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Saturday, 22 August 2015

Edinburgh Diary

This weekend I head up to Edinburgh. I'm excited to see all my poet and performer friends and will hopefully make some new ones too.

This is my schedule so far:

Sunday 23rd
Other Tragedies - 7.30pm

Monday 24th
Stand Up Tragedy - 7.30pm *I'm hosting this one!!! Some very exciting guests to be announced tomorrow*
Jibba Jabba - 11.05pm

Tuesday 25th
The Boy With the Moomin Tattoo - 3.15pm
Getting Better Acquainted - 7.30pm

Wednesday 26th
Stand Up & Slam - 7.30pm
*10.50pm tbc

Thursday 27th 
BBC Slam Heat - 8.15pm

Friday 28th
Magic Faraway Cabaret - 10.50pm

Saturday 29th
BBC Slam Final (if I get through) - 8pm!


(In between then, seeing friends' shows, catching up with several peoples and flyering/ writing etc....)

Monday, 17 August 2015

Postcard from Home... Camden Beach

Yay summer!!
Coming soon: Edinburgh update

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

What I've Been Reading/Watching/Listening to lately

Oops... I meant to post this last week!


1) Julia Bell - The Dark Light

Definitely more dark than light, I'll be reading this for a second time soon, I'm sure. I read it fairly quickly, anxious to find out what happened to the protagonist. I'm not sure about why it had to be hidden in the Young Adult section of the bookshop, but pleased to have read and enjoyed this at any rate.

2) Dismantle Anthology (ed. Marissa Valenzuela)

I've just read a couple of stories and poems from here after meeting the editor at Lambda Writers' Retreat. I guess you could say this is one of the things I literally took away from the experience!

3) Ben Lerner - 10:04

I laughed so hard reading his Leaving the Atocha Station, and was moved a lot by it, that he's become one of those writers I'll track everything he's published for a while. Struggling with the beginning, mostly because I've been reading other things at the same time.

4) The Image of Black Women in Twentieth-Century South American Poetry

Found this in the Poetry Library. It sounds much more niche than it is. Starting with the roots of references to black women in Spanish poetry and seeing the evolution of the portrayal of black and mixed heritage women in Latin America - from parodies of "Africanised" language to festishisation of the black body and beyond into something more varied - it's even more interesting than I thought it would be, hence why I've renewed it a couple of times already.

5) Well, duh, you knew I was gonna end with this one!

This was all I could haul from the Eyewear 20/20 series pamphlet launch last week. They're wildly different. I'm enjoying George Szirtes aphorisms and the mirror structure of Damilola Odelola's book. And, of course, I've reread my own pamphlet a few times - overall, I'm proud to have this out! Hit the link at the top if you want to get a signed copy of mine, or go to Eyewear's website to order any of the pamphlets directly.


1) This project is very close to my heart. It's been three years since the SWE programme started and I began a commitment to teaching spoken word. There's not much more terrifying than having a class of thirty twelve year olds for the first time. They can see through inexperience, nerves, false enthusiasm and lack of substance; it's not really possible to take short cuts. But when you've developed a whole dialogic teaching system that encourages young people to express themselves and work on their written and spoken communication... boom!  

2) YASSS!!! Finally, the readings from Lambda Literary Emerging Writers, class of 2015 are out.... Watch them all here.

Here's a couple of them, including mine, below, in case you don't fancy clicking further right now:

(p.s. I also pop up in one of the scriptwriters' videos... you'll have to search to find out which one)

3) Googling Cecil Rhodes

You'll have to follow the link for the video:

Incredible what the killing of a lion can do. I cried several times as a kid when Mufasa died (this is a Lion King reference, in case you don't get it). Animals stir up a lot of feeling - a lot of "neutral" feeling which is far too complicated when humans are the victims. I get it.

I'd been having a bit of a news boycott again so it wasn't until I started seeing people post stuff on Facebook that I heard about Cecil the Lion.

An image of dear-departed Cecil the lion is projected onto the Empire State Building in New York.I follow a lot of people with strong voices on social media, so I immediately then saw posts decrying the fact that, while people stay silent about the state killing of several unarmed black people, when one lion is killed, everyone rallies round, including the state. (Check one such comment piece here... but there are several.)

I scrolled through the profiles of a couple of friends on Facebook - the ones who never really post much about human injustice - and, unsurprisingly, they'd shared stuff about Cecil the Lion. I'm not even sure what I was trying to achieve by even checking. Unfortunately for me, it's never been more polarised as a black/white issue... Loads of people simply feel uncomfortable about new civil rights movements, so they stay out of even mentioning what's going on (privilege epitomised?). Meanwhile, other "reasonable" voices actually try to downplay the Black Lives Matter movement and/or question those of us who support it this side of the pond  in solidarity, knowing that Britain has a tendency to follow America's lead, with murderous consequences. I won't say more on that now.

After reading a couple of things about Cecil, my intrigue about why a lion would be called "Cecil" stirred and, sure enough, after Googling it, voila, yep, I found out he was named after Cecil Rhodes. Why would anyone even consider naming a lion after Cecil Rhodes? Especially in Zimbabwe! Sure, he'd founded the country (previously Rhodesia) but he was a controversial figure at best.*

Now all of the history of colonialism I know is sketchy and mostly self-taught; we did a week on slavery at school, and I spent most of it sitting embarrassed in a corner, while everyone designed "slave auction block" posters for our homework projects. After slavery week, we had another week learning about the woman who sat down in the bus and the man who had a dream and the teacher probably muttered something about Gandhi and Mandela, while simultaneously ignoring me when I suggested we could watch the film Panther. At school, there was no real examination of colonial history or of looking at these dilemmas. How do we deal with our uncomfortable past without erasing it completely, minimising its blemishes or glorifying everything about it? How do we deal with the fact that the past isn't a completed state of being? The past is connected to the present and will almost certainly have repercussions in the future, however much it is buried.

It is only because of taking certain modules at university, and from my own personal interest, and through the fact that I cannot avoid dealing with colonial history in some of my day-to-day interactions with people (usually on the "where are you really from?" scale) that I know some of this stuff. I doubt most people around me even consider it a priority.

So, on the subject of university, it was during a quick read up on Rhodes that I saw a couple of videos - one of university students toppling his statue in South Africa and another two videos of students who are campaigning to have his statue removed here, at Oxford. Unsurprisingly enough, a lot of people don't think it's so important here; he's just some figure that doesn't seem to affect them directly. I mean, if we got rid of his statue, what next? Topple a whole load of other statues? Rename/remove the Rhodes scholarship grant? Pay reparations for slavery? It's madness, dear.... Here, Rhodes is a piece of a wider history that we largely downplay (and he only comes up on a few radars when someone on the other side of the world kills a lion that was named after him). Whether the statue stays up or gets removed, ultimately, I think it's time that more people thought about it and talked about it.

* All in the same week of Cecilgate, half of my Twitter feed was full of stories about a woman who died after being detained for three days (for failing to indicate when switching lanes, a very serious crime, indeed.) A lot of commentators noted that the woman in question, Sandra Bland, was argumentative or "aggressive", disobedient etc. etc. "We'll have to wait to see the facts" came the reasonable voices. The lion, of course, received no such interrogation.

4) And on that note...

Interesting research from my old uni, UCL. Part 2 here too....

5) ....  Kids Company

Whatever's going on, whoever's responsible, the truth is that kids are going to lose out - and that won't be without wider repercussions for us all in the future.


(Posted this in 2012 -  Quote of the day: "Be a good listener; your ears will never get you into trouble")

1) Kate Tempest - Beigeness

If you don't know her by now, where you been? Had an email reminding me of this track this morning, and it's got me going again.

2) Bugge Wesseltoft - OK World

Ha: just seen there's an advert for the album...

3) Fatima - Yellow Memories

Just like Bugge's, this album was a birthday present from my brother!

4) Latch - Disclosure

Brings me back to last year's summer concert at the school where I was a spoken word educator.

5) Gaelle - Falling

Another upbeat one recommended by a mate.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Postcard from Home: Racists Out

Kentish Town, NW5

Monday, 3 August 2015

Rorscharch interview in translation...

I promised I'd post this at some point, so here it is:

Read the interview in Spanish here at Revista Bardo, super Argentinian poetry magazine, focussing specifically on spoken word culture.

1)      At what age did you start writing poetry?
I wrote a ‘get well’ poem for my aunt when I was 7. Does that count?
As a kid, I read and listened to a lot of rhyming stories and funny poems. At some point – I can’t be sure exactly when – I started making my own

2)      At what age did you start reciting it?
I wasn’t aware of “oral poetry” as a genre before. I remember reading out John Agard’s “I din’ do nuttin’” as a kid at home, out loud. But that’s the kind of thing I did at home with my siblings; we always recited things and sang. Later, as a teenager, I got into hip-hop and I would create and perform raps with friends. It wasn’t until I discovered the spoken word scene in London when I was about twenty-one that I started performing poetry in public.

3)      Why do you keep doing it?
I ask myself the same question a lot!
Short answer: it’s addictive.
Medium answer: A lot of people I really like keep inviting me to perform and I don’t want to say no; a lot of my social life revolves around the spoken word scene. I often get free drinks tickets at these things.
Longer answer: It’s a bit like asking why I write. I write because it’s an innate part of my self-expression; it’s how I make sense of the world. Performing poetry is the counterpoint to all of that: when I speak my words, I let go. When I speak, I connect directly with other people. When I speak, all of my inward energy and all of the considered thought that goes into a poem goes back out into the room.

4)      How was the first time that you recite in public?
Hehe. For me, it was gradual. I’d acted in a play before. I’d tried to start a rap group before, when I was at school. So going to a small open mic night in London wasn’t a massive step away from what I’d already done. For me, the biggest step was moving from there to my first ever slam. That was exciting and strange and new. The energy at a poetry slam can be immense, a far cry from some of the quieter poetry nights around the city. 

5)      What does poetry win (gain?) when recited?
Some of the same things that a script gains when it’s made into a movie. Spoken word is a 3D version of a poem; it has rhythm, dialect, pace, volume and, of course, the physical presence of the author… all these things transform it into a moment.

6)      What does it lose?
Some words might get lost. The audience has less control over the poem. They cannot contemplate the line breaks, or the visual aesthetic of the words. They cannot pause and allow the words to sink in. The author/performer has a lot more responsibility in delivering meaning.

7)      What does poetry serve for?
Big question! I’ll have to answer it in three smaller ways, in order to chisel away at it a little.
1 – On a personal level, it gives me a lot of pleasure playing with words. I sit on a bus and mishear a line of conversation and it replays in my head until I write it down. Or I toy with an idea, or a sound, and try to alter the meaning by making small changes. Words are important in how we communicate and poetry is a way of creating new meaning. 
2 – On a physical level, poetry has literally taken me to places I would most likely never have been: several secondary schools and universities in London, the Channel Islands, Warsaw, Washington D.C., FLUPP festival in Rio de Janeiro, etc… And in all those places, I have encountered open, warm people with a passion for truth and knowledge-sharing.   
3 – On that level of truth-sharing, I remember running a writing workshop at a centre for people living with HIV, a couple of years ago. Few of the attendees had done any creative writing before; all of them had signed up because they were interested in exploring new ways to express themselves. One of the attendees told me she disliked and had little confidence in her ability to write poetry. Yet, when she gave herself over to the exercises, she wrote the most amazing poem, in the form of a love letter to HIV. She had found a metaphor that best described her daily relationship with her medical condition. When she read it out, you should have felt the atmosphere in the room. She had just found a way of putting into words how she felt that everyone could relate to. Poetry is basically about metaphor and story-telling, in order to get to a higher truth, in order to transfer a feeling or a moment in time.      

8)      Do you find poetry in everyday situations, nature or anywhere else?
When I’m in the mood, I can find poetry anywhere. When I’m not, I find it very difficult to write but I still try.

9)      It´s the existence of men necessary for poetry to exist?
Men – or humans in general?
There would continue to be poetry without men, no doubt.
Humans, on the other hand… well, that’s more of an existential question. The conditions that poetry describes – some of those will still exist without humanity. 

10)   What feelings does reciting in public arise you? Does it frighten you?
Yes. It frightens me. And it’s also exhilarating.

11)   Which was the best experience that you lived with oral poetry?
I’ve had a lot of great experiences, so can’t really pin one down and say that was the best. I’ve just come back from Rio de Janeiro… that was one hell of an amazing experience. I got to perform at a slam as part of a favela literary festival, FLUPP, with loads of people from other countries, having no idea if the surtitles behind me were going ok or not! Or performing with a samba band during that same festival. Or, last year, watching a pupil I taught at a school performing a poem… and understanding all of the circumstances in her life that had led her to that point where she was confident enough to read out her poem, and have everyone applaud… that’s also incredible. Or maybe even the gig a few weeks ago where a couple of my relatives turned up unexpectedly. Or one where I gave the most honest, raw poem about my parents, which I may never repeat again… I could go on!

12)   Which was the most incredible place where you recited?
See above…. FLUPP.

13)   Can oral poetry change the world?

14)   Why is it important to write poetry?
In my answer to question 7, I think I started to touch on it. Again, it’s a big question…
Poetry is about partially about finding metaphors. If I say: “this question is a donkey and I need to pull its reins”, I’ve started to use metaphorical language that then leads to interrogation of the question. How can the question be a donkey? What commonality do these two things have? I start to make connections between two unrelated concepts and I start to use my imagination to pull the strands together. When we start to use our imaginations, it takes us from the present reality into other possibilities…. There goes the theory, right?
Going back to question 7, when the woman from the workshop described her medical condition as her lover, I began to see it – and her – in a different way. The poem was a little dark, actually. It wasn’t the conventional lover you can just split up with! But the poem was short, and powerful, and I gained a new understanding of the woman in front of me – and other people in the room were moved to tears – just because of the way in which she used a few words.   

15)   Do you believe in poetry as an educational tool?
Yes -  but I would say that; I’ve used it in schools and I’ve used it as a form of emotional literacy, as well as a tool for encouraging literacy in general.

16)   Is oral poetry a new genre, opposed to written poetry?
Have new spoken word movements arisen over time? Yes.
But poetry has always had a wide history of being spoken as well as written.

17)   Is humor a valid resource in oral poetry or does it turn it into standup comedy?
Yes, humour is valid and sometimes necessary. But I come from a country with a huge tradition of satire, so I would say that. You can be funny and make a point; in fact, when you’re funny, it can make a serious point have an even bigger impact. Stand-up comedy and oral poetry have a lot in common.

18)   Does the oral poet have to write for the public or for himself?
It depends on the editing process. I always write for myself first. I make sense of the world by writing. I make sense of myself by writing. I write a lot of stuff that no one else will ever see.
Then… and this is the important bit, I think… I reread what I’ve written and think, which parts of this will only make sense to me? Which parts could be different? Which parts do I have a personal attachment to, but aren’t going to connect with other readers/listeners?  For me, that’s one of the hardest bits.

19)   How important is the body when reciting?
Very. My body is part of the poem.
That doesn’t mean I’m acting when I’m on stage, or that I’m going to be making loads of theatrical movements. But, at the very basic level, it means I’m going to pay attention to my posture, my breathing, my use of space and movement, my facial expressions, etc.

20)   Can performance on stage turn good a poem that isn´t?
Sometimes, if you have the right combination of an extraordinarily compelling performer who can deliver words in a convincing way, what they’re actually saying becomes less of a focus.

21)   In that sense, is the "how" more important that the "what"?
No. They’re two sides of the same poetry coin.

22)   Can anyone be an oral poet?
Yes. Absolutely anyone. Just like anyone can be a footballer, musician, serial killer… If you have the passion for it and put in the time, why not?

23)   Do competitions such a Slams contribute to oral poetry or do they turn it into something frivolous?
Slam culture has had a huge and overwhelmingly positive impact on oral poetry; there’s no denying it. By the same token, I disagree that you can really judge a poem’s merit on a scale of 1-10, against other poets, on any given evening, based sometimes purely on applause. If that was the real point of slam poetry, then I would refuse to take part; the competitive element has the function of attracting new audiences, making poetry nights more atmospheric, making it a democratic space, and allowing different voices to be heard.