
Her soup forgot to boil.
She went to the awful place grandmothers go.
Somewhere unknown, unthinkable.

But there she is still,
in the photo with me at three,
the crinkled smile is still living, breathing.

Jackie Kay

extracted from A Poetry Collection Selected by Pie Corbett and Valerie Bloom for Form 4 & Form 5 Secondary School Students (Student edition).

The poet: Jackie Kay
  • Born in Edinburgh, Scotland.
  • Grew up in Glasgow.
  • In year 1998, her first novel was published.
  • Was awarded the Guardian fiction prize and shortlisted International Impac Dublin Literary Award.
  • In year 2006, she was awarded a MBE for her services to literature.
  • Currently living in Manchester.

Sourced from:

What are the stanzas about?

Stanza 1

The persona describes her grandmother from a photo long time ago. In the photo, the grandmother was still very alert.

Stanza 2

As the grandmother aged, her posture begin to change too. She hunched and became forgetful. Unfortunately, she was sent to the Old Folks’ Home, somewhere the persona did not know. Or well, the grandmother passed away.

Stanza 3

The persona still recalls the grandmother from the photograph taken when the persona was three years old. The persona can still feel the grandmother is alive, thus the name of the poem, The Living Photograph. 



So what is the whole poem about then?

The poem is about a photograph which is invoking the persona’s memory with her grandmother. The grandmother was unfortunately sent to the Old Folks’ Home because of her old age, but the persona did not know where she was sent to. However, the persona still believes that by looking at the photograph, she still can see her grandmother alive and being with her.



Remember ones’ deeds

People age, and that is a normal cycle of life. However, we should not forget their deeds or what they have done for us. We must always remember of ones’ deeds and be grateful for them. People cannot live forever, at one point of time, they will slow down, and its up to the younger members of the family to care for them.



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