I Am

I Am

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At thirty years old, Michelle is the same age as the mother who gave her up into care as a baby. In the quest to find her birth parents, her roots and her own identity, this book traces the journey from care, to adoption, to motherhood, to performer. Using the fragments of her own memory, her poetry and extracts from her adoption files, Michelle rebuilds the picture of ’self’ that allows her to transcend adversity and move forward to become the woman she was born to be.

You can hear the beat and song of Michelle Scally-Clarke on the CD that accompanies this book and, on the inside pages, read the story that is the source of that song.


Paperback book & CD Edition

Alex James

I Am, is, as the title suggests, a book about identity, yes, but it’s also so much more. Michelle rebuilds the picture of ‘self’ that allows her to transcend adversity and move forward to become the woman she was born to be. My impression was that I Am was sharp with feeling: adoption files discovered, family, poetry, coming of age, marriage, and family reunion. There were lessons on this curve, espoused through passionate poetry, focusing on different times of Michelle’s life, bringing forward to the page those feelings from within, liberating them. I liked how the personal linked with the creative journey. There were gaps, as the book was written from fragments of memories, which only serve to inspire the reader to think on what led to personal transformation. For any upcoming or established poet, author Michelle Scally-Clarke’s book is a ray of light and meaning, showing us what a poet is made of and how words can laser through injustice; provide a platform for raw feeling, being grounded, and protest.

Eleanor Harte, Books Review

Scally-Clarke’s fierce, spiky poetry runs the gamut of emotions; from sheer anger at her situation to a more positive, hopeful look towards the future. The accompanying 10-track CD showcases these lyrics and provides a smooth-n-silky soundtrack to what is an intimate, highly personal account. An upbeat, inspiring and utterly real affirmation of self.

Benjamin Zephaniah

Every now and again individuals come along who breathe new life into performance poetry. Michelle Scally Clarke is one such individual. Her intelligence, her verbal agility and her passion means that poetry is alive once more.

Lemn Sissay

Instead of courting the obvious of the lost community, Michelle looks within; within herself and within us. The strengths and the weaknesses therein…


In this extract from I Am, Michelle Scally Clarkes remembers the day she left the children's home and moved in with her new adpopted family, the Scallys.

I know bareness. I know the blueness of corridors. I know coldness. I know the taste of Coca-Cola ice cubes. This is how I remember. I know the children’s home. I know me at five and six years old. Those early years, paramount to the person I have become, I was placed in the system’s belly. The system holds my facts, dates, figures, testaments. I remember in a haze, like I’m looking into a mirror with a bright light shining in. Blurred images, people who I knew were mine, who I have sought to find, to define my way.

I remember Aunty Carmel most of all. She was my first mother-figure, my carer. She ran the home. I was her favourite, the baby, she made it possible for me to love, to feel. The others didn’t like our relationship. She was more than a carer. She had grey hair and sparkling eyes that gave her warmth. She had yellow fingers. I can see her smoking like a trooper. Aunty Carmel used to dress me up. I remember a red top, a red quilt skirt, red three band shoes with Bay City Roller socks pulled all the way to the knee. I remember a white sailor’s jumper with a gold hoop and a blue bottom. My son had one as a baby. In hard reality, the people who looked after me were paid, took holidays and moaned. They dreaded coming to work, to my home; the children’s home. But life is never without its silver lining and I was blessed to have the love and security of Aunty Carmel. I can remember the darkness, in the dormitory, when Aunty Carmel wasn’t there.

I remember Sean, blond hair, blue eyes. My first sibling, the second youngest in the home, two years older than me. This was our first secure place, we felt love and protection. We used to play. If Sean was naughty and was slippered or hit with the belt, I used to cry for him. If it was me being hit, in public, in front of the others, he would cry. Sean was taken away, I remember him being adopted. I went to see him in his new home, all neat and orderly. I remember his room was blue and he had a train set. He’d been transformed, he didn’t want to play with a girl anymore, didn’t want to be my brother.

At six I had learnt to mistrust people. I learnt from myself that I knew God. I don’t remember being introduced but I do remember him being my best friend. I had a drawing of girl who was praying. This and a battered red ballerina suitcase were my only possessions. I remember talking to God. Nobody can be the comfort of God; my light to survive.

I remember happiness. When the box of Orange Clubs had come from Jacobs. On pancake day when we had pancakes, served in quarters on a saucer and we could have them covered with strawberry jam or lemon juice and sugar. Going to Ireland on the boat with Aunty Carmel and playing with identical twins. Sean was there. Going on day trips to Scarborough. At Christmas time when the presents came, loads of presents. By the afternoon, they had all gone, no trace of any presents. We didn’t know what it was to keep things, what toys were. My concept of toys was being chased by a space hopper, orange with big ears and a painted on face. That was toys. I remember marbles, digging out the dirt in the floor to play marbles.

I remember a dark-skinned girl. She was also Michelle and was like my big sister. I knew what was Black and white. I knew what N****r was. People would be coming and going quickly. I remember having a big hug with Michelle and then she was gone. I can remember Maria, she had a big scar on her face that her father had done.

I knew what fanny meant. I knew how to make babies, ‘stick it up, stick it up’. We played Mummies and Daddies. I knew very dark times. I remember feeling neglected. I remember being abused. Don’t let me disturb you, a sharp mind, an elephant’s memory, was induced by primal fear. I knew fear and survival and now I am on the walk back to me. Walking and healing myself as I give all I perceive to motherhood, to my children. I heal my past through my future. I lay the seeds of my family with love, nourishment and dignity to walk forward.

I remember being visited by blood brothers and sisters. I don’t remember their faces but one sister had blue, blue eyes. They walked me to the shop and bought me blackcurrant Chewits, then took me back to the home. We knew when visitors were coming because we were dressed up. I remember the day the Scallys first came to the home. They were sat in the front room and took up a lot of space. I was in awe of my would-be mother, beautiful-looking, with hair down to her waist. Rebecca and Annie, my future sisters, had drawn me a picture and baked me a cake.

I have strong memories of the day I moved in to the Scally household. I was taken by Aunty Carmel and a social worker. My mother looked at my ballerina suitcase and little picture and wondered where the rest of my things were. Aunty Carmel had put some money in a savings account for me and my mother took it and said I should share it with my brothers and sisters. To me it was a fortune.

I can see Aunty Carmel standing in the doorway saying, ‘I’ll see you later Michelle.’ I didn’t understand. ‘You’ll be staying here for now.’ I didn’t realise I would never see Aunty Carmel again.

My little sister Clare knew something was going on. She grabbed me by a tuft of my hair and dragged me along the floor to the door where Aunty Carmel was leaving. ‘Haven’t you forgotten something?’ she said.

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Michelle Scally Clarke

Michelle Scally Clarke is a performance poet based in Leeds. Her turbulent early life was recounted in I Am, a memoir written when she was 30 years old. Her first full collection She Is was published in 2003. Both books are published by Route and contain CDs of Michelle in performance with musical accompaniment.

Book: I Am