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Wednesday, 31 July 2013


The Farrago Flash Fiction SLAM! & Creative Writing workshop this Thursday at The Poetry Cafe, in Covent Garden. With fiction readings by Charles Shaar Murray, Isabel del Rio, John Paul O'Neill, Keith Jarrett, Alison Hector Rooms, Anna Chen & others! 

I'll be reading an extract from the novel and something from my Edinburgh show... come along!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Edinburgh... The Countdown Continues!

20 days until Identity Mix Up hits Edinburgh and I've finalised a few of the finer details. I will also be doing a fundraiser/preview on Monday next week in LDN. This, however, does need 100% confirmation, so I can't post further details until tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I've been practicing how it'll all pan out, sticking labels to myself and unsticking them, all in the name of poetry. I'm also working on a small pamphlet which will have my new poems from the show included.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

July things... I am not Trayvon

Ok, so I wrote the first part of this three days ago. I haven't had the chance to post until now... Some events and opinions may have altered.

I’ve not felt this removed from the world in a long time and I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing. I haven’t watched the news in weeks, or any TV. I’m on a break from teaching as of last week and all I’ve done since then is catch up on work and see family and friends.

I’ve caught snippets of goings on from Twitter and emails, and it makes me almost want to know less. Royal babies, yeah, great. Speculation about what to call him (Go on, push the boat out and name him something exotic like... George. Honestly!) 

Even the Man Booker Prize got in on the act by announcing their longlist via a tweet (later deleted) which mimicked the official Royal birth announcement. Pshh! Not that I'm surprised at their giving themselves over to royal abandon, believing that "popular" means "inclusive". They're cheering themselves over the diversity of the books they've chosen, but in all likelihood - unless things change this year - the winner will be another British author of a certain kind (as it has been for the last four years, with such names as Hilary, Howard and Julian.) 

Ouch... that sounds bitter, but what I mean to say is the book industry isn't going down a worrying route, as some suggest; it's always been elitist, sexist and as far from transparent as it's possible to get. I hope I get proved wrong. 

I think the latest JK Rowling saga (again, picked this up from an email thread, not from actual news!) says more about the cult of branding than anything else... but it's nothing new. I found this story very funny; but as someone who wants to have a first novel published in the next couple of years it's also disheartening to know that, if I ever want to go down the commercial route, I will encounter gatekeepers who operate on a system that seemingly has no rhyme or reason.

Death Row  

I won't lose any sleep over it; there are worse things in the world that don't make sense to me, which I find genuinely disturbing. Ever other day I'm forwarded emails about Russia and other places where human rights are being massacred, along with fellow humans. 

Something that stuck with me was the story of Warren Hill, a few days before he was due to be killed by the US state of Georgia. I ran a workshop last week and took part in the free writing exercise I set. He was on my mind and his case took up all my notes so I decided to check back after last Monday to see if he had actually been killed. I saw his death sentence was halted on the grounds that he should know where his death pills come from, not on the grounds that they SHOULDN’T BE KILLING HIM IN THE FIRST PLACE. Am I the only one to think this? Clearly not, otherwise it wouldn't have got Amnesty's attention, but....???

On a slightly related note (thematic tags: Southern states, weird attitudes, race, murder) I've also been following the Trayvon Martin story since it broke, but for different reasons. I don’t particularly care what happens to George Zimmerman; he killed Trayvon already, whether it was consciously racist, or "hoodyist", or whether he "felt threatened" for legitimate reasons or otherwise. Cynically perhaps, I take it as a given that non-white males of a certain age are going to be killed for walking down the wrong street, so long as prejudice exists, so long as weapons exist, so long as dodgy police exist. Even Obama had to stick his neck out to speak up about how black men are profiled; it's an accepted fact. The tragedy for me is how we stop this happening so often, and how we hold the people to account who are supposedly protecting us. 

Speaking of dodgy police, why did no one even try to contact Trayvon’s parents in the two days that they were looking for him? Perhaps they were overworked and there was a surge of bodies to investigate, so they didn’t have time to go through the wallet (missing, apparently... despite having just used it at the store) and phone (he had been speaking to his girlfriend just before being shot) of an unnamed teenager. As much as I find the actual shooting disturbing, I find it much more sickening that people whose job it is to serve and protect citizens would rather treat a dead young black boy as garbage (or "rubbish" - I've been using my British-American dictionary again) than call his mum to let him know he's not coming back. All this focusing on Zimmerman takes away the focus from those with real power. He's just an individual who killed the boy - legally, as it turns out - but there are many more people behind him, colluding with what happens, and that's what makes me angry about idiotic arguments like this. In case you didn't click the link, the author thinks Obama's speech about identifying with Trayvon was incomplete; that he should have talked about how black people aren't taking responsibility for what is happening in their society (yawn) and he uses the tired argument that fatherless homes are creating gang members and failing social housing projects in black communities that make white people feel vulnerable and start vigilante groups. 

We espeak americano

Maybe I shouldn't comment on what's happening thousands of miles away on another continent; but I feel I have to, because we seem to be following the same pattern. Despite evidence of recent police racism, despite Doreen Lawrence pretending to be shocked when it came out that, instead of just investigating the who, what and whys of her son's murder, the police also tried to smear his name (bear in mind this also happened when they shot a Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes in South London in 2005, remember? Everything from jumping over ticket barriers with a padded jacket in summer to rape), despite the so-called "Independent" Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) botching an investigation into how a mentally ill man ended up as yet another death in police custody, our attentions will always settle on the easier targets. This stops laws being changed, police being prosecuted, our values being altered, real change actually happening. 

It's all well and good changing our profile pictures on Facebook and writing "I am Trayvon Martin" (been there, done that, got the t-shirt), but until we accept that we have to be critical of the government, of the police and of the media and not just the individuals that are killed/being killed, we end up having tacky debates about political correctness going mad. I enjoyed reading this post for that very reason; until we stop these superficial "solidarity" measures, we will fail to really and truly "get it".

End of sermon.     

If only Kate and William had called their new baby Trayvon, now that would have been something...  

P.S. Adding to this post, Thursday night... Internet's back... Still no real news being reported apart from royal babymongering; a great way to bury a new, disturbing government initiative involving a van going around different London boroughs (among them, Barking & Dagenham, notorious for racial tensions) telling illegal immigrants to 'Go Home' or face arrest (loaded language, perhaps?) 

I'm personally insulted as a former Barking resident; when I was a kid, I remember having the words "go home!" shouted out of a van at me. Incidentally, I wrote a poem about it for my Edinburgh show. I'll be previewing it on the 5th August in London, so more deets to follow.


Thursday, 18 July 2013


THE COUNTDOWN CONTINUES... 32 days until the show!

Having read and read and read and written some ideas about identity over the last few months, the moment I started to actually put the show together was overwhelming. I felt like I had a lot of material to sift through and I was swimming in essays.

So I pared it down: after emptying my wardrobe and sending random books flying out of the bookshelf - that's how I prepare for workshops when I'm running late! - it hit me. It needs to be personal and it needs to be engaging, so why not use items from home to talk about my own journey through the maze of identity, be it gender, racial, religious etc.?

The scope for this was still endless - "identity" is limitless - and I was in danger of transplanting the kitchen sink to the venue in Edinburgh to poeticise the finer details of my life. Left-handed scissors, football socks, a broken violin... I  could write and talk about all of these, as they do say a bit about who I am, but they're not that big a deal.

I needed something to focus the show. And, voila! I remembered one particular summer I did an internship where I had to put together a diversity manual. Stuff came back to me... If I remember correctly, the Equality Act 2003 protects against discrimination on six grounds: Age, Gender, Physical Ability, Race, Religion, Sexuality. What do the things I wear or carry around with me say about these concepts as identity markers? Do I realise this and am I comfortable with it? Is there a neutral position and how could that be achieved?

Clothes on the floor, I've been exploring these questions, writing some poetry, digging up some poems I've already written, searching for diversity questionnaires, laughing at YouTube videos, shuddering at blog comments and just watching the whole show come together in a kind of storyboarding session.

I'm now at the final stages and starting to memorise bits, but if you have anything that you think is a good area to explore, drop me a line!

Sunday, 14 July 2013


Apologies for the silence, seeing as I promised big time updates last week... The prob is I've had nothing, zilch, nada in the way of internet connection at home for the last few days and I'm still waiting for it to be fixed. The upside is I'm getting more competent at learning to link my phone's connection with my computer...

Anyway, this digression aside, I'm off to the Arcola Theatre tonight for a mean battle, a sequel to the straight-to-the-core dialogue that is the RAP vs POETRY thing-a-ling. Here's some more info below:

Hammer & Tongue, the biggest promoters of slam poetry in the U.K, team up with Fat Gold Chain, London-based promoters of "true skool" hip-hop nights to put on their second annual Rap vs Poetry event as part of the Dalston People's Festival.

Teams of poets and rappers will have to convince the audience both of the validity of their own art and also of their versatility and crossover abilities, as MCs attempt acappella performance and poets try to put their words over music. 5 representatives of each art form will take part in the competition, hosted by H&T's Angry Sam (Sam Berkson) and FGC's Benny Diction.

The competition itself will be followed with sets from the FGC resident DJs and an open mic for any lyricists in the audience to bless.

The entry fee is £5: for that you get to witness both high calibre poets and rappers go at it in a test of lyrical strength. If the last Rap vs Poetry is anything to go by, it's gonna go OFF! It features heavily in this documentary broadcast by BBC Radio 1Xtra earlier this year:

Postcard from Home, again

Friday, 5 July 2013

UPDATE: 5 things for June/July (part deux)


So, two days ago, the shortlist for the Melita Hume Prize was announced and I've been chosen as one of the thirteen shortlisted poets! The full list can be found here. The finalist will be announced in September, so I have a long, agonising wait over the summer, which should hopefully inspire some more poetry.

I haven't posted any new poems lately - mostly because they've been pretty personal, and they've come out in that intense way I haven't written since I was fifteen - but I will start to share more again. Just saw the image for the T.S. Eliot iPhone app and I'm glad to have survived my 25th year (and I'm fast approaching 30) and to still feel like I'm learning to write for the first time.

4. Edinburgh - Identity Mix-Up: where I'm from.

The countdown begins: 44 days until I take the stage at La Tasca with my new fifty-minute show on identity.

So, I've got a basic structure for how everything will work and I've had one main idea mooted. It just won't work without being really offensive and getting away from the point of what I want to talk about.*

Meanwhile, I've been collecting facts upon facts upon facts about identity and how we talk about it. "Identity" is one of those generalised terms that could fit into anything. Do I mean "identity" as a kind of comment on patriotism, or national or regional/"postcode" allegiances? Or do I mean it more loosely, as something that groups individuals into categories: football team supporters; dog owners; Guardian readers? Do I mean "identity" as a means to describe race/gender/religion... etc (the kind of things you put on a monitoring form when you start a new job or buy a new television)? Do I mean it as some kind of existential need to belong somewhere?

The short answer: yes, yes, yes and yes.

The more detailed answer: sort of. It's a big topic that could swallow my show alive. I have fifty minutes, not fifty years and it's a poetry show not an academic thesis so I'll leave much of that to the anthropology department and get more personal with what I mean. And on a personal level, I'm discovering more and more about the labels I hate to use and why I avoid them.

One of the series of questions I detest most is: "Where are you from?", followed by, "No. Where are you from?" I was going to write on this earlier; I get asked at least once every couple of weeks and I'm working out a formula for answering the question creatively. I saw a Facebook post discussing this yesterday and someone posted a pretty funny video that sums up my point. 

*I can explain another time, if anyone's interested.

5. Rest time (and random mattress placements...)

So, now the academic term's drawing to a close, I promised myself I'd get to see more of friends and family and get much more sleep (no alarms, just sleep until I wake up all naturally, like.) Just round the back of the flat where I live, there's an old mattress that's been there for months (yep, welcome to Camden*); I'm enjoying watching the fox and the cat who come at different times of day to curl up and rest there. I won't be joining them but, seeing as it's set to stay warm over the next few days, I may head to the park instead and leave them to it!

As I won't be working as much, I should have more time to write (that's the theory, anyway.) I'm looking forward to walking randomly around town, snapping what I see, chatting to old friends and writing a lot more. But that also means, after 14th July, I'm not going to be doing much in the way of structured activity, and certainly no gigs until August. It'll be hard to commit to doing little but I'm going to keep a freeish diary over the next couple of weeks.

All right, then, off to have my lunch outside!

*Ok, I was sure I'd posted this pic before, but a few months back, someone dumped a mattress on the pavement, under the bridge, a couple hundred yards from where I live. At least one guy decided to use it for its natural purpose (I checked he was ok but didn't want to disturb him, so, on an impulse, I snapped a photo instead.) The mattress saga continues...

Thursday, 4 July 2013

UPDATE: 5 good things to kickstart July (part one)

Halfway through the year already!! Aaah! A quick update of things just gone and things to come...

1. Spoken Word Educators project

As of this week, my first academic year at Goldsmiths has come to an end - and I have the library fines to prove it! That said, I'll be participating in a couple of events there over the summer, including next week's London Youth Speaks event, which I'm looking forward to.

My time at Holy Family school in East London has also ended and I'll be teaching at another school in Hackney from September. Having already met some of the staff and pupils there, I'm excited. More on this to come (I always say this... but you'll see!)

My last day at school was particularly heart-warming. Mid-morning, we had a brief talk and poetry show with some of the pupils, a few members of staff, Peter Kahn - the project's founder -, two of my fellow educators and Baroness Jones, Shadow Spokesperson for Education. Hearing the pupils and  staff comment on how they've progressed over the year - and how learning to express themselves through poetry has played a part in that - has been a massive personal boost, and it's kept me smiling ever since.

Also, given the increasingly politicised nature of the National Curriculum (take a look at what's happened to history, as just one example - or try here for an academic perspective) and the damage I believe it's doing to education, including forcing a lot of good teachers to quit their jobs, it was great to have this positive, pupil-centred celebration of success. Of course, I'm under no illusion that poetry will remedy all the world's ills; however, I know it's given me and many other people a voice, and I think it's not a bad way of combining literacy with emotional literacy and public speaking - three very useful skills in one. But I've said this before.

Let me instead quote from what Baroness Jones says here about the pupils she met:

a room full of articulate, funny, thoughtful young people excited about what they had, and could, achieve.
I'm really glad to have been at this school, and I'm looking forward to continuing my training as an educator in Hackney. I do know, however, that my future as a Spoken Word Educator is a precarious one, dependent on forward-thinking schools and their budgets on the one hand, and politicians who are prepared to listen and allow some creativity into the curriculum on the other. Considering politicians spend much of their time preparing speeches, you would think that all parties would appreciate the value of speaking skills; yet this year, they have been all but eliminated from English assessment criteria!

Aaah! Off the soapbox...! Yes, the summer showcase, a week previous, went really well and it's not just me saying it! There'll be some video footage coming at some point; when I hear more, I'll shout.

2. D.C., V&A, other gigs and ting

I didn't really say much about my trip to Washington, D.C., except that it was fantastic.

The usual stuff applies - I walked around; took a few photos; spoke to a few people; marvelled at how small the White House is compared to how I imagined it; walked some more; indulged in the Chilli Hot Dogs at the famous Chilli Burger place which didn't get burned down in the 70's riots - which Bill Cosby takes well to, apparently -;  got some sun; blah blah blah. But added to that, I got to meet some great human beings who happen to be poets, and I talked with them till sun up and woke up again at 10am to go to a discussion, or to a donut breakfast panel, or whatever else was on the jam-packed programme.

Then I remembered I was there to take part in a slam, and so I had to step up and compete. I performed a couple of familiar pieces (see below) and then I made it to the final! At that point, I decided to perform something I'd written that morning...  very risky but I wanted to share - and as the mantra goes: "The point isn't the points; the point is the poetry". In the end, I was glad I did; it was well received and I was very pleased to come 3rd in the slam, with Gabe Moses from Atlanta and DC resident Adele Hampton coming 1st and 2nd, respectively. They both floored me with some intricate wordplay in their poems.

So, all in all, I got to listen to some great poems and I got to read some mind-blowing stuff in between talking and listening and eating donuts and chilli hot dogs. I owe massive thanks to Reggie Cabico who runs Capturing Fire and to Sophia Walker for the invite!

Back home and, in between preparing for the poetry showcase, for my last week at school and uni and for other freelance projects, I got to work with Angry Sam, Poetcurious and Benny Diction for the V&A event I mentioned last week. We basically mashed our heads together and watched the creativity ooze out. Bearing in mind the other three have - to varying degrees - been substantially influenced by the hip-hop scene, what came out was a true merging of forms and cultures. Seeing as we had only five days to work through our half-hour set, we stuck to our written scripts, though I would like to have had more time to learn it and experiment more with our delivery. That said, I'm happy with what the four of us did as a team; and as most of the visitors to the museum were there for a "cultural" artsy experience related to Dalston's Arcola theatre, I'm pleased we got such a positive response*.

So, it's been a lot of fun doing some team poetry again - I very much hope that there'll be more collaboration of this kind in the future!

Embedded image permalink

Last weekend, I also had the pleasure of seeing J Mase III perform in London, us having met in DC (he hails from Philadelphia). What a small world!

Next up, I have two rap-themed events coming on: Rap vs. Poetry (part 2) on the 14th and Southbank's RAP party in August. I'm about to get my hip-hop on. Goodnight!

(Next time: Some big news! plus Edinburgh, and fitting in some rest)

Silver, room 69

*Ok, let me clarify - if you know Angry Sam, the "poet thug" (his own words) who often writes highly-charged anti-establishment political pieces, or Poetcurious, hip-hop poet and "microphone vandal" (his words) and rapper Benny Diction, and if you also know the Victoria and Albert museum, home to a lot of arts and cultural exhibitions, but also home to large grandiose hallways filled with massive silver crockery, you wouldn't necessarily put us all together. But, I'm pleased to say, it went really well!