What inspired your poem this month?
Abuse, in its many forms, and how it feeds on denial and privilege. How it permeates our families, societies, relationships. The choice of silence becomes brutal in its mundanity. This poem attempts to give voice to the trauma of disassociation, collecting proof, unlearning guilt, and the difficulty of piecing a narrative together in the face of this. All of this is painful.
Seeing eulogies in the news recently, I’ve noticed how after death, we sometimes idealise abusers, as if we cannot reconcile both their abusive behaviour and their capacity to be loving or artistic.
I wonder how often abusers read accounts of abuse, and cannot identify themselves as perpetrators- especially those who declare themselves to be liberal, feminist or sensitive. We must scrutinise these labels, lest they become masks.
Who do you think writes well on the subject of change?
I loved Jackie Kay and Sarah Waters as a teen- their novels queer the straight awakenings I had become so used to reading. They helped me to feel the change in myself. Lately, I’ve relished the words of Helen Oyeyemi and Jenni Fagan, both striking in their writings on adolescence.
As songwriters, Fiona Apple and FKA Twigs perform the power in vulnerability, if in very different offerings of softness, as well as strength. They recognise suffering as ordinary, something A.K. Blakemore articulates in her latest, radiant volume of poetry, Fondue. In her lyrics, Kelela also writes beautifully about consent and respect in modern romance- the importance of being open, kind and honest, no matter how casual an encounter.
Why do you think poetry is a good way to talk about change?
Poetry offers an opening into other minds, a coming home to an unfamiliar place. Pared down to its purest form, it’s a vehicle for expression, and world-making. For me, a good poem voices something in a new, strange way that the reader/audience already knew, but couldn’t express, a shift in understanding. Soweto Kinch, in his combination of jazz, hip-hop and spoken word, is a master of such epiphanies- beyond the glib, or any false universalising.
There is an intimacy in reading, inhabiting the space between the eye and the page
In terms of making these discussions possible, it is educators like Jacob Sam-La Rose who make real change by enabling a multiplicity of voices. This richness is lacking in many creative spaces. Rachel Long is another exquisite poet, who, in her work as a facilitator, empowers other artists. As assistant tutor for Barbican Young Poets, and in her collective Octavia, for womxn of colour, she has established the space for a community who generate truly expansive writing.
How has poetry changed your life?
As a child, I was lucky to read widely, so I’m always bound to return to books. There is an intimacy in reading, inhabiting the space between the eye and the page (or the ear). Sometimes, it seems like I’m feeling my way through images I’ve found. They become a language of reference, a patchwork to speak from. I remember watching Vahni Capildeo read, and longing for her clarity, craving the distillation of images and wit that she brings to everything she does.
Words can be a burden to carry around. There is a release in wringing them out. In the best performances, you catch a shine from audiences, a sense of affinity- this gives fresh life to my work. Performing poetry is freeing- a thrill in being heard and seen- a power in these moments. For some people, just being able to live and breathe and be, signifies change.