18 pages 36 minutes read

Sarah Kay

"B" (If I Should Have a Daughter)

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2011

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Summary and Study Guide


“‘B’ (If I Should Have a Daughter)” is a poem by American poet Sarah Kay. The poem was originally written in 2007 and was published in her 2011 book titled B. B was Kay’s first published book among her four collected works. Kay wrote the poem in free verse, and it falls under the genre of spoken-word poetry, which has roots in oral tradition and is intended for performance. In 2011, Kay performed “‘B’ (If I Should Have a Daughter)” at a TED Conference. The poem is written from a mother’s perspective and talks about how she would treat a hypothetical daughter she might have, listing advice she would give her, such as how to deal with heartbreak and how to remain vulnerable in a tough world. It explores themes including overcoming adversity, providing support, and the recurring patterns of life that one must inevitably face.

Poet Biography

Sarah Kay is an American poet from New York City. She was born on June 19, 1988. Her four books of poetry include B (2011), No Matter the Wreckage (2014), The Type (2016), and All Our Wild Wonder (2018). Kay’s book B was ranked the #1 Poetry Book on Amazon. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching from Brown University and has an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Grinnell College.

In 2004, Kay founded Project VOICE (Vocal Outreach into Creative Expression), which is dedicated to encouraging creative expression through spoken-word poetry. She has taught and performed across the world and was the featured poet for the 2004 World Youth Report. In 2006, Kay joined the NYC Urbana Poetry Slam team as part of the National Poetry Slam competition and was featured on the television series Russell Simmons presents HBO Def Poetry Jam. Kay was a featured speaker of the 2011 TED Conference. She also produces the web series There’s a Poem for That, which attempts to combine poetry and animation. One video from this series won Best Animation Short at the 2019 Raindance Film Festival, while another won a 2019 Annecy Cristal for a Commissioned Film.

Kay’s work is heavily influenced by spoken-word poetry, which stems from oral tradition and is meant to be performed. Spoken work can draw on music, dance, sound, and other kinds of performance as a means of connecting with the audience. Through her spoken-word poetry, Kay hopes to inspire audiences of different ages and backgrounds to cultivate creativity and self-empowerment. Kay is also a playwright, singer/songwriter, photographer, documentary filmmaker, and the editor of Write Bloody Publishing.

Poem Text

Kay, Sarah. “‘B’ (If I Should Have a Daughter).” 2011. WordsfortheYear.com.


“‘B’ (If I Should Have a Daughter)” is written from the perspective of a narrator who explains how she would treat her daughter if she had one, and the speaker shares advice she would give to the daughter. It begins with the narrator stating that if she had a daughter, she would have the girl call her “Point B,” rather than “Mom,” so that the daughter will always able to find her way to her. The narrator goes on to say that she will paint the solar system on the backs of her daughter’s hands so that the girl must learn the entirety of the universe before she is able to say that she knows something like the back of her hand.

The mother then relays how difficult things will be for the girl as she learns that life will be relentlessly tough, but reminds her of how sweet life can be as well. She laments that hurts exists that cannot be fixed with Band-Aids or with poetry, and the speaker states that when her daughter realizes that Wonder Woman is not coming, she will make sure the girl knows that she does not have to wear her cape all by herself. The narrator explains to her daughter that the girl’s hands will be too small for her to catch all the pain she wishes to heal, and the mother admits that she herself has tried to do so.

She tells her daughter not to keep her nose up in the air. She knows that trick, she explains, and doing so will only allow the girl to smell the trail of smoke to a burning house so that she can save a boy from a fire; or, she says, the girl will find the boy who lit the fire to see if she can change him. The speaker says she knows the girl will do so anyway, so she will keep an extra stock of chocolate and rainboots because, she explains, there is no heartbreak that cannot be fixed by chocolate.

The speaker then admits that there are some heartbreaks that cannot be fixed with chocolate, which is what the rainboots are for—rain, she explains, washes away everything.

The narrator explains that she wishes that her daughter will look at the world as though the bottom of a glass-bottom boat and through a microscope at all that exists in the human mind. This, she says, is the way her mother taught her: that there will be days like this.

The speaker goes on to address her daughter, stating the girl will get blistered and bruised, that the very people she wants to help will be the ones in her way, and that her boots will fill with rain and disappointment. These are the days, explains the speaker, that the girl will have more reason to be grateful, because nothing is more beautiful than how the ocean continues to meet the shoreline, despite constantly being swept away.

The speaker says her daughter will win some and lose some and start over, but despite the number of “landmines” (Line 43) that erupt, she hopes the girl always returns to appreciate the beauty of life. The speaker then admits to being naïve herself, but she wants her daughter to know that although the world can “crumble so easily” (Line 47)—like sugar—she does not want her to be too afraid to “taste it” (Line 48). The speaker says she will tell her daughter that her mother worries but her father is a warrior,  while the daughter is the girl with big eyes and small hands who continuously asks for more.

Good things and bad things come in threes, the speaker explains, and then encourages the daughter to apologize when wrong but never “for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining” (Line 54). Despite the daughter’s voice being small, the speaker encourages her to keep singing.

The poem concludes with the mother recommending to her daughter that when others give the girl heartache, war, hatred, cynicism, and defeat, to tell them that they really ought to meet her mother.