I wrote this poem as a companion to my poem Good Immigrant, a poem whose title comes from a book of creative nonfiction edited by Nikesh Shukla.
Black & British is inspired from a poem called A Black Americanand the book and television documentary series Black and British: A Forgotten History.
When Columbus arrived in the Caribbean from across the sea
there were already natives there who were content and free.
And those who were bought, sold and thrown from the slave ship Zong
were brainwashed by slavers into thinking their skin colour was wrong.
Simultaneously the free Blacks without chains
mated with local tribes like the Caribs and the Arawaks
and White history. And because of this,
we’re a market of multi-coloured fruits,
so to the hoots with pure bloodlines
and according to geography and genealogy
the first Britons may well have been Black.
As we’re a people of many shades, clans and tans,
from Idris Elba to Thandie Newton to Cheddar Man.
And through migration
our characteristics changed and genetics cracked
and bits of everything seeped in
creating pick n mix nations and historical revelations.
I am Black and African and European
and West Indian but I don’t know who I am
I’m human and that’s my identity.
A good immigrant,
because our ancestors went from place to place,
and that’s everyone’s family tree.
Once upon a time I was called nigger
and wog and coon and coloured
my Windrush grandparents suffered this too
in a Technicolor society, in the 60s
where they walked with purpose
as Black was beautiful.
But I’m still feeling edgy about being
Black and British; and if you think
being called a Black Briton
eases my mind, you’re wrong
putting my ear to the doors of
Holdenby, Sandringham and Althorpe
to hear the sad odes of slave songs.
There are many Black Britons
whose parents moved
from Cameroon and Nigeria,
Haiti and Grenada,
Barbados and Jamaica,
And if you go to Africa and the West Indies
in search of your race,
you will only find another Briton
lost in a foreign place.
However, your heritage
is everywhere. Look at all the
shades of our skin. Black is not
a colour, it’s the epicentre
of the society we’re living in.
If you choose to be called British
I won’t persist. I know I’m not
the only one struggling
with their identity,
as the land I was born in
is a historical penitentiary.
I was born British
but raised West Indian.
Who am I? I don’t know yet.
But just let me be
and I’ll figure it out,
So I wrote this poem inspired by ‘Art Class’ by Rhiannon McGavin, an American poet. This poem also derives my poem Genocide and its inspirations.
Despite society being an abstract noun, I have characterised society as a man. So for the nature of this poem, society is a he.
Society thinks you can’t swear in poetry.
So unto Society I say,
“Raise your hands if you have heard of Auschwitz.”
Instantly, he raises his hands
like mustard gas rising out of a trench.
Okay, hands down.”
Now raise your hands if you have heard
of the Morant Bay Massacre.
Rolling eyes blended with curious stares
a shaking hand ascends
half-raised like a lone soldier
struggling to stand at Passchendaele.
“Are you sure about that?”
“That’s what I thought”
“Society – what’s truth?”
They won’t let you hear it at school
if that person says “fuck.”
Can’t even talk about “fuck”
even though Education’s
been fucking students for years.
You can’t teach a 16-year-old in school
how to swear, how to use language,
how to wear words like body armour
There’s children in London
who carry knives to the library in case they get jumped
and you want to censor language.
“Society – what is history class?”
Your books leave out the Maroons and the Arawaks
Call themselves ‘World History’ and omit
Cecil Rhodes and Zimbabwe, King Leopold,
blood diamond mines and the Congolese Genocide
Fifteen million dead Africans,
call themselves ‘Politics in the Modern World’
and fail to mention Enoch Powell or Apartheid.
Why Black children hide in lighter skin,
dark-skinned girls under the boots of colourism
those with natural hair thrown to sin bin.
Folks thinking Edward Snowden
was a politician educated in Oxbridge.
How can education not include
Julian Assange or Jimmy Carter?
Schools are built in shadows
the grinding teeth of money,
designed under coins and corporations.
They’re sterilising children,
injecting classrooms, drilling
independent thought with silent poison
stifling creativity, making a killing.
Jack hung himself in his bathroom
because he wasn’t smart enough
to meets school standards.
Hannah started bleaching
her daughter’s skin
the day before she started school.
She carves curved lines into her
beautiful brown skin so
she can remember her ancestors.
I wrote this poem inspired by ‘Groan‘ by poet Alex Levene, which in itself is inspired by ‘Howl‘ by American poet Allen Ginsberg.
Alex Levene is a Bedford-based writer and poet who I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the stage with at SFP many times (a serious mega talent!).
I first heard ‘Groan’ at Soul Food Poetry Bedford in April this year and have since been writing a response piece to it.
So for six months I’ve been writing and editing this, detailing my own perceptions of creative writing and who my inspirations are.
I saw the greatest minds of my year group destroyed by sadness – hysterical jaywalkers, burnt brazen, naked, lives laid bare
crawling their way through the social Middle Earths of Twitter and Instagram, looking for a million likes and retweets,
millennial media mongrels lusting for a human connection to the societies of open-air realities and sunlight, through text speak and Urban Dictionary
overdosing on hollow lies still high, sofa-sprawled students smoking in their custom-made sun loungers looking into their Mad Max-esque orange
haze screens, their incandescent tangerine shed-like space, killing each other for cash and capital in a scramble for power like it’s fucking Westeros.
Now begins my song of praise
bless me with your righteous gaze.
I pray you’ll concede that this world’s future
depends on the arts, creativity and poetry.
Poems weren’t always in my peripheral view
but what better way to talk to you
and read in front of all these faces
as poetry transcends colour, creed, sex and races.
I once wanted to be a police officer, a cricketer, you know?
Now I write poems, using rhythm, rhyme, meter and onomatopoeia
striking academia full of fear in their weekend boats
sailing full speed ahead from Lands’ End to John O’Groats.
But I’ll stand tall, like the walls
between poetry and spoken word.
They’re one and the same, haven’t you heard?
Should I compare you to a summer’s day?
The war cry – the poet that slips into words
like Thanos and The Infinity Gauntlet,
the Mad Titan who takes centre stage and flaunts it.
And I write this poem for those who will listen,
who will take heed of my words and their composition,
who will comprehend the poet’s vision.
People hate to hear rhythm and rhyme,
as words can allude, confuse and hypnotise.
Conveyors of myths and magic, incantations
that summon beasts. Tales of Merlin and Mordrid,
the Druids, Arthur, Guinevere, their feasts and fights,
don’t let these poets on the open-mic tonight.
See, there are issues with poetry;
most switch off – it’s lyrical,
the pinnacle of most great songs is poetry.
Way back in the day,
you’d read up on your Greek and Latin
bashing out odes and elegies
on bits of parchment
written with quills and ink.
But poetry has always been
for the people by the people,
a synergy creating a soulful energy,
sometimes read over the kitchen sink.
And the soul of creativity
has always been inside of us, in the heart,
regardless if that’s
poetry, prose, theatre or dancing in the park;
the poet is more than writing poetry,
it’s a mentality, it’s your mind-set,
life choices, your actions and your voices.
If prose is the bellow poetry is the murmur
in the corner people-watching
taking down each detail –
collecting everyone’s emotions and clout,
bottling it up and then raising it to a shout.
A howl, a growl, a snarl,
raging against the societal machine,
lies unclean, torn seams of childhood innocence.
And I will never cease rhythm’s use,
it’s not might fault. Blame Roald Dahl,
Spike Milligan, and Dr Seuss… and
“Augustus Gloop Augustus Gloop
The great big greedy nincompoop
Augustus Gloop, so big and vile
so greedy, foul, and infantile.”
Okay, I took that, but wasn’t it
Picasso who said, “Good artists borrow,
great artists steal?” – I think,
and these writers moulded my youth.
Poetry catches, snatches, captures, enraptures,
not just the town crier on stage proclaiming his love –
not just hope in the form of a holy white dove
but it’s a state of mind, a passion… it’s a want,
a hunger, a message, sometimes
a polemic attack against systems, governments
and institutions that manipulate and fashion.
For me, my Creative Writing degree was not a choice,
it was a chance for me to express myself and use my voice.
Every writer who has put pen to paper,
or finger to keyboard
was saving their sword for you to wield later.
I discuss race, class, politics and mental health,
children’s literature and capitalist wealth,
and the mysteries of my family tree,
stories of slavery and immigration
as I don’t know how I came to be me.
Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas, or tried to,
like how Stalin banned poetry and the Nazis believed
poetry came from the hands of the Jews.
The weapon that kills the fascists is not the gun or the sword,
it’s the lyrics, the bold art of playing with words from a chessboard.
Protest and politics is where it begins
friends and experiences poeticised in the form of a hymn.
From reggae through to science,
The Isaacs (Newton and Gregory),
you can’t lock them up in the speech penitentiary.
Agard, Zephaniah, Sabrina Benaim, Margaret Atwood AM Pressman, Neil Hilborn, Olivia Gatwood,
writers who change our perspectives for common good.
Byron, Shelley, Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Larkin
Sylvia Plath, Blake, Grace Nichols, writing mages
it’s the artists’ job to rattle society’s cages.
plastic materials from soil to sand
clearly polluting our beaches and land
presidential delusions always constructed
coastal birds, fish and sea-life abducted
by litter trapped in glass sharp shores
public outcry from climate change to war
but we the public must focus
even when the world looks so hopeless
from beaches to politics
bottles breaking faces faking
cans crackling, leaders
packing wars like sardines
in third-world countries stacking refugees
increasing crises on our world’s seas
maybe it’s time for us to impeach
politicians and leaders that leech
throughout this global plastic beach
psychopaths fascinate me
killing plants and trees with legislation
making schools puppets of corporations
propagating opinions as facts
but they’re just bloodsucking fat cats
when the blind lead the blind
it just leads to more plastic streets
as history is that same track on repeat
but trump won’t sign those parisian sheets
mrs may sanctions lawlessness and war
light breaches the red room image exposed
few can see through the emperors new clothes
when she allied with the DUP instead of Labour
she named and knighted racism her saviour
continued to treat Scotland like colonial neighbour
clinging to power to quench her woes
it’s the life her party chose eyes wide shut
laughing and cackling like Jabba the Hut
as social comment is a film from edit to cut
system collapse and still won’t concede
we’re under the boots of the bourgeoisie
they’ll take refuge in God’s House like the old days
the cost to exist rises still, but now it’s easter sunday
leaders continue to spend thousands on an entrée
trump and theresa satirise the living wage and gunplay
don’t promise us rain if you can’t promise flowers
while Tory court jesters laugh in the shadow of grenfell tower
politics and plastic beaches greed is the source
imperialistic agendas motives and thoughts
hearts of darkness polluting the natural world
like Hades plucking bodies for his underworld
class wars got street level folks misunderstood
while instagram culture levels childhoods
destroying the realness of our hearts
sectioning our emotions into pie-charts
sucking out our honesty so our eyes go red
killing us softly repeating the crimes of the dead
The plastic beach is just a metaphor. Yes, litter pollution in our natural world is rife but this poem is more about what else we pollute ourselves with.
What do our own plastic beaches look like? What do we litter our lives with, be it toxic relationships or substance abuse or anything else.