Where Are You From? (After ‘Effing Swings And Roundabouts’ By Lauren D’Alessandro-Heath)

I wrote this poem inspired from ‘Effing Swings and Roundabouts’ by fellow poet and friend Lauren D’Alessandro-Heath where she dissects her name and its connotations through poetry and spoken words.

Additionally, this poem came from my three-week stint in Toronto and Ottawa (Canada) when Uber drivers kept asking me “Where are you from?” as “the UK” wasn’t good enough for them.

In my poem, I aim to do the same thing with my names and their baggage, as well as answering the quintessential question.

This is a question that is asked on a regular basis to people who look different, those that show otherness, including whites.

Where Are You From?

Enjoy (mind you, it’s a long one so buckle up). Above is a reading of my own poem, followed by the text version (below).


Part I

That day in history class, I was giving the teacher a grilling; talking at speed about the chosen truths they make kids read.

I paused, preparing my trident for war like Poseidon, preparing to debate with spitting snakes of Medusa.

Her speech hisses, her mouth a boneyard of teeth, like the streets of England below, a radio with its back ripped off.

Her mouth leans in and asks:

“Where are you from?”

And I laugh, it’s not the first time I’ve been asked. Could it be my brown skin, my frizzy hair? Alien? This Martian melanin man too dark to not have come from foreign soil.

My name has been Ventour and Griffiths. That’s where I am from. But I’m also Noel and Welsh. I come from Parkes and Baptiste. Moore and Clouden.

Slave names given to my ancestors who endured the Trade so I could have my life, that outlasted the raids of West Africa for gunpowder and gold.

I can trace these names back to Grenada and Jamaica. Ventour and Noel come from my mother’s family, originating in Grand Roy and St George’s.

Grenadian, or French like Mr Coloniser’s name.

My family back home, now country bumpkins, farmers, real estate holders, gardeners inheriting those allotments from those who carried our forbears as human cargo.

Grenada… Isle of Spice, paradise, soca and calypso, the world’s second biggest exporter of nutmeg, then there’s those submerged slave statues in St George’s Bay.

My cousin Kelvin, Granddad Sarge, my cousin Barbara, my mom and brother Photographer: Val Forrester

My father’s family…

Griffiths and Parkes, from Manchester and Portland, Jamaica. Jerk chicken and Rastafarianism. Reggae – Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs,

sound systems booming from forests, parties in bush down dirt tracks far from GPS and Google Earth. Ackee and saltfish. Dreadlocks and Patois.

Walking down a dirt road, there’ll be two men playing dominoes on a box next to a goat. Solve the riddle and they will tell you where you need to go like it’s a Skyrim side quest. I jest,

but I know both cultures and countries, that my names come from killing nations, the cremations of traditions, religions and languages.

Slavery and dictatorships as blood sports from the ends of nine tails, and the flailing bodies from trees round Jamaica and Grenada;

Ghana and Nigeria; Ivory Coast and Senegal; from the ships that sailed slaves down the Thames, from the slave markets of Bristol – both sides of the Atlantic.

My names mean strong, mean survivor, like Nanny de Maroon.

Black women had it far worse than the men. Out there in the trenches, fighting rape and master. Fighting his wife, and the knife of the ship’s captain.

How many immigrants and refugees would have stayed in their homelands if the West hadn’t colonised these countries to begin with?

And I think it’s sad that more ten-year olds have heard of Henry VIII and Boudicca than of Cecil Rhodes, Rhodesia and blood diamonds.

I think it’s sad that more young Black men have heard of Versailles than of the Carib and Arawak tribes, than of boxing pioneers like Bill Richmond in the Georgian East End of London.

I think it’s sad that if schools teach slavery, they only talk about Wilberforce, Clarkson and Pitt, politicians who fought for abolition through politics, who never experienced master’s wrath, slave codes, whips or journeyed in the hulls of ships.

We don’t learn about the lawyers and the judges. We don’t learn about Lord Mansfield and the Zong or the case of Granvillle Sharpe and Jonathan Strong.

We don’t learn about the slaves who freed themselves, like Harriet Jacobs, like Nat Turner, like Harriet Tubman, like Nanny of the Maroons, like the island of Haiti.

We don’t learn about conquest through the courtroom; the United States versus the Amistad; Somerset versus Stewart; the real Solomon Northup versus Birch.

Me, with my cousins Kahlila and Chelsea in Canada
Photographer: Chelsea Moore

Part II

In 1765, a teenage boy was admitted to London’s St Bart’s. His master had beaten him badly. Left him to wind, rain and cold – left to die.

Sharpe found Jonathan, paid his medical bills and probably saved his life. Sharpe could have left him to the cold, sold him for gold. But he didn’t…

An act of kindness. Two years later, Strong was abducted and sold to Jamaican slaver. Determined to be free, he plead to Sharpe for help. Not wanting to become part of the next slave ship mutiny. Not wanting to be swallowed by the seas.

This case was not isolated. Blacks were being poached up and down this island nation, cartered onto ships and sold back into mass incarceration.

Sharpe was no lawyer, no legal training; he was just a man, a human being who saw an injustice being commited.

He was conscripted to the ideals of British freedom. This was about morality, this was about what made Strong’s life worth less than his own?

This was about how could he hold his head up in the street if he left this boy to certain death?

He had an unflinching moral compass. What was immoral could not be legal.

In 1772, he won a test case that outlawed slavery in England.

Where were Strong and Sharpe in my lessons?

Photographer: Pascal Laurent

Part III

I know we are descended from a mighty people, gave civilisation to the world, survived the hulls and holes of Jim Crow, Apartheid and Slavery.

People that innovated, created, loved – despite tortures unimaginable. They’re in my blood and in yours too. That’s how I became me and you became you.

This comes with good food, family barbeques, jokes and rice and kidney beans, a close-knit family, grandmothers whose first question when I walk through doors is:

“You hungry? Have you eaten?” Sustenance of life, soul food, dare I say poetry? My soul starting to shake, leaving my body as I find hidden wedges thick like steak that Grandma has put in the fish cake.

Weekly, I am asked “Where are you from?” Clearly not from here. But I speak the coloniser’s language pretty well. I do not speak the broken English-French Grenadian tongues that my Great-Grandma Toile did.

I investigate family mysteries, like having a white Irish great-great grandfather called Street. I see India in my grandmother, West Indian Indian…

many call it Cooli – many come from Trinidad who are Kenyan-Indian in descent. More questions there!

All these questions tell me I have to validate my existence to see which country of poor Black people far far away I come from.

Stories that made me and my genealogy, scouting in pedigree and family history. I look at my reflection and see my face, a conglomerated peoples and cultures that drifted from place to place.

But when I am asked “Where are you from”, I laugh. I give them my history, that I speak bits and pieces of French, that I understand some of the split tongues of the Caribbean

that I speak in metaphors and similes. That I speak in poetry and spoken word, villanelle, soliloquy and free verse.

I give them my life story, leaving them perplexed casting a hex on their ideas of indigenousness.

But I can laugh, when someone asks “Where are you from?” That my skin screams, Motherland. Not England, Africa.

And I watch my identities multiply into a million diaspora. Each once whole, whispering “We used to be whole. We used to be one.”

But of course, I don’t believe them.

AKA For The Love Of Jessica Jones

I wrote this poem from the point of view of Jessica and an unnamed narrator on the character Jessica Jones in the Marvel-Netflix series Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones is a kick-ass personal investigator who dwells in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Having recently finished Season 2, I felt compelled to write something, as I think this series is one of the best character studies of mental health ever put to screen.

I wrote this poem inspired from “Anxiety: A New England Folk Tale” which was inspired by “Anxiety: A Ghost Story” by American poet Brenna Twohy.


We have to talk about the kick-ass PI in Hell’s Kitchen.
When you’re a vigilante, you don’t live life
by the same rules as everybody else.
When your agency is called Alias Investigations,
that’s code for “own your shit and protect yourself.”

And when you’re connected to a number of murders,
or if there are regular explosions outside your apartment,
shrugging it off and buying a big whisky,
or heading to Kilgrave Castle is not the best idea.

If you’re taking pictures of shadiness and then shady stuff
starts happening, like murder and torture, then maybe
it wouldn’t hurt to take a short break. If you killed the bad guy,
but he’s still in your head, a man that nobody else can see,
don’t just go to the public house cemetery –
in your neighbourhood, in your front yard, and in your bedroom.

When I tell you about the ghosts that live inside Jessica Jones,
when I tell you about the cemetery in her childhood home,
at Alias Investigations and everywhere she goes –
when I tell you trauma is a steep slide with no visible destination,
that the life of Jessica Jones is a photograph that shows
everyone she loves as a garden of bones.

That her panic for her loved ones comes from memoir,
that anxiety is the Grim Reaper and his scythe,
that depression is the bottom of the whisky bottle,
this is the part when most people run for their lives.

To love Jessica Jones is to love an alias,
fun to have for a little while but you will be tired before long.
Sounds like Kilgrave cherry door knocking her muscle memory.
Like the family she once had. Like the new sibling
who tries to love her, even be like her. You are not stupid or brave,
you are jealous and have never seen a haunting before.

This love will not cure me, and it won’t
scrape the glass from the floorboards, but it will turn the lights on
and give me focus. It’s the kind of love that sends chills.

When you tell the ghosts, “If you’re staying, then you better make room,” they start to fidget. We work the case. We turn the music up.

Trish ‘Patsy’ Walker (Rachel Taylor) is the sister that tries to love Jessica
(Jessica Jones, Netflix)

And you say “My God, this office, how whole it feels,
even in the days that nobody comes in or out of it, progress.”

The way that I love Jessica Jones,

like a gentle hand reaching out of the past.


“There are worse things than death. Once you’re worm food, it’s over. Painless. Quiet. While the rest of us are stuck digging holes, picking up the pieces and remembering.”

Jessica Jones

#IfSlaveryWasAChoice

I wrote this poem directly inspired from Kanye West. His comments say that he believes the Slave Trade was a choice (for the slaves).

My poem comes from engaging with the memes and threads on the matter, including the frenzy on Twitter and the Facebook comments section.

I did not believe what he said until I saw it myself!


Kanye West said:

“When you hear about slavery for 400 years … for 400 years? That sounds like a choice.”

No, Mr West, marrying into the Kardashian Family was a choice. Praising Donald Trump was a choice. Uttering provocative comments was a choice.

In 1619, the Dutch brought free blacks to America from Africa as slaves.

If slavery was a choice, master be like “I didn’t tell you to stop pickin’ that cotton, boy!”

And I’d be like “That’s my shift for today. I already signed out. This y’all problem now.”

Slavery was conscripted for the African, for those with black skin, button noses and knotted-hair; many thanks to covert and structural racism, what we now call White Privilege.

Anika Noni Rose as Kizzy in the Roots remake (liked it more than the original) was great
Roots, History Channel

And then master starts tripping, belt buckle flipping, his feet doing that late-night tripping down to the slave shacks, like in the Rape Houses of Bunce Island (Sierra Leone), where he and our ancestors would be together.

Refuse, and he’d get angry, his temperament would change like the weather. And at the same time, the free Blacks of the Americas, like the Maroons, who fled slavery for forests, stuck it to the colonisers and their profits.

If slavery was a choice, all you’d have to do is text ABOLITION to 1863. Mr West, If you really think slavery was a choice, you’re going to love what happened next.

Just text JIM CROW to 1865. Just text SELMA to 1965. Just text MONTGOMERY to 1955. Just text Malcolm to 1965. Just text KING to 1968. And that was the fate of The Slave Trade’s offspring.

But according to you, slavery was a choice, published in the meandering mind of Supreme Overlord Kanye West. This is the same guy who had umpteen hits. Great tracks,

but then proceeded to call himself God and pledge himself to fat cats like Trump, superseding Samuel L. Jackson’s Uncle Tom-figure in Django Unchained. I concede, that you are worse because this is real life not a film, not a kid’s storybook written by children’s authors like Malorie Blackman and A. A. Milne.

You spout your shit on Twitter and TMZ to insight reaction, which is followed by media traction but this is the last straw. Slavery is history. It’s raw. See, that’s how you became you and I became me.

Black people don’t forget. We’re not mermaids just looking pretty. We’re the sirens in the stories of Odysseus and the Greeks. We’re on the rocks singing songs to drag the slavers down to the depths where they buried our ancestors.

Rip muscle from marrow with nine-tail whip. We are remnants of our grandparents’ grandparents. We derive from those who survived the Middle Passage trip. Not all were so fortunate.

Just look at the Zong Case (Massacre). Look at Jonathan Strong and Granville Sharpe. Look at James Somerset.

“No master was ever allowed here to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he deserted from his service, or for any other reason whatever.” – Lord Mansfield

We are the descendants slavers feared. We lived. The strands of family trees survived the mutinies – Morant Bay, the Southampton Insurrection, the Haitian Revolution, the unruly witch hunts in the American South and in England – in places like Manchester, London and Liverpool.

If slavery was a choice, explain to me why the Underground Railroad existed. Truly. That’s history, sue me. Try telling Harriet Tubman who fled her master’s wrath and then went back to help others in bondage. She freed hundreds despite having a bounty on her head!

And that’s in a school of thought in ode to Frederick Douglass, Olaudah Equiano, Harriet Jacobs, Ottobah Cugoano from Ghana and Mary Prince, a West Indian slave. It was do or die.

Slavery is written into the dirt. It is written into places like Selma, Alabama. Edmund Pettus Bridge named for the grand dragon in the Klan.

White hoods and confederate flags – flame-bearing, torch-wielding, black-lynching, our bodies swaying in the breeze of Jim Crow and that bridge still stands to this day, still called Edmund Pettus Bridge.

If slavery was a choice, it would be Starbucks saying “you can work here, but twice as hard for not half as much as is the norm, but for no pay.

If slavery was a choice, it would be Applecare saying you can work for us in the United States and not pick cotton.

Actually, it’s Applecare Plus and you would need to opt in within 60 days of choosing to become a slave. Hand on the Bible and… woah!

Mr West, if you get hurt on the job, how much does the Workers’ Union pay you again? Pension, health insurance, equal rights? But you need to fill out a form on the employee Wi-Fi.

And when the overseer calls you nigger you need to call the white, HR official. You are then fired, because HR isn’t there to protect employees but to protect the institution, the company, the Klan.

If slavery was a choice, there would be a field cookout on Labour Day.

If slavery was a choice, I’d be raiding master’s fridge for the cookout.

If slavery was a choice, I’d be making super fly outfits out of master’s cotton.

If slavery was a choice, I’d be at Slave University looking like Prince walked onto the set of Coming to America.

If slavery was a choice, I’d be telling Master to pick his own motherflipping cotton!


“You can’t buy a slave, you’ve got to make a slave.” – Connelly, Roots (2016).

Growing Up Black

I wrote this poem as prequel-sequel to “Grandma’s House” and it’s very loosely based on “The Type” by poet Sarah Kay.


When you grow up in a West Indian household most things turn into a joke, eventually (whether you like it or not).

Growing up Black is me as a child opening the cabinet of glasses to be told no. They’re there for display like a museum exhibition.

It’s going to the cutlery draw to set the table for dinner and be told “not them ones.” They’re mash up. “Take these; them the good ones” – from a big container in the conservatory inside a box inside of another box behind something like it’s the fifth Indiana Jones film.

It’s Grandma telling me to hide when the Jehovah’s Witness come knocking at ridiculous times in the evening.

It’s answering the door to that one relative who turns up when the word on the grapevine is that Grandma’s been cooking – the fried chicken, the saltfish, the oxtail, the curry goat, the rice and peas, – the full shebang!

You had him at saltfish. He’s at the door within an hour. We call him The Tupperware King and he’s as persistent as an IOS update. Not even a lie!

Growing up Black is told tales of my great-grandparents, recited like urban legends. The Windrush Generation

listening to Grandma Cathy tell me about her mother is like hearing about Nanny de Maroon. Grandma Toile she was called –

she was no school. She was no speak English. She spoke French and double Dutch. She spoke a version of English that some understood but she was pure Patois, ready to survive with head, mouth and heart.

Growing up Black was going to watch my grandfather do gigs in his steelband. Tune after tune, whilst the band drink dodgy beers that look like they were made in a popup factory.

Growing up Black is cringing every time the English say Goat Curry. Growing up Black is learning about Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam before you reach your tenth birthday.

It’s being introduced to N.W.A and Public Enemy at thirteen. It’s being told about your lack of privilege by your mom, that you ain’t like your white friends; you have to work twice as hard for half as much.

Photographer: Olivier Collet

It’s being followed around the supermarket by security seconds after walking in. It’s being at Grandma’s House and finding anything but butter or margarine in that container.

It’s having aunties and uncles and grandparents who buy everything big. And I don’t mean big, I mean flipping enormous! Two-kilogram bottles of ketchup. It’s being at weddings and funerals and there being the token Caribbean buffet. Sweet Christmas!

It’s being told that there’s no pepper in the saltfish fritters until it’s lodged in your throat. Grandma’s joke at everyone’s expense.

It’s walking into the living room met with mustard gas, and by that I mean fog that burns. Not hot sauce from Tesco, I’m talking sauce fresh from our homeland, the small islands – the Caribbean, the West Indies and the Dutch Antilles.

Yellow liquid gunge, filled with bits and pieces. Someone has home-grown the Grim Reaper and put him into a plastic water bottle, labelled Hot Sauce in black marker pen. It should be called Put This On Your Food If You Don’t Want To Live Sauce. 

Photographer: Ali Yahya

It’s watching my grandfather and his friends slap dominoes on the table. Bloodclart!! followed by laughs and gulps of Wray, Appleton and what I like to call Cerberus, named for that dog that guards the gates of the Underworld. One sip of Rivers Rum is enough to knock a person out for a fortnight.

Growing up Black is being told you’re a great cricketer. You’re like a Michael Holding or Clive Lloyd. And those pioneers became my idols – Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Colin Croft, Viv Richards, Gary Sobers. Top top players of the game at the highest level.

It’s testing what your white friends say to their parents to your parents. It’s safe to say I lived… just about.

Growing up Black is living on a fault line between identities, it’s telling your family about the first time you were called nigger whilst ticking British on the application form. They will understand.

It’s being looked at oddly when you show your passport at customs abroad. Where are you from? No, really, where are you from? Making you feel you like you don’t belong.

From Slavery to Windrush; from the Nationality Act to Brexit; from curry goat and rice in a butter container to a hostile immigration policy,

growing up Black is family and community. It’s dinner round the table. It’s history and politics and West Indian superstitions.

It’s kakaje, sleep dust. It’s a childhood and upbringing in Dutch pots and crisp n dry. It’s immigration in plastic. It’s a family that spans thousands of miles and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

Wakanda Forever

This poem is in response to a challenge by fellow Northampton poet Justin Thyme and it’s inspired by the land of Wakanda in Africa.

Wakanda is a fictional country in the MCU and the setting of Black Panther, a superhero film that has lots to say about postcolonialism.

This is a long one, so buckle up…


If you turn on any western news programme today, you’ll see stories of a poor Africa. A continent of poverty, disease and famine but it isn’t so. There’s rich Black folk there, living it large and I’m not talking about the men in Nigeria in their big houses.

Let’s go to the land of Wakanda where there were no terrible big boats, there were no white men taking slaves and telling Blacks how to behave.

But there were tribes tripping on each other, fighting one another for the crown of the greatest kingdom on earth, the land of Wakanda.

At the same time, the Black folks in the Americas who were free were mating with local tribes like the Amerindians and the Cherokee.

But Wakanda is true Africa, free from the whip, colonial quips, also the legacy of European slave ships. Do you understand?

And as a result, Wakanda is a land of every shade. From light skin to dark skin, no room for colourism to carry on with its colour chart sin bin.

Not like in Europe and America, in this day and age who put light skin on a pedestal and treat dark-skinned women like the cargo that came through Liverpool.

Wakanda got no time for diaspora rules; British, American, Dutch, French. It doesn’t matter. Black is black, Killmonger is on the right track.

This was such a great scene #WakandaForever
(Black Panther, Marvel Studios)

He knew that the African was the first on the scene and him being from across the water did not mean he was any worse or better than his brethren.

Through the migration of his father, his culture started to change and rearrange like the slaves who had to adapt to the West Indies and England.

So really, if we’re going to go all the way back, and I mean it. Then Adam and Eve may well have been black which kind of means that everyone on Earth is an African. Everybody is Wakandan. Even Mr Coloniser and the Christian slavers.  Imagine that!

So if everyone is an African something, even the Indians and their caste system. They’re African Indians and so on. And the origin of humanity is with the African.

And if one drop of Black blood makes you Black like people say, than everyone’s Wakandan anyway.

Yet, I’m not colour-blind. I’ve got White friends. I’ve got Asian friends but I bet if they gander through their family tree far enough. Perhaps they might find an ancestor that looks like King T’Challa in handcuffs.

However, I’m not trying to change your identity. You all already been born and raised in different nations, some thanks to the devastation of diaspora and colonisation.

Danai Gurira gaves such a great performance as Okoye (hyped for Infinity War)
(Black Panther, Marvel Studios)

I was born British but I tick Other. I’m Black. Born in England. West Indian grandparents on both sides, look wider and I’d have been an African. Dare I say Wakandan, had Africa been allowed to realise itself?

And not been made to sit on the colonisers’ shelf. At ten years old, I was called nigger. In America they say that too. They say Negro as well but those slurs for slurs’ sake have vanished (kind of) and Negro is just how you say black in Spanish.

I’m not a nigger, I’m a man. And it seems we’re back in a time when even Black people can’t get along because we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that our skin colour is wrong.

And then Black Panther came showing us to be good. Where we fought each other but there was democracy among the peoples of Wakanda where we walked with purpose and Black was beautiful.

And I’ve even been criticised for celebrating my colour. How about 800 years of White history? That Euro-centric UK curriculum. #JustSaying.

Who even comes up with this stuff anyway?

Was it just a few guys feeling insecure so they decided to create all this racial rhetoric? So they thought African-American and Black Briton sounded a bit more exotic.

Colourism wasn’t a problem and the women of Wakanda were a bunch of badasses!
(Black Panther, Marvel Studios)

Labels make people feel euphoric. Kind of like how Lenny Henry was the only Black man allowed on British television in the 80s. There can only be one! And there’s BAFTA! (Black Britons eff off to America).

And as a result, a lot of Black British artists ended up broke. And that is why we needed Black Panther, as Wakanda represented us all, not just America as is the norm for the mainstream.

People who look like me doing things that are often attributed to Mr Coloniser. Sounds about white and I know there are some people here who recently moved from Grenada and Ghana and Gambia – and Ireland and Holland and America – and Brazil and Benin and India.

But not the peoples whose family lived in the country for generations (I’m only the second of mine) but the people who are from various locations. We’re from everywhere. If you follow the epic wingspan of genealogy, you’ll find your very own Cheddar Man.

Your heritage and history is in the country you’re in, not just your melanin. But it’s also out there in the world. And I’m ready to leave England, but it’s also my home. It’s a leader in oppression and suffering and grieving.

But they must be doing something right, because there’s so many coming and so few leaving. And if you go to Africa in search of your essence, you’ll find breadcrumbs, traces and no pure races.

I love being Black but I’ve never been to Africa. I know Britain better than the country of my ancestors. I’ve never seen Bunce Island or Elmina or Freetown.

Angela Bassett as anything is worth watching, especially her as Queen Ramonda
(Black Panther, Marvel Studios)

What if colonisation didn’t happen? What if there was no slavery? That’s my Africa. Untainted and pure, able to realise itself. Wakanda Forever.

We’ve all just changed so much; many thanks to diaspora and migration it’s no mystery, because we all share a little Black History.