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Thursday, 11 June 2020

Playing Catch-Up

How's that thesis coming along, Keith?

My priority for the next few weeks will be finalising my thesis corrections, though it's difficult to find the energy to come back to it after five years (five years!!!) and now a lifetime of change taking place in the space of two months. Some of my research feels particularly relevant, but in want of several appendices to take into account what's happening around us. Completing a study on British-Caribbean religious and cultural identity in London at a time when no one is, legally, attending church, and when race is at the forefront of the national conversation is difficult. The novel, well, I'm looking forward to the 'next steps' phase, when what becomes of it is no longer in my hands.

Meanwhile, stuff has been continuing, as stuff is wont to continue. I'll reshare below stuff that I've shared elsewhere in the last week or so...

 1) Black Lives Matter

None Of This is New! - video in which I sum up my thoughts... 

And this, by Vanessa Kisuule, which is fyah:

2) A Week in the Life

I was asked by Birkbeck to contribute to their cultural calendar for Arts Week, which went on their website a few days ago (a week ago, maybe? I'm losing track!). The full programme is here, alongside other weeks in the life. 

The slightly longer version is below:


For the purposes of this narrative, ‘week’ signifies an arbitrary construct, divisible into seven-ish distinct time units, with increasing elasticity (distinguishing between days as an academic and freelancer with an unpredictable routine was tricky enough pre-pandemic!) This particular ‘week’ has been punctuated by redundant calendar notifications – see Caribbean trip below – and a couple of arrivals, reorienting me somewhat. 


In her latest travel podcast series, Colombian historian Diana Uribe states (loosely translated): ‘While movement may be physically restricted, we still have our imaginations to explore the world.’ This sentiment is comforting, even though I was supposed to have left for Jamaica this week, then Cuba, for a writing research project. I’ve explored Mali, Ireland and Japan through the ears, enjoying Uribe’s international perspective (the nuances of Ireland/Northern Ireland/UK etc. are lost on many mainland Brit folk – Turtleneck Guy springs to mind here [17:35] – let alone for those further afield breaking it down for a mostly Latin American audience). 

I’ve also redeemed my Imagination Airways ticket via Google Maps, traversing random avenues in cities I may or may not visit someday. 

Writing prompt using Street View as stimulus: Drop the little yellow man onto the grid and watch the neighbourhood come into focus. All the poorly-pixelated people crossing roads. The couple holding hands – are they still together? Who lives behind that door? It’s great to revel in these open possibilities. To walk a mile. 

It’s also brought to life news events, as I’ve ‘walked’ through Minneapolis streets, then crossed continents, contemplating all of the places where my presence might be interpreted with suspicion if I just wandered aimlessly (not to count all the places where I have already been). 


When wishing to get inside the buildings, virtual museum tours are plentiful. I’ve enjoyed revisiting Barcelona’s Casa Battló – and its impressive 360˚ experience – this time without having to navigate other tourists taking pictures on their phone. Museum Bums is another lighter-hearted way to interrogate sculpture and paintings.


The final Polari First Book Prize entries thudded onto my doorstep last weekend – I’m one of this year’s judges – and I’ve relished the prospect of escapism, plus I’d already read / hoped to read many of the forty submissions. Now the deadline looms, simultaneously shifting from poetry to fiction via graphic memoir has proved intense, so I’ve emptied my calendar to make room. I’m particularly mindful of how these first-time authors are facing an increasingly-uncertain climate, and so I’ve read each sentence with their hopes in mind, taking copious notes. I think of my own debut novel, and how I must also cast it out into a future beyond my control – if it ever sees the light of day. My feelings are not one of despair but of determination. 

Body of work?

Despite feeling I’ve missed out on so much, I’ve caught the aftermath of some cultural moments: live DJ battles; film screenings; Zoom poetry festivals; but most has been lost to the world of social media ephemera. Art abounds and we cannot contain it.   

This week’s other arrival was The Book of Queer Prophets, twenty-four new essays on sexuality and religion (I’m one of the essayists, as is Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Jeanette Winterson and more…) I’ve just seen a moving live online chat with Ruth Hunt and Dustin Lance Black, also a contributor. 

Other social media conversation highlights include Raymond Antrobus and Malika Booker discussing poems last night on Instagram Live. I also, finally, caught up on the Erykah Badu vs. Jill Scott back catalogue battle, now up on YouTube(even Michelle Obama was watching it at the time!) It’s a Neo-soul nostalgia fest. 


On to film, and it’s difficult to explain the experimental Chilean Ema. It’s infuriating in some places, boundary-pushing in others, but the payoff is worth it. 


Tying some of these threads (music, virtual travel, Colombia, Spanish-language content…), Lido Pimienta soundtracked my morning. Palenques and maroon towns are another topic for another day, warranting much more detail than I can afford here.    

Finally, I’ve made good on my Jamaican trip by following Rebel Women Lit, a Caribbean feminist book club. To feel part of a community across time zones feels precious, urgent right now. Though my movements are necessarily restricted, I have an unlimited worldscape. 

3) Also: 

To tie together all the themes of this post, I'll leave the last words to the Peruvian theatre legend and activist Victoria Santa Cruz.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

2020 (a.k.a. not a full-time PhD student)

2019 was intense, and that (kind of) contextualises my lack of output on here. 

I already wrote the posts about my main concern: trying to finish my PhD project, which involved crossing disciplines, writing a novel, attending conferences, teaching, researching, editing, transcribing, sitting blankly at a computer screen for hours, deleting words, losing USBs, losing self-confidence, finding random files, mumbling to myself in libraries and cafés, literally cutting and pasting a paragraph onto my bound thesis (the least said about that, the better!), paying library fines, shopping with student discount cards... and, despite all the downs, finding joy inside the academic bubble. 

Meanwhile, I juggled other projects, which I didn't even shout that loudly about because I was busy overexerting myself (I mean, I had a whole poem going up the side of St. Paul's Cathedral last October!)

Maybe I didn't want to jinx it, but I told fewer people about my viva last month, the exam to end all exams, where I had to sit in front of two much-respected academics (one of them a recent Booker Prize winner!) and justify my life. And at the end of it - subject to me completing corrections over the next few months - I passed. It's been 4-and-a-bit long years, but I'm overjoyed. And knackered. And I can flaunt this t-shirt I bought, ironically, many years ago.

I've got some other things happening over the next couple of months which I can now shout about, and I will, if I can get back into the habit of blogging. 

Meanwhile, Happy 2020 and all that....


Monday, 22 July 2019

COMING UP TOMORROW: Notes & Queeries!

For my last London gig of the summer, I'll be in conversation with the brilliant novelist Jonathan Kemp at the British Library tomorrow, for the first of a series of Notes & Queeries talks. Really looking forward to this one, as there'll be plenty of conversation, questions, poetry and queer magic. There's a few tickets left, so book now!

Later in the week, I'll be up in Leicester for WORD! in the Garden and in Liverpool for Penguin Pride at the Tate. Plenty of other good news to come! 

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Spring Update: 5 links to 5 things

It's been 9 months since my last post, for anyone who's counting.

Since then, much has happened, some of which may feature in subsequent posts (including a picture of me looking scruffy inside the House of Lords, next to some amazing poets... mum will be proud!)

For the time being, here are 5 links to things you might want to check out:


My latest guest blog post for the Free Word Centre and Spread the Word on the Black Flamingo Salon and Cabaret, where I discuss the important of black, queer artistic dialogue.


It's the BFI Flare film festival yet again!

I'll be in a post-screening panel on Sunday at the BFI Southbank, with the legendary Vivian Kleiman and Marc Thompson! We'll be discussing  Marlon Riggs' short films and I'll read a poem or two from the seminal In The Life anthology.

In the meantime, here's me with Tara Brown and Ben Walters, discussing a few highlights from last year's festival, for Sight & Sound.


On April 11th, I'll be at the Migration museum for the Queer Migrations event, with Ciarán Hodgers and PJ Samuels. I'll be performing new work there. (Free entry but register on the Eventbrite to attend).


Later next month, I'll be a part of Res Fest 19 at the Courtauld Institute's Kings Cross space, performing a specially-commissioned piece in response to artwork at the Courtauld. I'll post more about this later!


A month ago, I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Berto Pasuka lecture at the National Portrait Gallery (read more about the legacy of Berto Pasuka and the night here on BlackOut's page). It was an incredible gallery takeover - and one I hope to see repeated!

Gerrard Martin, dancer/choreographer and artist, was commissioned to perform a new dance piece, 'State of Our Union', using words from 'Acknowledgments' (from my poetry collection, Selah). Here's a recording of the live performance.

...and finally

I've updated the Upcoming page, so follow the links for more details as and when!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

We Need to Talk About...

I'm increasingly excited about my show Good Presence. It's a work in progress and I'm not yet sure how it will land, but I genuinely think it's the bravest thing I've written (you be the judge - come along!) It also has its surreal moments, as I'm sure the image below demonstrates.

I hope the Last Word Festival won't be its last outing but, as I've said in previous posts, I'm a full-time PhD student, and finishing my thesis will have to take precedence over the next few months. I'm hoping to have a complete first draft of my novel by Autumn and submit the whole thing by the end of the year. I have a long way to go!


In one segment, I recount a disagreement I had with a friend over a Lionel Shriver article about political correctness. When I first started writing the show, it all hinged on this conversation, and how different interpretations of 'fairness' are part of the everyday complex tensions we experience. I'm interested in how subjectivity colours what we do with our beliefs, and how it may even affect our friendships. I wanted to use this moment as a way in, a way of bringing that idea close to home. I expected I'd write the section out eventually, but it's stayed somehow. Seeing Shriver make the news again over the last couple of days has confirmed that it's something to grapple with still.

I disagree strongly with Shriver - as I do with Germaine Greer - on lots of things, and it seems that both characters are pushing the limits of their arguments even further, alienating more people and normalising [what I believe to be] bigoted thought. Both consider political correctness to have 'gone mad', and Shriver's recent outburst strikes me as particularly mean-spirited. The hypothetical 'gay transgender Caribbean' she conjures, who 'powers around town on a mobility scooter' is loaded (so loaded) with connotations that stretch back centuries. At best, it's lazy writing; at worst, well...

Anyway, the invitation is open for her to come and see the show :) I'm fine with provoking debate, if debate is there for the provoking. But the line stops at respect for the other. 

& Other Things

Anyway...  here's a few other places you can 

hear me: catch me on iPlayer for Radio 3's The Verb (I'm about 27mins in but the whole show's good, really) and listen to the podcast for bonus stuff. Also, listen out for my interview with Naomi Woddis on The Two of Us, coming soon to Reel Rebels Radio (there's some really insightful interviews on the MixCloud podcast with other poets, which you might wanna check out too). 

see me: Come to my show! And/or come to the British Museum on the 29th

read me: [click on the big yellow link above for signed copies! Or go to the Burning Eye website. Or wait a few weeks for a new tab to appear with most of my publications all handy]  

Friday, 8 June 2018

Upcoming: The Verb tonight!

I'll be on The Verb tonight, Radio 3, with an amazing group of writers. Tune in or listen here later on iPlayer!

Meanwhile, here's a clip of me reading 'Tick':

A couple of the poems will also be in my show at the Roundhouse - there's still tickets left to come see it on the 23rd!

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Good Presence, or The Hayfever Season Update (achoo!): 5 things

A lot's been happening behind the scenes, so here's a quick run down...

1. Good Presence

So, I'm counting down with less than a month to go for my new work-in-progress show, Good Presence, part of the Last Word Festival at the Roundhouse

I'm a little nervous and excited, and I've dared myself to write things that are uncomfortable.  
I've got more of a handle on what it's about (faith, fear, freedom, friendship... all the F words) and I've found a few other surprises as I've been writing (I'll just leave that hanging...).

Over the next week or so, I'll have finished writing a draft of the whole thing, then the following week I'll be looking more at the movement and music side of it, then I get to start on the decoration (thinking about sound, space, that kind of S word), with just a couple of days to practice and memorise what I can.

I promised in the blurb to deliver belly laughs, alongside a dark exploration of faith, so that's what I'm aiming for. I'd love to have as many friendly faces there as possible... so come!

I'll be plugging it more over the next few weeks, but in the meantime, check out the rest of the Last Word Programme. I'm hoping to reach a handful of shows, which is, sadly, all I can manage time-wise!

Speaking of, there's extra brownie points - you literally get a discount - for coming to see Estamos Presente, a little earlier on, showcasing the work of a new British Latinx writing collective I'm really excited to be working with.

2. 3MT

Things are also ticking over on the academic side. I'm still working on my novel, still teaching (and learning) and still managing the balance of theory and writing practice.

For reasons unknown, I decided to venture into the domain of competitive thesis presentations and oh.. my... word!

A lot of universities have signed up to 3MT - or Three Minute Thesis, for the uninitiated - encouraging research students to present their work to a mixed crowd in just 3 minutes (a quick YouTube search reveals the broadest range of topics imaginable).

I didn't realise how much of a challenge it would be to synthesise my thesis, my approach to research and my creative writing practice, and the specifics of my findings, all into three minutes - oh, and in a jargon-free, enthusiastic, low-tech way. But once I did, I was keen to get involved.

This year's competition took place just a couple of days ago, and I'm still buzzing with energy. More on the results of the night here.

3. Coming Up! Housman's - June 6th

I'll be joining Richard Scott (his poetry collection, Soho, is bold and beautiful*) and Housman's Bookshop poet-in-residence Eleanor Penny for some poems and conversation. The topic is Sex, Shame & Problematic Ancestry in Queer Poetry and we'll be discussing all of that, plus more, in between reading out some of our work.

*hold on, wasn't Bold and Beautiful also the title of a 90s American soap? Or am I making this up?

4. More coming up...

I have a few other events forthcoming, including this at the British Museum on June 29th, where I'll be performing a commissioned poem for the Rodin exhibition. I'll update beforehand - I promise! - so keep checking back here.

5. Writing, Reading, Listening

Meanwhile, I've been:

- writing more poems
- progressing with the novel
- working on a couple of unrelated essays
- trying to keep plugged in to new stuff. There's a lot to keep up with!

I was particularly blown over by Nine Night at the National Theatre the other day, which just closed tonight. I hope it comes back soon so I can go again!

I'm also still raving about James M'Kay's Very Friendly Weapon, which deserves another post.

I'll do a separate post about other stuff I'm reading when I've got the energy... right now I want to get back to the reading!