Categories
Blogs

What Solidarity Means to Me

Just over two years ago I needed to travel to London last minute. Unable to get a train I stood in a long queue waiting to board a coach. I didn’t know anyone in the queue and most of all I hadn’t expected that I would need to act in solidarity with one of the passengers.

What unfolded next was a clear-cut case of discrimination, it was ugly, and it was awful to watch it being played out in front of me. And what haunted me most, then and now, was that no matter how I looked up and down the lengthy line of people to see if anyone, even one other person, acknowledged the scene of injustice being played out in front of us, nobody did, there were no allies. Eyes were kept down and I knew instantly that I had a choice, either to comply with what was happening around me, or stand in solidarity with someone I didn’t even know and would probably never see again.

Two thoughts entered my mind, 1) could I live with myself if I did nothing? and 2) how could I ensure my safety when, because there was no if, I intervened?

The first thing I did was to make eye contact with the victim, to reassure her that someone else other than her could see what was happening, that it was real, that she wasn’t imagining it, and that she didn’t have a chip on her shoulder. Luckily, with her being first in the queue and me being third I could see and hear everything, and I was also in a good position to act.

The next thing I tried was to see if there was any possibility of reasoning with the driver, there wasn’t, he was a bigot. So, while he continued to berate her for not having the right ticket, which she did, I waited until I boarded the coach and with both feet safely planted on the steps I challenged the driver while tweeting the coach company to let them know what was happening. He had asked her for a ticket, she had presented it, he had responded by saying it was fake, she had denied it, after some time she had presented the same ticket again, he had accepted it, she had commented that he had embarrassed her, he then announced he was refusing her passage

The action of tweeting was my response to seeing injustice unfold. Even with the absence of pen and paper I was still able to write a letter of solidarity on behalf of someone I didn’t know.

It worked, the coach company asked me to direct message them back and hastily I recounted the events of that morning on May 19, 2018. Thankfully it was all investigated immediately and the woman was eventually allowed to board.

Solidarity doesn’t mean you have to know the person, it doesn’t mean you have to be a member of a group, it doesn’t have to be an official correspondence on letter headed paper, it simply means doing the right thing at the right time, and knowing when to act.

Categories
Commissions

Words of Wisdom

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I was commissioned by City Arts to write a poem as part of its ‘Words of Wisdom’ project. ‘Words of Wisdom’ encourages people aged 55+ to take part in writing and poetry, and to connect across the generations. I have written a number of commissioned poems before, but never one using the words of almost 100 people. This then for me was a wonderful challenge to do something new and I loved it!

I took some time to view some of the initial entries as they came in before the deadline. I didn’t at this stage think about how I might respond to it but used the time to think about the theme and what it meant for me.

Once the deadline was up, I read through all of the poems several times. They were varied:

Some had adhered to the limit of four lines, others had sent in more; Some were written in Nottingham slang, some light-hearted, others contemplative.

Once I saw the effort everyone had made, I felt that I had to at least attempt to include everyone’s words. So, that meant putting any idea of writing a poem from scratch inspired by all the entries on… ahem… pause. But seriously, if people had taken the time to participate, it just didn’t seem fair to leave anyone out. I also felt that if I had responded to the poem and created something entirely new it wouldn’t actually be a Nottingham/Nottinghamshire response it would in fact be my response.

I wanted everyone to have ownership of the poem, however big or small.

So, I started to play around with how I could include everyone’s words: First, I started by thinking I would include four lines from each submission, I soon realised it would be an epic poem of about 400 lines, far too long. Then I whittled it down to two lines per poem, again still too long. I progressed to a single line, but still wasn’t happy with how unwieldy it would be. After much pondering I decided upon extracting particular phrases or groups of words. Now I had to decide which phrases from almost 100 entries to use! I identified the phrase occurring the most, which was, ‘when the world paused’ and settled on this for the start of the poem. From this point onwards it was just about spending time piecing together phrases while considering things like the tone, the ‘message’ the rhythm, and so on. This took the longest chunk of time with hours spent swapping phrases around, moving them to different stanzas, putting them back again, until a narrative began to appear.

When the poem was at a stage I felt comfortable enough to share, I emailed it to Kate for feedback. It’s always useful to check with the commissioning organisation if they are happy with the direction you are going in. Using the feedback, I made the final tweaks and right at the end I added my words ‘and yet we reign’ which is the antepenultimate phrase in the poem. The final poem is 44 lines long, and begins with, ‘When the world paused.’

What happens next? The poem, conceived in response to the COVID-19 crisis, bringing together words and ideas from Nottingham people of all ages will be made into a film with Henry Normal, patron of City Arts, reading parts of the poem. It will be released online reflecting Nottingham/Nottinghamshire’s experience during lockdown… when we all paused.

This project by City Arts is a collaboration with Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature & Nottingham City Libraries to produce Words of Wisdom and is supported by Celebrating Age – a fund from Arts Council England and the Baring Foundation.

 

Categories
Blogs

Life in Lockdown

I had long suspected I had hermetic tendencies, now here was my opportunity to put it to the test. So, after I had a wobble for 24 hours, worried about what this virus would do. After I had assembled my thoughts and accepted that this was not isolation but social distancing, which left a much better taste on my tongue, and after I had cleaned my home from top to bottom, reorganised my bedroom, and cast-off my bra (yay!), I found my groove. Away from it all. Away from deadlines, away from crowded trams, and buses which buckle under the weight of people, away from screaming alarm clocks. No more waiting, waiting for the clock to tick down, to strike five, to pick up my feet and board a bus, then tram, and plod the ten-minute journey home. My home has truly become my sanctuary, my solace… home sweet home. I love keeping my own time, marking my own pace, is this not utopia?

But for the thousands who have lost their lives, this could have been a magical time. And yes, that gnaws at me. I scream at the TV during daily briefings. I question our nation’s muddled response, could we have done better to reduce the loss of lives, the suffering? I exercise my frustration through daily tweets. I’ve convinced myself tweeting is better than doing nothing at all, that I am doing something, just a little something for those without a voice. And in-between the online activism I write. And in between the writing I facetime my grandchildren. Moments of absolute joy.

“It has enabled me to reconnect with nature, reprioritise what is important, and it has made me realise things can change in a day.”

There is no asking the obligatory, ‘what have you done at school?’ There is no school. I have exchanged this platitude for, ‘what have you got to tell me today?’ It has brought enriching conversations. They talk about planting seeds, drawing pictures, and doing maths. And then they turn the tables and quiz me: ‘What was my favourite toy when I was six years old?’ (A doll, I still have it to this day, in reasonably good condition). ‘What school did I attend?’ (Raleigh Infants and then Windley Junior School, they no longer exist). ‘Where was I born?’ (City hospital and I lived in Radford until I became an adult). I realise I have spent the past eleven years documenting the Black community, preserving their history through Nottingham Black Archive, and that I never talk about me to them.

And so, I write about me and why I started to write. I write about why I like to write. I write about what the likely aftermath of this could be for the Black community, based upon my experience of the recession that hit in 2008. And I use this time to begin assembling my own personal archive. A letter I received from James Berry in 1997 after I wrote to him sharing my work, craving feedback. Evidence of my time working at ACFF alongside Len Garrison, a flyer of a performance at Nottingham Playhouse supporting Courtney Pine, these things they need to know if they are to carry the writing mantle, which I believe at least one of my six grandchildren will.

Lockdown life has been enriching in that it has given me the much-needed space, in what for me is largely a hectic life. Working as a freelance writer, managing Nottingham Black Archive (which I founded), and undertaking a PhD at Nottingham Trent University, meant there was no space to think or breathe. It has enabled me to reconnect with nature, reprioritise what is important, and it has made me realise things can change in a day.

“I have learned what resilience means and how to cultivate it. I’m armed with a pen and a pad and I’m grabbing this moment, tearing at it with my teeth and stockpiling my strength ready for what is to come next.”

Walking is the new public transport and I love my walks. Who knew I lived so close to the River Leen, that it sported wonderful wildlife; ducks, and swans, and geese? I have taken to walking with my camera trying to capture my surroundings. I take photographs of my deserted road, lots and lots of photographs of ducks and trees and plants, and even a bee stuck in chewing gum. I have used this time to be productive, pleased that the rattling wheel of to-do lists has slowed its pace. I intend to hold on to what I have learned for as long as I can. And yes, the devastation sits in the background, at times brought to the foreground with the wail of an ambulance siren, that leaves me wondering who now? Who?

While this time may be difficult for some, and I completely understand, it has been a rewarding phase for me. I have adapted to social distancing with ease, I have kept myself busy with the things I deem important. Although I do miss sitting in a café after I have composed a poem and reading it against the backdrop of people engrossed in conversation and the clinking of cutlery as they devour their lunches.

For now, I am busy thinking about the Nottingham City Arts commission to write a poem for Nottingham and engrossed in my research on the Black literary heritage here in the city. When this bubble disappears and we begin the aftermath, which if similar to the banks crashing in 2008 will mean lean times ahead, I am prepared to adapt again. I know what a recession feels like. I have lived it before. I have learned what resilience means and how to cultivate it. I’m armed with a pen and a pad and I’m grabbing this moment, tearing at it with my teeth and stockpiling my strength ready for what is to come next.

Categories
Events

Have you missed your library during lockdown?

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I will be weaving words, thoughts, and ideas together to create a poem which reflects the special qualities of Nottinghamshire libraries and the people who use them. Let me know if you’ve missed your library during lockdown? What you’re looking forward to doing there in the future? Whether you borrow books, attend children’s theatre or workshops, enjoy jazz gigs, storytelling, heritage or author events, participate in art workshops or meet friends in your library, I’d love to hear from you.

To Get Involved all you need to do is send me up to 50 words on the theme of My Inspire Library. This could be a line or two of your own poetry, a description of your library, a story or memory about something you enjoy doing there, or just a few carefully-chosen words about what your Inspire library means to you.

How to send your words to me:

  • Email reading@inspireculture.org.uk
  • Use the Twitter or Facebook @NottsLibraries
  • Write on the back of a leaflet and ask library staff where you can leave it.

Deadline for participating is: Monday 14 September 2020. 

The completed collaborative poem will be performed by me for the Inspire Annual General Meeting (AGM ) on Thursday 15 October and live-streamed free. You can also find it on the Inspire website from 16 October.

More Info: reading@inspireculture.org.uk

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Categories
Archive

Gambia 2000

It was January 2000 when I first visited the beautiful Gambia on a writers’ retreat organised by Kadija George.  It brought me into contact with likeminded black writers and here we are on the front page of a Gambian newspaper, I’m third from the left. I came across the advert for the writers retreat at the ACFF Centre in Hyson Green, sadly ACFF no longer exists.

It was here that I began to really think about being published. I had been freelancing as a writer since the mid 1990s and wanted to make that break away from working a 9-5 job.  I knew being published would help me up the writing ladder, and it did.

Unfortunately I wasn’t getting the writing support I needed in Nottingham and so I had to look further a field. I’d like to say things have changed in my city and that writing opportunities for black writers are jus as equal as our non-black counterparts but sadly that is not the case. Shortly after my retreat in Gambia I had a poem published in an anthology by Penguin Press.

Categories
Archive

Bygone Days.

Over twenty years ago I had the opportunity to meet James Berry and show him my work as a struggling new writer. Berry was a Jamaican poet who settled in England in the 1940s. His poetry is notable for using a mixture of standard English and Jamaican Patois. I can remember wanting to be a published writer like him. I made it!

James Berry and me

Categories
Books

Fully Booked

‘Fully booked’ that’s just how I like it!  Days before the launch of Clever Girls, edited by Jackie Goode and featuring a chapter contribution from me, tickets were SOLD OUT. The launch took place at Five Leaves Bookshop on Thursday, 30th January 2020, a great way to start the new year. It was moving listening to my Clever Girl crew talk about  overcoming obstacles. That’s Dr. Jackie Goode in the centre holding the anthology, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

There months prior to the launch I had the pleasure of opening NTU Creative Writing Hub’s first ever event on 1 October 2019, at Five Leaves Bookshop. Helen Tookey headlined with Hannah Cooper-Smithson, and Lauren Terry also supporting alongside me. Nottingham Creative Writing Hub is the central place for writers at Nottingham Trent University, hosted by the Department of English, Philosophy and Communications.

 

Categories
Books

Clever Girls

Clever Girls is a collection of 15 autoethnographies by three generations of women from predominantly working-class backgrounds. It explores the production of the classed, gendered and racialized subject with powerful, engaging, funny and moving stories of transitions through family relationships, education, friendships and work. My chapter is ‘Things You Wouldn’t Say to Your Daughters’ (chapter 9).

Since the publication in December 2019, we have had a book launch at Five Leaves Bookshop, and were guests on Woman’s Hour.

Categories
Books

Some Things

2018 really was a good year, especially within the context of 2020 and Covid 19. I finally had a collection of poetry titled, ‘Some Things’ published through  the fantastic http://www.burningeye.co.uk/. I was really thankful to both Jacob Ross and Henry Normal for their comments which feature on the back of my book. The front cover was designed by Keith Piper and the manuscript was proof read by Prof. Sharon Monteith.

The launch was held at Five Leaves Bookshop. I was so nervous, I thought I wouldn’t get an audience but I did. It was humbling to see so many people turn out for me.

Categories
Archive

A letter from James Berry

The writer’s journey can be daunting, well at least it was for me over 20 years ago. It was during this beginning phase that I craved, support, validation, and most of all courage. I was fortunate in 1997 to meet James Berry, he was reading at the ACFF Centre in Hyson Green, Nottingham at one of the many events coordinated by the Director Len Garrison. I can’t quite remember all that we chatted about but I do have a letter that James sent me. I’ve kept his letter along with the  two books and a cassette tape he gifted me. It was to be one of many connections with black writers that would boost my confidence and set me on the trail to leave a mark as a writer. Thank you James Berry and may you rest in Peace.

James Berry letter