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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

10 (or so) Things I've Been Watching lately

Happy Solstice! The days are about to start getting longer - one small minute at a time...

1. Don't Swim in the Sea!

The daylight hasn't been forthcoming lately but relatively mild weather has kept me from becoming a hermit. Unfortunately, others haven't been so lucky what with floods and storms... and signs of the times.

(This is, of course, doctored and the original - and other versions, complete with dramatic music - can be found elsewhere online).

2. We're gay and we're straight...

Speaking of other versions, I first came across this advert over a week ago and was puzzled... It's kind of genius marketing. Strange it may be but it's not easily forgettable.

It does several things at once:
i- shows Robert Dyas as being a "progressive" institution (bringing a kind of "some of us are gay, get over it!" Stonewall-esque flavour)
ii - gets them into the news and social media/blogs (including this one)
iii - injects some weird humour into the domain of the Christmas advert.

I later found out that it was a spoof of another spoof ad:

Whilst I disagree with the statement, I guess this is what people mean when they say "gay" is the new "black".

What's interesting in both videos are the initial binaries set up - white/black, gay/straight - and then the extra inclusions - latino, bisexual - and then the groups that are not mentioned - mixed heritage/ trans/ asexual etc. It would be interesting to see what adverts like this would look like in a decade and how the language will change - and whose diversity will be prioritised.

3. Reggie Yates' Extreme UK

The last two weeks have been manic in many ways. I've wound down from uni for the year (it's come around so quickly) and then I ended up with the flu. I've also been affected by things around me: the agreement for Britain to join the "let's all bomb Syria" project (although I strongly suspect it would have happened/ has already been happening with or without the parliamentary go-ahead) and changes to government's housing policy - including this - have made me angry; the general noise of getting involved with Christmas - and endless end of year socials - has left me feeling exhausted. Perhaps to mitigate this, I've been watching a lot of television.

Speaking of prioritising diversity, a friend (who I won't name) put up an angry social media post about the first programme 'Gay and Under Attack', warning people not to watch it. So, of course, I did.

The show was scarily predictable and did nothing to alleviate my anger at other things. Yates pretty much goes around London, mostly, finding black and Asian people whose families don't accept them for their sexuality/gender identity - with one notable exception - the implicated (and sometimes stated) conclusion being that:

a) black families aren't tolerant
b) English families are
c) Islam is intolerant (yep, that was a running thread)
d) gay black people huddle together in exclusive club nights for protection from everyday discrimination (on that note, another documentary focuses on a related club night in a totally different way)
e) black and Asian people usually avoid the visibility of Pride marches for the above reasons

Even with the one notable exception, the "accepting" father argues that Jamaican culture is really homophobic, but he grew up around white people... and the suggestion is made that this pretty much accounts for his tolerance.

The friend in question knew about the programme before it aired. It transpires that he gave some pointers to the team about opening up their research. But the programme, even before it had been filmed, was already made. If you have a pre-configured story and you want to find homophobic Bangladeshi Muslims, or West African Christians, or Jamaicans, and so on, it's easy to do so, and they'll be vocal about it. But if other people approach you - or even if they don't, and you simply want nuance - and you dig harder, something new and original might come of it that doesn't just perpetuate stereotypes. But in whose interests is it to tell these stories? 


Curious about the series, I watched the second programme on the anti-feminist MRA (Men's Rights Activist) movement and the "menosphere". Again, knowing little about this world - other than through friends who have been harrassed for invoking the "gamergate" hashtag, or have had been intimidated on and offline for defending certain people - I wanted to hear a story that didn't just rehash what I already knew and expected.... Unfortunately, it didn't do much better. While I have very little sympathy for men who feel society has become too matriarchal, or for the (straight, white) men who are unhappy to see their privilege questioned and challenged - and sometimes reduced - I felt there was also room for more nuance in this programme. The men writing anonymous death threats are not necessarily in line with the men on Speakers' Corner arguing about feminism being bad. And somewhere along that scale are the women who relate to these men who have these views in some way. I found myself wishing for another angle. For a story that didn't just confirm all of my prejudices and tick them off so I can file them all away.

Even when I'm writing fiction, I need to allow myself room for surprise if I'm to end up with a powerful story. I'm wary of anything that poses as "objective" or a complete picture, and I'm wary of dominant, authorial voices that silence the others.

Now I'm also writing an academic paper, I'm extremely wary about letting my pre-formed opinions dictate the outcome. And so when I see this happening, it makes me feel very frustrated. More than ever, it's important to hear stories that make us feel uncomfortable and that challenge our world view. It's so easy, otherwise, to stay in a very insulated bubble, being topped up with status quo- affirming bullshit.  

4. This is Tottenham

On that note, I was also taken aback by this programme. Offering to shine a light on the everyday realities of Tottenham residents, giving a more honest picture of the neighbourhood, the documentary starts off with a video montage of all the bad things that have been associated with Tottenham from police brutality to riots that went national via baby killings. And then we end up in MP David Lammy's surgery, which frames the rest of the programme. It's odd how you can purport to remove a wrong association by rehashing it immediately. I'm sure there's a more succinct term for it, but it's good reverse psychology to entrench an implicit association while explicitly rejecting it.

(You can do this with anything... For instance, a disturbed individual with a knife attacks someone and mentions ISIS, among other things; a bystander reacts: "You ain't no Muslim, bruv"; that phrase becomes a Twitter anthem and is quoted by the Prime Minister; the incident is reported as a terrorist incident, even though it seems more complicated than that - and even though he was a lone attacker with a sole victim. As the word Muslim - and the double negative proceeding it - becomes more well-known than the attack itself, the word Muslim is what stays in people's minds, regardless...

Need I go on? How about the way in which any report about Notting Hill carnival begins or ends with how many people were arrested? Even when figures are low, given the scale of the event, an implicit association is made that makes it easier to impose safety measures designed at getting rid of it. Same goes for mentioning the "articulate" black guy - as parodied on this page.)

Overall, the programme veered towards poverty porn - and a good propaganda tool for Lammy - with a few touching stories that kept me watching. Seeing the impact standing outside the Houses of Parliament had on two young students in citizenship limbo, I was moved. Having worked in schools all over peripheral London from Essex to Wembley, and back in towards the centre, in Hackney and beyond, it never fails to shock how little some young people know of the rest of the city, and how far a short tube ride into Westminster can be, culturally.

5. Cultural Appropriation and labels

I invoked the "c" word: culture.

Cultural appropriation as a concept hasn't taken off as much here as it seems to have, Stateside, for a number of reasons. But I've had a few interesting conversations about this.

Meanwhile, as more people seem to be interested in re-framing power relationships (or, as some would put it, being "PC"), I'm also seeing a backlash. I've also seen the kind of "go back to your safe space" insults, which conflate veganism with social justice ("SJW" now being used as a slur against certain PC types).

One theory about the rise of fascism puts it down, partially, to liberalist ambitions to install gender free bathrooms. Apparently, liberals are getting eaten up with dogma and ignoring wider issues.

Someone needs to pass around the memo that it is ok for people to push for changes that seem petty - pronouns, descriptors and, yes, bathrooms - whilst also remembering the bigger fights. We are always in constant (re)negotiation with culture and shouldn't be afraid of challenging it.

5b. Although, according to Prince Ea, the solution to everything is to remove all our labels... Erm, well...

6. Legal Propaganda or "Spectacles"

Moving on, and staying on the other side of the pond, this came up on my Facebook feed. Controversial, and some of the points about legality of false information is frightening. But, as we're becoming more and more saturated with information, it seems more difficult and more important than ever to double check sources and not just rehash everything that has been reported.

Why is that important here? Well, reading about the transatlantic trade in unsubstantiated "news", in a quest for legitimacy, it would seem to be of the utmost importance.


Speaking of media manipulation, if all else fails, a Trump or Corbyn story will do.

7. Skateboarding Dogs

I think we need a cute story break...

8. Settled Wanderers

I can't believe I've nearly got to the end of a list without once really mentioning poetry. I have brought up this project before, though. Friend and fellow poet Sam Berkson travelled a couple of times to the little-reported-on Western Sahara and helped translate some of their respected poets' work, while also writing about the experience. It's great to see this film, having heard about some of the people and places there, and read the book. Hopefully it will give more exposure to their plight and bring this exile situation to an end.

9. #RayRecommends

More poetry... well, sort of. This time, it's Ray Antrobus talking about poetry. It's weird seeing him on YouTube in this way - a lot of conversations I have with him involve him enthusing excitedly about some poetry book or another (which I invariably go and look for, and enjoy!) precisely like this.

It's odd seeing him discuss a book I know and love by a person I know and love in this episode:

I'll be tuning in to see which books he comes up with next.

10. Church Hotline Bling

Hmm, so I ought to wrap up and return to my themes. I've hit my usual territory now: poetry, politics, sexuality, race... but I've been missing religion.

This particular video needs some context because, like the videos right at the beginning of this post, it's a remix/parody of something else. The singer/rapper Drake released a song which has, for some reason, gained a lot of notoriety (it's catchy but it's not the best song in the world... yet you have Erykah Badu remixing it with her own soulful version, and countless spoof videos, including this one, featuring Donald Trump, of all people. I mean, what's going on?!).

Anyway, if you don't know, here's a link to the original

Given this context, along comes a recorded church service where singers try their best to overlay the song with gospel lyrics and perform it (briefly imitating Drake's dance). Like the Robert Dyas ad, I'm a tad confused, but find it strangely compelling.

That said, right now I would almost give anything to return to the relative safety of the pre-YouTube/Facebook 90s, just for a while, while I recover.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Postcard from Home: Haircut

Long-awaited update coming soon!

Friday, 4 December 2015

Friday, 27 November 2015

Upcoming: Polari tomorrow!!!

I'm seeing out November in style with a Polari special tomorrow at the Southbank Centre.

It's the 8th birthday special and also part of the Being A Man Festival at the Southbank. I'll be reading some appropriately manly things...

Come along!! 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

UPDATE: and upcoming! (5 things)

1) Tomorrow is the day!

The Streetlife Residency at the London Metropolitan Archive is about to culminate in a festival of research-inspired art: poetry, comedy, performance, etc. Nick Field has been writer-in-residence over the space of a couple months, and will be releasing a collection of poetry based on his research there; fellow artists Jasmine Cooray, Hannah Silva and Ms. Samantha Mann will be performing - and me too!

I personally don't know what to expect, apart from my own poetry, which is responding to some of the local (i.e. Camden) images I found at the archive. Already knowing some of the other people involved, I have no doubt it'll be a great event.

Tickets are fast filling up. It's free. Come along!

Meanwhile, here's Nick with a video talking about an item from the archives:

(p.s. there may be a couple of workshop spaces left for the daytime. Visit the Eventbrite page for more.)

2) Cameo appearances

I've recently had a poem aired on Laurie Bolger's show on Roundhouse Radio.

and I said some words on this YouTube video below. Once again, more brilliant stuff from the Spoken Word Educators Programme

(Also, fellow educator Pete Bearder has just had this essay on the programme published in a journal)

3) Poirot

For those of you who don't know, Poirot is a fictional Belgian detective, invented by crime writer Agatha Christie. Although others have played him onscreen, David Suchet is the only true Poirot! I will fight anyone who disagrees.

Not many people will know (well,  you do now!) I went through a phase of almost religiously watching episode after episode. Working out who the killer(s) is and where the red herrings are - when the story is well-plotted - creates a huge payoff for the reader/viewer. Good drama is a good distraction; murder is entertaining.

When the last ever episode was aired, I resisted watching it. *Spoiler Alert* I know enough, from Wikipedia searches, that he dies in Agatha Christie's last Poirot book. I've gathered that he learns of a murder about to take place and, because of the particular circumstance/ time constraints, the only way he can prevent the murder is by killing the potential perpetrator. And this is where it gets tricky: by murdering someone - especially someone who is as of yet not guilty of murder himself - he has broken his own moral code and fundamental values. He suffers an angina attack and throws the vial of amyl nitrate, which would have saved him, out of reach; in doing so, he effectively kills himself. I know this much and I still haven't yet brought myself to watch it; partly because the detective can live on in my imagination longer if he's not dead, partly because watching the programme reminds me too much of relaxed times on the sofa with an ex-partner. I don't want to kill off the memory of that enjoyment. *End spoiler*

Of course, there are other uses for amyl nitrate, which makes it a controlled substance. Recently, the government have been tightening up on legal highs - in a move that I personally consider knee-jerk and unhelpful; I don't think simply banning things works...

And, of course, Poirot comes to mind now for very different reasons. See, I wonder what happens when we break our own moral codes in the pursuit of upholding them… I wonder what happens, for instance, when we tighten up privacy laws to protect the nebulous concept of 'freedom'... I wonder what happens when French troops declare a bombing campaign on the already much-bombed Syrian 'stronghold' (whatever stronghold means - language is of vital importance) in order to get revenge for / prevent future bombings in France… Perhaps it is a question of killing those who have killed, before they kill again; perhaps it is senseless fury... I mean, what happens next? I mean, what does that 'stronghold' look like, with all its presumably frightened citizens under siege, and its potential murderers holding strong? I wonder what it means to bomb more towns in Syria in retaliation, when most of the perpetrators of the Parisian attacks were either French or Belgian.

I've never been brave enough to declare myself a pacifist; I think there may be times when war is inevitable, if not justified. I hesitate at the word 'justify', partly due to the etymology of 'just'; there is nothing 'just' in taking the lives of innocent civilians, of creating terror, of perpetuating famine/disease/discord. Anyone who can dispassionately argue the case for creating just 'collateral damage' ought to consider that one day they may be somebody's 'collateral'. War is not justified, in my opinion, but it is sometimes inevitable.

Last week, I saw some pretty hateful and uninformed opinions coming out of newspaper op eds, Facebook, Twitter, politicians' mouths… I felt genuine despair at times. And I also saw old arguments rehashed. I'm tired.

4) Reminder

My Voicemap tour is now live. Download it. (See previous post about Walking in Camden). Better still, use the button on my page to order one of my books, and the first 10 people to do so any time before the end of the month will receive a free download.

5) Next up…

Follow my 'Coming Up' tab; I'll give it a thorough update over the weekend.

I'll be seeing the year out with 4 more gigs and a couple in January and February. From March onwards, I intend not perform for a while, bar the very rare gigs I agree to.

i) In Yer Ear is next Tuesday, with a pretty decent array of readers. Particularly looking forward to hearing Niall Griffiths.

ii) Polari is next Saturday as part of Southbank's Being a Man Festival (cos I'm a man, innit? Grrr!!!*).

I get to share the stage with Bernadine Evaristo... and I'm excited about Len Lukowski being there (I first heard him read a story at Velvet Tongue, an erotic 'literary soiree' which has now, sadly, been discontinued.)

iii) Polari on Tour is in Bedford on the 2nd December (that's the following Tuesday), and I'll be joining some gems for that.

iv) Genesis Slam Final is on the 3rd December. I'll be featuring while the others battle it out for the grand title. Mwah ha ha!

And then, next year, Outspoken is the big one in Manchester in February… More on that to come, but in the meanwhile, this teaser of a photo... What a line-up!

QC16: Outspoken

*P.s. happy Men's Day! Celebrate with a steak or something... Then go and learn how to check your whatsits for lumps, get some mental health support and consider how to be a better feminist/ ally to women... (sites like everdayfeminism, despite being a little preachy, are a good start).

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

CAMDEN EXPLORING and other news...

I may have talked a little before about the audio walking tour of Camden I created. No? Well, this is what happened. A while ago I was invited to have a look at what Voicemap does and to see if I could create my own unique tour.

Voicemap uses GPS technology to guide anyone who downloads a tour around a given area. The Love Camden website explains the premise in more detail, and suggest several different tours in the borough.

What I've done is to create and narrate an east-west route through some of my favourite local spots while putting a little history, local knowledge and poetry into the mix. I'm in the process of getting feedback from friends - in the meanwhile, I'll probably be able to provide anyone who orders a copy of my book in the next week - using the Paypal link on my page - a free download. So, if you're planning a trip to Camden and have a couple of hours to spare, come walk with me!

Other things I'm excited about...

1) I'm performing some new material at the London Metropolitan Archives on the 20th for the Streetlife London Finale event! Using my history card, I've been given access to some great archival material there (although, to be honest, I mostly used their website). I'm still working on my poem and looking forward to reading and hearing what my fellow poets/performers come up with. Please come and join us if you can. I'll be shouting more about this over the weekend.

2) I've just got even more books in the post... This beautifully wrapped number by Jay Bernard arrived from Singapore - based on a recommend - and the other two, Colin Barrett and Tiphanie Yanique's stories, were also recommended to me. I expect I'll have time to look at them over the festive break.


3) I'm making some headway with the novel and with my research. I'm also way behind on my reading, so I'll update you on this next week!


Thursday, 29 October 2015

UPDATE: End of October blabbering...

1. Throwback Thursday? 

This time last year, I was getting ready to go to Rio for FLUPP festival*, where I was to run a few workshops, perform at a show and take part in the International Slam. I came back with a tan, a trophy and a few more Facebook friends who I hope to see again in real life. I also came back determined to return there, and (secretly) determined never to take part in a slam again. What could top this??

While I was away, I was notified that funding had been awarded to one of my old universities for a new PhD programme. Scholarships for the arts are rare; the fact that the money, miraculously, became available made that rare thing possible. And if you've just won a slam and feel on top of the world, well, anything is possible. Of course, I applied; a few months later, I was accepted. Boom!

I'm now a few weeks in and cautiously (very cautiously) optimistic. I haven't yet got into my rhythm, but I will. I haven't yet worked out what I'm doing, but I will. These things take time. I know, for instance, that, in order to do my reading for tomorrow's lecture, I'll be up till the early hours of the morning; with better planning, I could have prepared that yesterday and be relaxing now. I'm not going to beat myself up over it.

2. What are you actually doing at university?

I find it difficult to talk about casually with strangers. But I'm actually doing a creative writing project with a research element to it. The focus of my research will be on the changing shape of Jamaican-derived Oneness Pentecostalism in London. I'll have lost some of my listeners on the creative writing aspect (I'm basically writing a novel), the majority by explaining what Pentecostal beliefs are (although there isn't a universally agreed definition) and the rest on the "Oneness" bit (it's to do with the concept of the Trinity). So basically, I lie about it.

Of course, a lot of my friends are "post"-religion and thus see its study as a little odd. The study of religion is a problematic field in any case. Having completed half this week's reading, I'm struggling to come to terms with the racist/imperialist history of this area of study. It originated from a very Western base that saw the "Abrahamic" religions as civilised and the rest as idolatry or savagery, or pre-historicpre-literate etc. Some of what has since emerged out of that paradigm** is an updated, slicker version of the same tricky standpoint, coated in less controversial language. My own interest is limited to the cultural impact of (Oneness) Pentecostalism and Jamaican migration in the 1950s/60s and the historic context of a movement within a movement that, in 2005, was said to be "the fasted growing religion in the world"***. As I explained to a friend last week, exasperated by all the intricacies in diving head first into a field I am primarily interested in for personal reasons as a fiction writer, I feel like I've walked into a busy room with an awkward atmosphere and I have to nod to the right people - and learn who hates each other - just so I can navigate my way to the back of the room safely, without getting accidentally punched by a fist meant for the person I'm walking next to. At the back of the room is a drinks table and my published book, which I'm excited about, but the room is kinda intense. The metaphor is a bit fuzzy but it makes sense to me. Maybe it'd be more useful to say it's like walking home through Camden High St and all the way up Chalk Farm road late on a Friday/Saturday night, at chucking out time (I've done this many times). You have to avoid the discarded kebabs, the projectile vomit, the random flying bottle/ broken high heels, the groups of drunk men blocking your path, the cabs making dangerous U-turns as you step into the road etc. etc. I've laboured my point. But then, once you're home, you're like: "is this it? Is this really all I've worked hard for? Shouldn't I be out, getting noticed somewhere, doing something different, not getting all cosy in bed, on my own?"

I'm writing a novel at a time when publishing is in trouble [source that later]. Even Prezzie Obama, for what it's worth, has just been saying he's worried that people are "overwhelmed by flashier ways to pass the time" than reading novels. I know writers who don't read novels. Novel writers, that is. And if I'm worried about the Western-centric history of the study of religion, well... when it comes to novel... No... I won't even...

And then, after seeing a post about the Zola story, I think... what if the future of fiction is in linked tweets, after all? What if it reads a bit like this (intriguing opener/ mysterious appearance/ road trip "quest" instigated/ shocking denouement/ build-up of drama/ persistent tension/ all within the context of a closed subculture... it's all there)? Of course, Buzzfeed reports that "everyone is having a meltdown over this story", which is more than a little dramatic. But the fact this story can instantly go viral, worldwide, in this format, can't be ignored.

If ever I feel insecure about what I('m trying to) do, there's a reason.

3. Hissy fit

If ever I feel really insecure about what I do, I seek validation. And when I don't get it in the way I want, it's dangerous. I remember one gig I performed at several months ago. I was feeling low, it was still winter, I was tired; things weren't going well...etc. I did a poem and got a few claps but no whoops. I wanted whoops. I did another poem and fluffed a line or two. I thought I heard someone slurp on their drink; the ice cubes knocking on the glass grated. I dithered over which poem to choose next, like choosing the right spell to cast that would either unleash the magic or turn me back into a mouse, but forgetting which was which (I know, it's Halloween coming up... If you can't beat them, join them) Evidently, I'd gone for mouse. The applause was polite, but lukewarm, and I was ripping my heart out and presenting it in verse! I wanted to be admired for it. I wanted to be the most powerful, wise poet in the room and for the walls to crumble and the earth to quake and all because I felt tired and lonely and perhaps, if I'm truthful, depressed. The next day, I couldn't get out of bed and I was furious with myself for feeling that way. It had nothing to do with the audience (I since got a couple of messages saying they were touched by a couple of my poems) and everything to do with me promising to do too much, with me feeling stressed, with me not taking care of myself beforehand.

(Btw, there's no real moral to the story except that now I try not to judge people who throw what appears to be hissy fits on social media etc.)

4. Missing out

So I've decided to take care of myself by not promising to do any more poetry gigs for a while (with some exceptions). I need to have a life and pursue friendships and do my studies justice. I have a couple of events left in November, a couple in December and one in January and February (my Upcoming Gigs section is almost up-to-date). Aside from those, you can find me performing in the library.

While poetry gigs are where I find community, I need to make sure I'm doing my uni work first, before I venture out. I can always come back to the gigs. There'll always be a room smelling of stale beer above a pub where poets listen to each other. And I'll find that room again and again.

Meanwhile, despite telling myself that, I can't help feeling I'm missing out. You know that new poet? The one who has that one that can make you cry? She's only like 16 and she's been writing for a month but she's genius. Like seriously. You know that line she wrote which had that amazing metaphor and you're totally going to use that in a workshop at the school because it's perfect for the exercise you've come up with and anyway, you just found a YouTube clip of her and it's not really that great because the recording's dodgy and you can't really hear but she's a.m.a.z.i.n.g. and you know she's like performing in Dalston tomorrow, which is only down the road... you wanna come? We can always run to the other gig later and catch that other poet who's going to be doing a set too... And you don't want to miss him. He's legend.

5. Quick off the mark   

So far I've missed some really interesting events. And film screenings. And gallery openings. And loads of Black History Month related stuff (including events I was invited to perform at). And plenty of gigs. And plenty of free wine. And, there I am, at 2am, wondering how relevant I am being right now and whether I should just tweet my next genius ideas or find some new media to break. it. down.

And there I am, in the afternoon, tidying up at home and using the opportunity to see what's new in the world and thinking the trick is to be quick off the mark, right? Got an idea? Write it down yesterday! A news story breaks - best have an opinion ready.

And I can't help but feel astounded by the rapid fire response to Adele's new single 'Hello'.

This is the video, in case you haven't seen it:

And, pretty much straight away, this appeared:

And, then, if that's not enough, I was amused to watch several video responses... just going onto YouTube and typing "Adele Hello reaction" unleashes a massive list of videos ranging from this (standard, hyper-excited camp response) to this (how ruude!) which goes on for pages. And the song's only been out a few days. What's going on??!

6. Let It Go

And then I think, let it go. Relax. It's fine.

I'm sitting at the top of Primrose Hill rabbiting on to a friend about how there always seems to be yet another plastic shiny building polluting my view of this city and how each is a reminder of how I'm not welcome (in some of) this new super shiny London which is pretty much kicking out all but the mega-rich, one neighbourhood at a time... and this friend, who's just got back from Germany says 'you sound just like some of the people I know in Berlin who are always moaning... actually, you sound like some of the people I know who say "with all this migration I don't recognise my own country anymore"'. And I laughed.

I know I have triggers. Like the word "street food" which emerged as a way for (usually sit-in) restaurants to charge more for tinier portions on paper plates. The word "urban" before that, which was, initially, a less controversial way of saying "black" (we're returning to theme), and now denotes anything multicultural or vaguely trendy. I see them for the cynical marketing tactics they are. But, hey, things change. It's not that big a deal. If I feel secure about my own place in the world, if I've had one of those super days where I've written half a chapter and maybe a poem and I've called my mum and met up with some friends and I've rested and the sun is shining, none of that will affect me.

7. To Be Continued

It was here I was going to write a little about the whole tax credits thing. And the "migrant crisis", as they're calling it. And how the PM just got boyed**** at PMQs (I'm asking you for the sixth time!). But I'm going to finish my work and go to bed. The rest can wait.

Wish you were here.

P.s. just a reminder, if you want a signed copy of my new poetry pamphlet, just click the link at the top of the page, (or try this one here).

P.p.s. a brief update coming soon about a couple of projects in the pipeline... Stay posted!

*this year it's a favela in the South of Rio (near the beach) and I've just found out who's doing the slam this year and I'm jumping up and down in joy - and slight jealousy - for her.

**yes, I've managed to fit the word "paradigm" into a post! (en' I clever, mum?) Next week's word: "praxis". Better yet, I'll try something from the Academic random sentence generator (i.e.Pootwattle's meditation on the relationship between the ideology of the image and the emergence of the unnamed is insufficiently problematized).  

***will source later, in case you're interested.



Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Postcard from Home: not Halloween again! (and upcoming gig)

Haverstock Hill, NW3

Upcoming Gig: October Shuffle - O is for Awesome

Like Halloween? YES

In which case, I have the perfect event for you... October Shuffle is at Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. It starts at 7, it'll be done by a decent hour and you can hit the West End for some spooky antics afterwards. The spirits of Covent Garden I'm sure are very strong, or something.

Like Halloween? NO

In which case, I have the perfect event for you... etc.

You can escape all the madness by listening to some great poetry from:

Seraphima Kennedy 
A.F. Harrold 
Katie Griffiths 
Jonathan Davidson 
Shazea Quraishi 

and me.

Enough! As you were...

Oh! And in the meantime, I'll be here tomorrow eve ;)

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Update in 5: Required reading and Unknown Knowns

1) Required Reading


Spot the difference between now and last month's reading list. Things just got a little more academic. 

I'm mostly researching particular branches of Pentecostalism within the Caribbean diaspora from the 1970s onwards. I already feel a little apprehensive about coming up with a decent approach, but I'll find my way into it.

I'm still reading a little poetry on the side: after a trip to Spain, I picked up a bilingual edition of an Elizabeth Bishop collection; I've also been devouring Mona Arshi's Small Hands, which I bought after hearing her read at an event I was also performing at. I'm glad to see I'm not the only person who appreciated the book - she just won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. 

I went to the the Prize event at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday and enjoyed seeing and hearing the poet nominees and the audience, comprised of fans, associates and clusters of fellow poets. I was happy Claudia Rankine won the Forward Prize; it's also the second time in a row a Jamaican writer has done it! I don't think the couple sitting next to me in the audience were particularly thrilled; after giving the obligatory polite three-second applause, they glared at me when I cheered. I'm not one for sustained passive aggressive behaviour; I proceeded to whooping, spurred on by the people behind.

2) Unknown knowns

I remember this moment, back in 2009, when the whole world seemed to go "huh??!" 

At the time, I considered it to be the most profound thing a politician has said [insert big smiley face here]. But there are some things we know we know right? The sky is blue, the grass is green, the Pope is Catholic, global warming is a problem*, power corrupts... that sort of thing. Then there are absolute unknowns. Then all the stuff in between. 

Among that stuff in between, there's the stuff we know but can't always prove without a doubt. While we know that power corrupts, for instance, the statement is meaningless unless we dig further. And when we dig further, other assumptions follow, which could be proven if we dare to. For instance, we can assume, based on human nature, that institutions which exert power will often attract the kind of people who shouldn't have it: bullies; people prone to taking draconian measures in order to hold on to that power; people who will abuse said power if left unchecked. We know that police, politicians, security forces (etc.) all, to a greater or lesser extent, have the power to destroy lives and that, with that power, comes a bit of recklessness and corruption. 

The fact that Lord Ashcroft published an allegation about the Prime Minister after feeling he was snubbed a government position he felt entitled to buy says less about Lord Ashcroft or even David Cameron and more about the *possibility* that others have successfully bought their place into government. The gap between what we absolutely know and what we intuit is full of such possibilities, or 'unknown knowns' [said with a wink], hypotheses that we can only flesh out through anecdotal evidence.  

But while there are things we - perhaps understandably - can't fully get a grasp on, there are others that haven't come into focus through wilful ignorance. We know that thousands of people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea on boats in the last couple of years. Many of these drownings have been reported; it doesn't take much to imagine that many more have occurred which weren't. We know that women and children will have been among those found dead, or permanently lost at sea. It needn't have taken photos of one Syrian boy** to stir public conscience. We already knew many others like him have died in similar circumstances; we already knew many Africans of all ages and genders have been in the habit of dying en route to Europe. But to 'unknow' it is a way of alleviating responsibility. Up until recently, it hasn't been reported in a way that portrays these dead as human. It's easier to use words like 'cockroach' or 'swarm' or 'economic migrants' to describe people feeling from war and extreme poverty than it is to really know what is moving them to take these extreme measures. It's also easier to go with the 'official line' as a way of legitimising that lack of engagement. It's simpler to say that Syria and Eritrea are now countries with 'legitimate' refugee crises, but other people in desperate situations are 'economic migrants' (as if that were a dirty word...) Anyway, don't let me get started.   

Among the other 'unknown knowns' popular sayings, like 'don't trust everything you read', figure. I don't know anyone, for instance, who would really look at all the emissions or efficiency data before purchasing a car; we know that, somehow, figures will have been massaged for some kind of impossible optimum performance. Yet, when Volkswagen is shown to have done a little massaging, cue the surprise. I doubt they're the only ones. FIFA awards the World Cup to Qatar, of all the unsuitable places for a summer competition; even if no one were ever accused/charged with corruption, everyone knows there's something fishy going on. But it's only now that the charges have been pressed the corporate sponsors need to show something's being done. So they exert pressure to get rid of the guy at the top, as if it would do something. As if they really cared about it in the first place...

When we talk about corruption, and when we talk about police violence - disproportionately affecting black and minority groups - we know there is much more that will never be reported, filmed, documented. Places such as prisons, refugee detention centres (and even some care homes) form a blind spot for the powerless - we know awful abuses take place there but it would be too painful to acknowledge them properly, to accept that the system is broken, not just individual units within it. 

Looking at the past week, there's a lot of stuff we know which we prefer to 'unknow' to keep the status quo going* but I shan't go on much longer, because I also know that opinion pieces are a little ridiculous. You either agree or disagree. I won't know everyone who reads this but I'll gather most of you are friends, friends of friends, or people who already know and like what I do. In my experience, people often like to hear what they already think they know, from people they like and already mostly agree with. I have yet to meet someone (who isn't already a close friend) who says to me, "You know what, Keith, I had one opinion about this thing and you've just completely changed my mind. Thank you". I also have probably only had my views changed a handful of times in my life by someone who wasn't already a close relative or close friend, or perhaps a teacher with whom I was in regular contact. 

One thing I didn't fully know - which I only now realise - is that I've become ever-increasingly intolerant of people who hold widely-differing opinions to mine on certain issues. I don't like that about myself. But I still find myself being drawn to below-the-line comments when particular news stories break. This time round it was probably a video of a man mauled to death by a police dog, and the steady stream of suggestions that he 'must have been struggling', despite all the evidence to suggest he was knocked out at the time, and already on the floor. (I don't even need to say he was black. I don't even need to say people will always believe what they want to believe. You could film an incident and show it to five different people and get twenty five wildly differing accounts). Next time it'll be something else, usually some social issue I have a bee in my bonnet about. And I'll still feel physical recoil at the way humans bicker, berate and belittle at each other online and then twist their bigoted views into more presentable jargon out in public. I know deep down that it's mostly bravado - frightened and often ignorant human beings posturing, preening, hoping that if they scream loud enough someone will pay attention, but it still makes me feel much less optimistic about the fate of humanity.      

*don't even... it is a well-proven scientific fact
**I won't link to actual pictures of him dead... I agree with many, if not all, points in the linked article as to why
***and that's how the stock market works too, much of the time. 

3) Black History Month again

After just ranting about 'unknown knowns' I have little urge to discuss this in depth but the Prime Minister's visit to Jamaica is an interesting one for bringing up a certain element of black history which won't go away.

When Cameron told Jamaicans to 'move on' when urged to consider reparations (beginning with an apology) for transatlantic slavery, we knew that even to countenance a positive reply would be a big no no. But the fact this was even brought up suggests real change; the reparations movement, even just a few years ago, was something people outright laughed at.* But his offer to build a prison on the island screams 'fuck you' loud and clear.

The legacy of slavery and colonialism - 500 years worth of it! - cannot just disappear in the space of a few decades. My parents were both born in Jamaica during British colonial rule (and, consequently, probably see themselves as more British than I do). The legacy of slavery is written in my facial features, in my name, in the countless occasions I'm asked where I'm really from, in my reasons for being in Britain in the first place, for my parents being born in Jamaica in the first place, in some inherited cultural practices, in religion, in my genetics.... need I go on? I agree that we do need to 'move on' from it, but part of the 'moving on', surely, could be found in the symbolic act of a state apology. This isn't a personal apology from the Prime Minister, or the Queen, or an apology that ignores the fact that worldwide slavery still occurs - although not on an official state-sanctioned level - or ignores the fact that other countries profited from slavery, or ignores Africa's part in it, or that Britain was not as bad as the US, post-slavery (all the reasons people give... which I call 'they did it first/worse, Miss!' syndrome). 

With or without an apology, with or without reparations (you cannot unpeel an orange**), I'll do pretty well and get on with my life. As one Year 8 pupil I taught put it: 'the paper you have crumpled will never be ironed of its creases but I will write my own story, no matter what'. I do, however, see power in the symbolic (which is also one of the reasons I'm anti-monarchist and why I'm drawn to fiction and poetry). The symbolic act of apologising does not change the past but it represents turning towards that past, accepting it as part of a continuous reality - i.e. that events in the distant past affect events in the recent past which affect our present, including the way we see things - and deliberately, publicly, renouncing it as a way of 'moving on', not just for the historically oppressed but also for the historical oppressors, a burial rite if you will, in order to appease the unsettled spirits.          

*The Indian government also, recently, made a similar case. It won't be a surprise when more countries do.
**I think Ngugi Wa Thiong'o said this... I can't be sure, so don't quote me on that.


[musical interlude]

5) Upcoming  

Tonight, I head to Nunhead for the South London portion of We Shall Overcome festival, in solidarity with those hit hardest by government cuts. More info is on the website. Really looking forward!


Friday, 2 October 2015

Postcard(s) from Home: Bug Infested

(Reads: Do Not Take Bug Infested)


Both pics taken in Regents Canal. Wish you were here.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Autumn - New Terms!!

Structure and Discipline

I hate the term 'discipline'.

The etymology of the word is simple enough:
1) Latin: discipulus and
2) English: disciple

Both suggest studentship. And studentship suggests learning, humility, studiousness, all concepts I am drawn to. But "discipline"? Somewhere along the line, connotations ranging from physical punishment to martydom have stuck to it; for me, it now conjures up images of the headmasters' office in some 70's boarding school, the basement dungeon in 50 Shades of whatever and, I dunno, Foucault's essays on repressive power structures. It's an entirely negative concept.

Back in the Spring, I was awarded a PhD studentship, due to start in October this year. Guess what? It's October this week - and it's all come around so quickly! I've already had one induction meeting and one supervisory meeting. I've also received two student cards- as an intercollegiate student, I'll be straddling two institutions - as well as separate cards for NUS and Senate House library membership. My wallet is swollen with new identities. In order to navigate the demands of my new course - and my wallet (which I've already lost once today) - I'll need to impose some kind of discipline structure, making sure I get through the next 3 years sane and qualified.

I prefer the word structure because it's less self-flagellating than discipline. I actually write, perform, teach, read, research and have a few healthy friendships, while occasionally taking a break when I can. That's no mean feat. It's not for a lack of discipline that I sometimes take weeks to reply to emails, stay up too late reading or don't write as much as I like. It's more of a structural issue, a lack of coordination and order.  

After many years of trying to work in admin, I know
a) I will never be the most organised person in the world and
b) I should stop trying to be.

I sort of know what doesn't work, and what does. Timetables don't work for me. Small lists do. Deadlines do. Apps, email reminders, or anything that clogs up my phone doesn't work. Some alerts do. Messages don't. Phone calls do. Handwritten notes sometime do. Libraries sometimes do. Early mornings usually don't. Late nights usually do. If I concentrate on doing the best I can work-wise and getting help when I'm losing myself, I generally manage. I'm going to have to get myself into some kind of rhythm so I can write, read, still perform - sometimes - and really do this justice.

A year ago to this day, I was about to be evicted from my home, had no regular income and was itching for funding to get on with writing my book; now, I'm on the most exciting journey I could have ever imagined. But I know I'm going to have to work hard for it and impose a little bit of structure so I get it all done. 8 years ago, I started my first MA degree. My old student card has been reactivated with the same photo... I didn't imagine I would be here again for a PhD, but life takes some unexpected turns, apparently. I'm pretty much a bundle of excitement and nerves at the moment.
Then... circa 2007

Now... circa midnight

Meanwhile, here's a brief list of 5 other things I'm doing right now:

1) Gigs - which I shall update soon! (i.e. in the next few hours or so)
2) Making a film of one of my poems (more on that soon)
3) Running workshops via Ministry of Stories (a really exciting project - when I'm able to say more, I will)
4) Working towards a full poetry collection, hopefully out in a year's time
5) Researching for a micro-commission at the London Metropolitan Archives (see November 20th in 'Upcoming Gigs' and stay tuned for more information).

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Upcoming Gig: TOMORROW - Born Free Fridays

It's Born Free: Fridays tomorrow, hosted by the inimitable Belinda Zhawi. I have a very good feeling it'll be a warm, lovely night. And it's the special birthday edition, so hopefully there'll be cake :)

I'll be performing some new stuff and some semi-new stuff and enjoying the poetry of two Burn After Reading dons, Emily Harrison and Amaal Said. Plus there's open mic.

For further info, you know what to do.

Amaal Said

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Poem Poem iv

The latest in my series of 'poem poem' experiments (I, ii and iii can be found in my new pamphlet). I wrote and performed this for a show in Edinburgh a couple weeks ago. Still needs a little work.

Trigger warning:
because this is the poem where a lion dies
call him Cecil, Mufasa, Aslan,
but don't call him after anyone
who cannot breathe
inside police chokeholds
inside the barrel of a gun
inside the symbolism which isn't lost
on me, nor on the man (it's always a man, right?)
who asks, below the line, why there isn't a white
history month and a straight pride
and why these reverse patriarchal communists columnists
are writing these mean things all the time

I can't finish this poem
while my anger still can't fit
into these jeans
so I am stacking up on wild locusts and honey
from Wholefoods (not cheap these days)
and my basket is empty
and my basket runs over like a wilderness
inside the lone voice of a prophet

This was meant to be a poem
about pride being eroded
until just one lion
is left
roaring into the angry paw of the hard shoulder
not signalling
not being thrown into a den
of blue thunder bolts flashing
not in my happy name
no matter how much you try to drown
our voices

But this was meant to be a poem about a lion
not a poem about another dead trigger