Poetry, stories and knitting

Catching Up With Keith Piper…

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After a series of messages, the day arrived, albeit a few online hiccups, I was finally connected to visual artist and multimedia practitioner Keith Piper, a London based artist and academic. I’ve had the pleasure of having a good old nosey around Keith’s work in The Place is Here, a group exhibition tracing some of the urgent conversations that took place between black artists, writers and thinkers during the 80s and in his current solo show, Unearthing The Banker’s Bones, at New Art Exchange until Sunday 11 June. I’ve also delivered a number of writing workshops based around his work. So now here was the chance to talk to the man himself and to ultimately sus out if we could claim him as a Nottingham lad!

PB: What are your links to Nottingham?
Keith: One of my earliest connections with Nottingham was through the Seventh Day Adventist church. We’d go to conferences and have visits, so my very first visit to Nottingham was to the Seventh Day Adventist church in St Anns in the 1970s. When I came here as a student I was still marginally interested in church and I remember going to the church in St Anns a few times but you know by that time I was already drifting away from it, or backsliding as they call it.

PB: How important do you think the churches were back then?
Keith: Churches are communities basically, and we need to acknowledge their role in terms of cementing together the Caribbean migrant communities. The Seventh Day Adventist church was a very interesting place in terms of its politics in the 1970s. The one I went to in Birmingham was very interesting politically. It was a place of racial struggle. Churches [back then] were a social focus and we actually needed that kind of thing, imagine what they [the Windrush generation] faced in the 50s, but that’s another story…

PB: So, you studied here in Nottingham?
My sister went to Trent Polytechnic; she was actually here in Nottingham before me because she is two years older. I remember distinctly because she finished her course so she was just leaving when I arrived. When I first arrived in 1980 I was in student flats behind the Bonnington Building. There were a number of student flats there. I was there for a year and then moved out. I remember moving briefly to a place on Woodborough Road. I didn’t stay there for that long because Gary Stewart, a friend from secondary school in Birmingham was also at Trent, and he managed to get on the list for a council flat. I think they were giving away flats in Hyson Green to students and he got a flat and we had this idea to form what we referred to as a ‘Black House’ (laughs). Donald Rodney had just started at Trent and he was looking for somewhere to live so we all moved in together and just, you know what I mean…

PB: No I don’t actually; tell me some of the things you got up to…
Keith: No, no, no (laughs) no obviously that was just a social thing… But what started there was in retrospect a very interesting social and cultural set of overlaps… and Gary was always a key figure in that. The flats were a very interesting social space you’d get students coming in, you’d have all kinds of different local people coming in, and you would have visitors from our wider national network of artists, family memebers etc coming in. One of the connections with Gary was he was doing electronics at Trent so he could build amplifiers for the local sound systems. I don’t know how he got involved with them but there was this local sound system who I think were called Turbo at the time or I think Turbo was one of the names they had. He was actually building some kind of complex sound generators and amps and other electronic devices for them, because in the day when you’re a sound system they wanted to make futuristic sound effects that they could mix down on top of the music, and he could do that, and so he was building this stuff for them. That’s how those guys started around the flat as well. That was the connection that led us to be more involved in the local Nottigham cultural scene. We were also doing exhibitions in different cities and people with the Blk Art group were coming and meeting in Nottingham as well.

PB: Did you realise then how important what you were doing was for black arts?
Keith: Obviously when you look back… when you’re young… it’s just like you know, people hanging out and doing a little thing here and a little thing there you know. When you think back, you think okay that’s interesting because there were particular individuals all active in that moment in Nottingham… It wasn’t just us…there was the Asian Dub Foundation.. Oni Dass, a founder member of the Asian Dub Foundation was also a student at Trent, and he would come round to the flat to jam with Gary. I was also a student at Trent at the time so you had different things happening there were lots of politicised students around Nottingham. It was the time of the Greenham Common there was lots of female students getting into the whole feminist thing, there was antiwar groups, lots of rock against racism type events happening, there was the Miners Strike, so it was a very particular time with lots of activism happening.

PB: Tell me about your Art.
Keith: I was always interested in work which kind of disrupted the expectations of what art could be. I was first drawn towards doing fine art because I was into the kind of immediacy and roughness of things like physical collage, bringing in all kind of materials, found materials and working with language as well. I would always describe myself as a mixed media artist. I would never describe myself as a painter or a sculpture, I use paints, I use objects, I use whatever, with lots of text on the work as well, which sort of took it outside of what was seen as fine art at the time.

PB: It’s the text in particular that summons me to your work, have you ever considered being a poet?
Keith: Well no not really, text has always been part of my practice. I’m not a poet. I would never consider myself to be a poet because I think that’s a very particular form. Written text is a part of the work and the text was often used as a way of carrying a very particular form and content in the work. You were always told that you couldn’t put words on a painting but it worked. I really wanted to start using that in my practice. I also remember that it was an incredible time in terms of black performance poetry. In Nottingham we were close to Martin Glynn and Andrew Campbell who did political performance poetry as part of ‘Turbo Black Arts’. I remember one time Marsha Prescod came to our flat. We were beginning to link up with performance poets like Shakka Dedi, Anum Iyapo and Fred Williams through the Black Art Gallery in London.. and their work was amazing… So I was very much aware of poetry as a live spoken form that could move and excite a crowd.. I saw what I was doing as very different in that it was written and encountered through a very different mechanism.

PB: In Unearthing The Bankers Bone you start off the exhibition with Sojourner Truth, why?
Keith: …well Sojourner Truth… when I started…. the root of the idea was the ‘Mars Rover’, a robot named after Sojourner, and so therefore this whole opening up of the idea of this robot which carries the name of this historically important black figure. But then when you look in depth at her life and her ideas there is a huge amount there in terms of her own story, coming out of slavery… using the legal system and becoming a key voice in terms of fighting slave labour, all these things… She’s a very interesting character for a whole range of reasons. Sometimes in terms of our recounting history we tend to stop at the key male figures. We’ll talk about Malcolm [X] we’ll talk about Martin [Luther King]… we should celebrate all these figures regardless of gender really. She’s an essential figure, essential in that discussion around robots as well.

PB: I couldn’t agree more!

I think he passed the test! I’d be happy to claim him as one of Nottingham’s creatives. If you want to see Keith’s work his solo exhibition is at New Art Exchange. Unearthing the Banker’s Bones opens from Saturday 1 April to Sunday 11 June 2017.


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When Women Weave Words…


When I meet people I’ve  never met before I like to ask them what they saw as they journeyed to the meeting point. This is what Beth had to say…
My journey here

The soft breeze caressed my cheek as we stepped outside and I looked forward to the walk despite the imminent threat of rain. It had to be preferable to a ride in the musty and confined space of a crowded tram. We set off down the hill, prattling on about nothing in particular, like a gaggle of school girls and as we sauntered, I deliberately sought out the piles of windswept dry brown leaves, enjoying the sound and sensation of the autumn crispness underfoot. Onwards and upwards past the park where the leaves on the trees rustled frantically as if they were competing for attention like women showing off their wares in a bustling marketplace. Lagging behind the others, I was lost in a world of my own. I paused long enough to pick up a brown pebble and slipped it into my pocket, rubbing my fingers over its sharp edges and relishing the roughness. In that moment, the contrast of the stone’s qualities against the smooth, soft contours of my pocket reminded me of life in a strange sort of way. How odd!

The air was damp from the heavy mist as we finally reached the brow of the hill and as we continued, faithfully following the slippery wet tram tracks into Hyson Green, I finally caught sight of the gallery. Minutes later, we crossed the busy main road and ducked inside the welcoming warmth of the building. As I stood in the queue savouring the heady aromas of the rich spices emanating from the kitchen, a cIap of thunder heralded the storm outside and without further warning, the heavily pregnant rain clouds finally burst, giving birth to fat, juicy baby drops. Cradling a cup of fragrant hot lemon tea in both hands, I sat at a table in the window enjoying the spectacle. Pedestrians dashed in and out of the traffic, seeking shelter while passing cars almost ground to a halt as they valiantly fought to drive the deluge. ‘Just in time’ I murmured, sinking back comfortably on the soft cushions of the sofa.


Role of the Assassin 

I am an assassin. Perpetually traversing from the deep past, through the present and far into future, I execute with cold and ruthless efficiency. My role is explicit and the reason is clear. Retribution.

A silent assassin? No, not at all. Quite the opposite. My targets are aware that I’m closing in and they will know of my mission, but that’s all. When? How? It could take minutes, days or even years, however not knowing the exact moment of their reckoning only adds to that cold and eerie feeling of inevitability. When the time comes, they will sense my presence but by then, it’s far too late.

Why would I choose this existence when there are so many other directions I could have taken? My answer is simple. I have no choice. For every one of these vile humans inflicted unimaginable pain and death on an innocent. Each death was a cruel waste of a sweet life. Some died spiritually, some physically or mentally and countless others died in more ways than one. I can’t turn back time or prevent what happens in the future, but I can certainly help rid the world of these despicable beings whose only pleasure is to cause suffering. One by one they must all atone for their actions. Someone has to avenge these cruel and senseless deaths. Someone has to speak for the dead and protect the living.

Who said two wrongs don’t make a right?

About the writer: Beth believes although having dyscalculia and dyspraxia may have held her back and contributed to her lack of confidence, they certainly do not define who she is. Underneath the shy and seemingly impenetrable exterior lies a wicked sense of humour, an enquiring mind and a vivid imagination. She is continually inspired by the creativity of others but perhaps after years self-doubt, she is finally convinced that it’s never too late. So perhaps the time has come to bravely take those first steps to finding her own voice and becoming an inspiration to others.

NB: the final of 3 workshops based around Keith Piper’s solo show will be on Tuesday 23rd May from 10-3pm. Meet in the NAE cafe for this free workshop which includes lunch.


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Women Kicking & Writing…

I’ve been at it again! Writing, writing and erm… more writing… Here’s a poem from one of the participants in response to #UnearthingTheBankersBones by Keith Piper.

Mending Time
The last man will include woman.
Not as rib, nor moral compass – ingested chronicler of gothic horror.
Nor doomsayer of the tragic and inevitable suicide of man
– but as Old Woman.
She is trickster and shape-shifter,
Keeper of the ledger and ground-truther of maps, knitter of sleep,
Scorer of reckonings…
Old woman knows all the stories and the IT-IS-Written destinies.
She walks out on rocks worn to shingle
She feels the North Pole’s magnet flip to South and trades blow East to West. Edge-to-edge, edge to centre like mending sheets
The winds of Time curve and bend as the past touches now and again and then.
She throws down seeds of time, laughing loudly as she strides, lopes and bounds out along the boardwalk.
She sees the beginning in the end and in the end was the word and the word was HOPE.

About the writer: Jill Arnold is an old country woman who no longer cares what that means to others. As a grandma with special powers, she knows it’s wondrous to still be alive and kicking – and writing!

NB: Next Writers workshop – Tuesday 23rd May, 10am -3pm, in the NAE cafe. This workshop is free and includes Lunch.

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It was here but it’s gone elsewhere!

IMG_2786.JPGThe Place is Here… is no more, it’s moved on to inspire others but we have a legacy of poems written in response to the exhibition. The poem below is not only inspired by the painting Black Assassin Saint but also named after the artist Keith Piper. Paula Sharratt is the architect of this piece… enjoy…

Keith Piper 1960

Inside The Atrocity Exhibition


Like Warholian Turin Shrouds

Screaming like Freud

Out of Print

Out of Print

Out of Print
Piper was here though

on that night

to watch the way the eyes

rolled over

his work
Keith Piper

who’d fought with the idea

the feeling

the constraints

and powerfully placed the work

as if it was already there

as if

It wasn’t absurd

to be documenting

such atrocity

within the sado masochistic complex

of oppression

as if he wasn’t just having a laugh

at his oppression

but it


matters now

When we look at Andy Warhol

Look at him

A dead billionaire

And Keith Piper is still here

Artistic conjurer

occasionally coming up for air.

Please note that I will be leading a series of Creative Writing Workshops at the Women’s Centre in Nottingham beginning the 9th May from 10-3pm. Please contact me for more details. 


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The Place is definitely here!

We were busy beavers writing and editing, rewriting and then scratching our heads hoping to release more inspiration. It worked!  Some fantastic participants were in the Nottingham Contemporary Gallery in March. All up for translating visual art into poetry. It was wonderful leading this and even more superb that I have been able to see the end results.


Below is one of the poems written by Anna Wels in response to Keith Piper’s Black Assassin Saints (1982)

Imagined, Idealistic Future

Muddy paint rags, the mainstay
Of a fine artist, roughly
Joined together, hewn of cloth:
A humble man’s offering, an
Anger Split Open.

Words are fighting to be let out:
An imagined, idealistic future.
Faces are calm, but resolute:
The Disposition Of A Warrior

Four faces the same: unity of
Purpose, universality of intent.
The raw inner throb, biological
Suffering, and impulse to be let out…

Release from pain
Resolution of injustice

Digging up history, mixing with present
To solve in an instant
Dissolve like paint and water.

An imagined, idealistic future
Shaped by a brave and courageous
Acting on anger
Not mere representation.

Bright colours denote positivity,
The darkness and drips: the terrible
Reality, the buried and accepted

Calmly covered up simply because
Too difficult to process
Impossible to change
Things will always remain
The same?

I shall be leading creative writing workshops at the women’s centre in Nottingham beginning the 9th May, 10-3pm. Please contact me for more details.

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Art & Poetry

I had the pleasure of facilitating some creative writing workshops using ‘The Place is Here’ exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary Gallery as the stimulus. Some of the participants of that workshop have shared their work with me and now I’m sharing it with you!

It was fantastic to see such creativity coming out of a 3 hour workshop. Most of all it was great to see everyone jump in, despite their level of writing, and give it a good go. I’m very pleased with their efforts.


Below is a poem by Alexandra Goodwin who said, “The whole afternoon left me feeling very encouraged! What a powerful exhibition.”

One day you will know
the reasons you are here-
you are hearing this between your ribs.

You’ll know,
at last shuttered eye-
when the cosmos sweeps out
your body.

You will know
all pain, all pleasure-
you’ll know the slither between.

You’ll know how
things can dissolve
but remain-
without anchors,
tethered nowhere.

One day you will know
unseen answers,
to unmasked questions.

One day you will be another,
on the other side of the door.

Please note that I will be leading a series of Creative Writing Workshops at the Women’s Centre in Nottingham beginning the 9th May from 10-3pm. Please contact me for more details.

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Words for Walls

Words for Walls is an initiative to display poems by local writers in public spaces and on public transport across the city of Nottingham.

Established in May 2016, Words for Walls is led by two research students at the University of Nottingham. Poems by local writers were displayed across the city of Nottingham from November 2016.

My poem Beside the Pool made the cut and was displayed at Nottingham Contemporary. Did you spot it?

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Poetry Workshop -11 March 2017

If you are interested in putting pen to paper then why not join me for a creative writing session at Nottingham Contemporary on the 11th March. Click on the link for more details. img_7205

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A Taste of a Stone

The stone poems are complete, the residency over. Here is a piece from the sharing session.

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October Dialogue

I was fortunate to be part of an evening of performance, conversation and music that explored the transatlantic slave trade and its legacies. And even more thrilling was being on the same platform as the legendary and renowned Jamaican poet Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze.  She is, if you didn’t know, acclaimed for her inventive use of the dub artform. Breeze’s poetry gives voice to a wide range of disenfranchised people as well as personal, social, political and historical issues.

Along with myself  the evening also featured performances by Michael Brome and Marcus Joseph. The event was co-curated by The Centre for Research in Race and Rights (C3R) and Renaissance One, a leading cultural activist organisation who have consistently pushed for greater diversity in the arts and who have a particular focus on narratives of race and culture.



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