The poem is believed to have been inspired by Jackie Kay’s youth. But, without names or details, it’s hard to say for sure. ‘Got You’ takes on several tones, from jealous and depressed, to amused and loving. Readers are exposed to the whole spectrum of sibling rivalry and love in this text.
Explore Got You
‘Got You’ by Jackie Kay depicts a jealous sibling who feels her sister is better than her.
The poem begins with the speaker discussing her characteristics and how they are nothing compared to what her sister has and does. Her sister is also loved more by their family, she thinks. The speaker expresses her jealousy over her sister’s hair and how well she does in school.
The poem concludes with the speaker describing the two laughing at night and pranking one another in bed, realign that despite their differences, they do care about one another.
You can listen to the full poem here.
The main theme of this poem is sisterhood. The speaker spends the lines discussing the jealousy she feels for her sister, who she sees as superior to her in both looks and intelligence. She also thinks her family loves her sister more than they love her. But, as the lines progress, the speaker makes it clear that the two are still bonded and still love one another despite what she sees are her less-desirable features.
The Title: ‘Got You’
‘Got You’ is an ambiguous-sound title that suggests childhood games and understanding between two people. It’s playful-sounding and reflected in the poet’s use of the words “me,” “I,” and “you.” The speaker is addressing her sibling and their connection/differences.
Structure and Form
‘Got You’ by Jackie Kay is a seven-stanza poem divided into tercets. Each of these is written in free verse and uses enjambment. The final line of each stanza is connected to the first line of the next. Readers have to follow the speaker’s words from one line to the next to find out what happens next.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes you of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Simile: a comparison between two things that uses “like” or “as.” For example, “my heart / flapped like our bedroom curtains.”
- Caesura: a pause in the middle of a line of verse. This usually occurs due to the poet’s use of punctuation. For example, “and you are the one who shines. School Dux.”
- Enjambment: occurs when a poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between line three of the first stanza and line one of the second stanza.
- Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions that should inspire the reader to imagine a scene, feeling, experience, and more in great detail. For example, “your nose less wide; your hair loose floppy / curls, not frizzy, not sheep’s wool.”
Stanzas One and Two
You know I am the shy one really, don’t you,
Then how come I am the slow one
but Gran from Dornock loves you better
In the first lines of ‘Got You,’ the speaker begins with a logical-sounding tone. Of the two, the speaker is the shier one and, as the lines progress, clearly believes that she’s not as smart or as well-liked as the sibling she’s talking to.
But, there is still a connection between them. She notes that her sibling’s “maths have my answers.” But, at the same time, she’s the slow one. The sibling is smarter than she is, and everyone knows it. She’s the one who “shines” and is “School dux,” a Scottish term used to describe the top student in the class.
The speaker is jealous of her sibling’s intelligence and her outgoing attitude. She also mentions her sibling’s clothes, which are in better shape, and the relationships she has with her family. She interprets her “Gran” as preferring her sibling to her. But, readers are meant to question whether or not her opinion of herself is true. The speaker may have an incorrect opinion of themselves and their sibling.
Stanzas Three and Four
Than me and so does our mother. The dog
The difference drive you crazy: your skin is creamer.
Your nose less wide; your hair loose floppy
I know like I know the back of my hand. Last night
She believes that her grandmother loves her sibling more, as does their mother. This, if true, would be a difficult thing to live with. But, readers are only exposed to one person’s perspective, so it never becomes clear how accurate it is.
The speaker also notes that some people suggest that there are people who “say they can’t tell / the difference” between them. This is something that bothers the sibling. There are numerous ways to tell the two apart, she believes.
The poem brings in some clear racial undertones that the speaker uses to emphasize what she sees as flaws in herself and positive qualities in her sister. She believes her nose is wider and her hair floppier than her sister’s. It’s also “frizzy,” while her sister’s hair is “curls.”
Here, Kay is alluding to her personal history and the fact that Kay was adopted into her family. She looks different than her sister because she has different parents. If she is bothered by the fact that she’s not biologically related to her family, she may also consider that as a reason she feels she’s loved less.
Stanzas Five and Six
And do something. Can’t tell what. Not even in our tongue.
I swelled hard listening for the sound of real sleep
Till I must have given in again.
Always get me. I sat bolt upright, my heart
The speaker uses some unifying language, the word “our,” when describing the language the two use to communicate. This is suggestive of the games and clever codes that children and siblings often use to communicate when they’re young.
For a time, she tried to listen to her sister sleeping and playfully suggested that she was going to climb and do something to her sister; she didn’t know what and couldn’t “tell” what in their language. Eventually, she gave up and fell asleep in her bed as usual.
The final lines feel as though they are accelerating forward, with the speaker using the line “You know me better than I know you” before diving into a series of descriptions about sitting bolt upright in bed.
Flapped like our bedroom curtains, your night-time
‘Got you. Didn’t I. Got you again.’
Amusement and childish fun come into these final lines as the sibling does the thing that her sister is going to do. Likely, jumping in her bed, surprising her, or scaring her. Despite the speaker’s jealousy, she’s still close with her sister. The title is found in the last lines with “Got you” and “Got you again.” These lines are also suggestive of their lifetime bond as sisters.
The speaker is generally considered to be Jackie Kay herself. She was adopted into a family and is likely drawing on her personal experiences during her youth in order to inspire her youthful speaker and her jealous feelings toward her sister.
The theme is sisterhood and family. The poet’s speaker, supposed to be inspired by Kay’s youth, feels jealous about how she thinks other people love her sister. She feels lesser compared to her sibling, but the two are still bonded.
The tone is jealous in parts but also humorous and childish in others. It’s very hard to tell throughout the lines how much of what the speaker believes about herself is true. But, since she does believe it, the emotions are real.
The poet wrote this poem to express her feelings, or a version of them, from her youth. It’s likely that she’s tapping into real experiences with family members and friends in order to inspire the text.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Jackie Kay poems. For example:
- ‘Divorce’ – depicts the ways that adult problems affect a child’s life.
- ‘Dusting the Phone’ – describes a young woman yearning to hear from the man she loves.
- ‘Darling’ – is focused on a beautiful summer day and the death of a very close friend.