Monday 27 October 2014

Joelle Taylor Book Launch, Karim Kamar Album Launch & Girls In Film Discussion

Bouncing back from a week of illness and a reading at Oxford University, here's a few events I'll be appearing at this week.

Joelle Taylor, curator of SLAMbassadors has a new book of poems launching, 'The Woman Who Was Not There' and I'm honoured to be one of the poets asked to read alongside her at Phoenix Artists Club on Thursday 6th November at 6.30pm in Soho. Joelle is one of the most important names in British poetry and has become a prolific door opener for many poets on the London scene today. If you haven't seen her Ted Talk I highly recommend it.

The following evening, (November 7th) Pianist, film maker and Out-Spoken Co-Curator, Karim Kamar launches his music project 'Songs Without Words' at the 1901 Arts Club from 7pm. I'll be reading alongside poets such as Simon Mole, Anthony Anaxagorou and Sabrina Mahfouz.


On Saturday (November 8th), Corrina Antrobus will be chairing a discussion on female representation in film at The Under-Wire Film Festival. Details below.

Saturday 18 October 2014

Am I Black Enough? - On Being Invited To Read At Oxford University & Caribbean Weekend Festival 2014

...My father, who I adored despite every cruelty, 
who opens his arms like a dream he knows 
I have had all my life and says "come..."

- Kwame Dawes

I was born in England to an English mother and a Jamaican father, and only having visited my family in Jamaica a handful of times throughout my childhood, I wouldn't have felt my voice had anything to add to a conversation on Caribbean poetic expression and experience, but I am feeling a new confidence in claiming part of that identity, despite my thirteen year absence from Jamaica.

As a child, it was hard to bond with my family in Jamaica, I was called "White Bwoy" everywhere I went, my family seemed more interested in the materials in my bags than the history of our family. This upset me, because it was my father who brought me to Jamaica to connect with his heritage. This denied me the feeling of being in a place that was meant to be a part of me. I returned to London that year, and wrote off Jamaica as a place I could not call home.

Since my father passed away last year, I have felt a need to understand something about my Jamaican heritage, a need to find a connection that has been denied or lost since my father is no longer anywhere on earth.

He was the person in my family I most physically resembled. I felt proud when I was seen with him because our resemblance, in spite of his darker skin, confirmed my blackness. This was important because, most of my fathers stories about living in England as a dreadlocked Jamaican, were about the racism he had to tolerate, on the streets, in the work place, at the airport, in the job centre, it was everywhere. His colour was something he had to defend and fight for. It's something I admired about him, and that's something I always wanted to connect with. A fighter for equal rights, social consciousness and justice.

On October 25th I will be reading in a Caribbean literature and music festival curated by Renaissance One, London Is The Place For Me 2014 (also the title of a Calypso song by Trinidadian singer, Lord Kitchener). I don't know if I have anything new to add to the conversation around Caribbean poetics and literature but I'll get to explore that with my invitation to the festival.

Caribbean poets who lived or are living in the UK like John Agard, Jean Binta Breeze, James Berry, Andrew Salkey, Grace Nicolas, have all had their place on my childhood bookshelf. I have been particularly inspired by Roger Robinson and Kei Miller in recent years. True, these voices are not "Caribbean specific'', the intensity of their work is drawn from the unsettling narratives of African and European history.

These Caribbean voices carry the tone of their Islands across the Atlantic. This is something unavoidably political. The awareness of what Patois (or any indigenous, mixed-nuanced language of a colonial / post-colonial space) brings to the European ear, gives the Caribbean poetical sensibility a loud whip-lashing purpose. 

When I saw Kei Miller read his poem, 'Flog Man' at The Southbank Centre, I heard a Jamaican, unafraid of the difficulty of presenting accurate colonial history to a predominately middle class white audience, culturally indulging in his Forward Prize winning poetry, which is both striking and subtle.

Flog Island?  / It had one beating so brutal, no one could cork their ears from it; 
both black and white man fail in the long practise of deafness...

...Blood did sprinkle the ground like anointing
and now people walk by and cringe as memory
curl like S and lash them owna skin.

As a Jamaican / British poet (who is literally hard of hearing), when listening to Kei Miller, he stings and sings my blood every time I am able to hear him read.

Am I Black Enough?

My father spoke Patois, and I could only speak it comfortably around him, although I was always too British for him because I ate with a fork instead of a spoon. He made a point of saying, "Black is predominant, you are my son, therefore you are black", but in the British context I identify as a British Jamaican. I feel particularly British when I'm in Africa or the Caribbean, but I feel particularly black when I'm in Europe. One of the nuances of having two parents from two very different cultures is neither of them can fully relate to the identity which is forming around your ambiguous existence and that in itself, is a kind of displacement. 

On November 1st I will be reading on the Diaspora, Identity and Art at Oxford University. Only in the last year would it make sense for me to be reading (and writing) in such a space. Through poetry I have unearthed a kind of (at first unconscious) acknowledgement of my Jamaican heritage, and now (consciously) that is something that excites me and thickens my notebooks. Like Miller, I aim to hold these spaces with my own voice, a British, Jamaican voice that sounds a story, in spite of everything that makes it harder to hear.

Monday 13 October 2014

James Baldwin On Columbus (from Jimmy's Blues)

This gone National Poetry Day, I took a group of students to Southbank as I was invited to perform alongside Ross Sutherland, Joshua Idehen, Joelle Taylor, John Hegley and others. As the theme was 'Remember', I was asked to memorise a poem and perform it, I chose 'Imagination' by James Baldwin. I recommend picking up this collection.

"imagination creates the situation, 
and then, the situation creates the imagination. 

It may of course be the other way around: 
Columbus was discovered by what he found"

Saturday 11 October 2014

The Importance Of Vulnerability, Creativity, Honesty & Consciousness In Education

"If our young people grow up holding on to such terrible feelings, it could lead to another war some time in the future when the fate of the country is in their hands" - Zlata Filipovic

Student Slam
This Wednesday I was invited to teach, perform and curate a slam at the British School Of Brussels for a few days. It is an international school, mostly attended by the children of diplomats, government administrators, military etc. I was honoured to meet and talk poetry with many young people from all over the world. I spoke with students who have lived in Cuba, Philippines, China, Australia and all over Europe, as well as meeting students from Africa (some of whom are part of an exchange programme). The main thing that these young people have in common is that they are all from wealthy families. Coming from teaching in Hackney, where students live mostly in social housing, you'd expect a contrast... and there is. What I can't say however, is that one of these demographics has more of a need than the other, it is just a case of those needs being different.

The interesting thing about teaching poetry, is when you create a space that nurtures honesty, vulnerability and creativity, you make it understood that it is ok to think what you think and share it, because your story matters, and it is ok to step out of uniforms and predicted grades and just be the person who is working their way through life, as we all are.

Many beautiful and difficult things are brought into that space but recently I've been hearing students (in all kinds of classrooms and spaces) say things like, "I'm in school, I don't think this is the place to talk like this", it breaks my heart to hear that young people feel their way through school as a space that is closer to an incarceration than a liberation.

I often hear students label themselves "stupid", or "not smart", one particular lesson last week, I asked the class for the definition of "figurative language", when a heavy silence fell, a student staring at his desk said "We don't know sir, you're teaching the dumb class". It's heart-breaking when young people feel the pressure of "being intelligent", instead of the excitement of being curious.

Cyrus The Great in 550BC Persia, founded "The Rights Of Nations", the foundation of Human Rights laws 

While researching for my MA, I found that National Curriculums all over the world share a consistency in policies that encourage human rights, social awareness and student voice, something which I do not see practised enough. Reading through the National Curriculum's, it reminded me of the day I was invited along with fifty international artists and campaigners to recite each bill in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Halfway through, a woman from Iran and a man from Sri Lanka broke down in tears, followed by everyone in the room. It was the simplicity of hearing our rights, articulated out loud, with matter-of-fact-precision. If this was the bar set for basic human rights, too many of us are living with content instead of passion, oppression and mis-education instead of enlightenment and conviction.

No matter what part of the world, or the background of our students, I believe the classroom is one of the most important spaces to bring about self-empowerment and therefore, social change. This needs to be a space which, as I said before, allows us to be vulnerable (connected to each other), creative (to explore new possibilities), honest (to understand our similarities as well as our differences) and conscious (to keep seeking truth).

Friday 3 October 2014

Chill Pill at The Afrovibes Festival; October 16th at The Albany

Chill Pill are back at The Albany for some global poetry shenanigans as part of the Afrovibes Festival, and have booked one of South Africa's foremost poets, Toni Stuart, alongside the full Chill Pill team and whatever treasures we unearth on the open mic.

We'll also have live music from the brilliance of the London Zulu Township (soul meets West London funk in Deptford.)


Toni Stuart is a Poet from South Africa, and has been featured on BBC World Service and named by The Guardian as one of 200 notable young South Africans. Before becoming a full-time poet she co-founded the non-governmental organisation I am Somebody! with storyteller Nicole Le Roux, and directed it from its inception in 2010 until the middle of 2012. She is now a SpokenWord Educator, studying for her Masters in Writing and Teaching at Goldsmith University. 


London Zulu, the project formerly fronted by the late, great South African singer and dancer Doreen Thobekile. Doreen’s daughter (and long-time vocal sparring partner) Ingrid Webster is taking her place in the spotlight to perform the songs of her mother and more. Backed by members of Transglobal Underground, she’ll be singing her heart out on a set of Township soul and West London funk.



In 2014, Afrovibes festival's biggest-ever programme celebrates 20 years of South African freedom: 20 years since the ending of apartheid and the beginning of democracy. The creativity of award-winning artists brings us music, drama, dance, photography and film, reflecting upon what it is to be part of 21st century South Africa. By turns it'll be thought-provoking, energetic, sad, fascinating, wonderful. With free events, family workshops and themed food served in the atmospheric Township Cafe, drop by, hang out and belong - you'll believe that you really are thousands of miles from home!

Box Office 0208 692 4446
020 8692 4446