Thursday, 29 October 2015

UPDATE: End of October blabbering...

1. Throwback Thursday? 

This time last year, I was getting ready to go to Rio for FLUPP festival*, where I was to run a few workshops, perform at a show and take part in the International Slam. I came back with a tan, a trophy and a few more Facebook friends who I hope to see again in real life. I also came back determined to return there, and (secretly) determined never to take part in a slam again. What could top this??


While I was away, I was notified that funding had been awarded to one of my old universities for a new PhD programme. Scholarships for the arts are rare; the fact that the money, miraculously, became available made that rare thing possible. And if you've just won a slam and feel on top of the world, well, anything is possible. Of course, I applied; a few months later, I was accepted. Boom!

I'm now a few weeks in and cautiously (very cautiously) optimistic. I haven't yet got into my rhythm, but I will. I haven't yet worked out what I'm doing, but I will. These things take time. I know, for instance, that, in order to do my reading for tomorrow's lecture, I'll be up till the early hours of the morning; with better planning, I could have prepared that yesterday and be relaxing now. I'm not going to beat myself up over it.

2. What are you actually doing at university?

I find it difficult to talk about casually with strangers. But I'm actually doing a creative writing project with a research element to it. The focus of my research will be on the changing shape of Jamaican-derived Oneness Pentecostalism in London. I'll have lost some of my listeners on the creative writing aspect (I'm basically writing a novel), the majority by explaining what Pentecostal beliefs are (although there isn't a universally agreed definition) and the rest on the "Oneness" bit (it's to do with the concept of the Trinity). So basically, I lie about it.

Of course, a lot of my friends are "post"-religion and thus see its study as a little odd. The study of religion is a problematic field in any case. Having completed half this week's reading, I'm struggling to come to terms with the racist/imperialist history of this area of study. It originated from a very Western base that saw the "Abrahamic" religions as civilised and the rest as idolatry or savagery, or pre-historicpre-literate etc. Some of what has since emerged out of that paradigm** is an updated, slicker version of the same tricky standpoint, coated in less controversial language. My own interest is limited to the cultural impact of (Oneness) Pentecostalism and Jamaican migration in the 1950s/60s and the historic context of a movement within a movement that, in 2005, was said to be "the fasted growing religion in the world"***. As I explained to a friend last week, exasperated by all the intricacies in diving head first into a field I am primarily interested in for personal reasons as a fiction writer, I feel like I've walked into a busy room with an awkward atmosphere and I have to nod to the right people - and learn who hates each other - just so I can navigate my way to the back of the room safely, without getting accidentally punched by a fist meant for the person I'm walking next to. At the back of the room is a drinks table and my published book, which I'm excited about, but the room is kinda intense. The metaphor is a bit fuzzy but it makes sense to me. Maybe it'd be more useful to say it's like walking home through Camden High St and all the way up Chalk Farm road late on a Friday/Saturday night, at chucking out time (I've done this many times). You have to avoid the discarded kebabs, the projectile vomit, the random flying bottle/ broken high heels, the groups of drunk men blocking your path, the cabs making dangerous U-turns as you step into the road etc. etc. I've laboured my point. But then, once you're home, you're like: "is this it? Is this really all I've worked hard for? Shouldn't I be out, getting noticed somewhere, doing something different, not getting all cosy in bed, on my own?"

I'm writing a novel at a time when publishing is in trouble [source that later]. Even Prezzie Obama, for what it's worth, has just been saying he's worried that people are "overwhelmed by flashier ways to pass the time" than reading novels. I know writers who don't read novels. Novel writers, that is. And if I'm worried about the Western-centric history of the study of religion, well... when it comes to novel... No... I won't even...

And then, after seeing a post about the Zola story, I think... what if the future of fiction is in linked tweets, after all? What if it reads a bit like this (intriguing opener/ mysterious appearance/ road trip "quest" instigated/ shocking denouement/ build-up of drama/ persistent tension/ all within the context of a closed subculture... it's all there)? Of course, Buzzfeed reports that "everyone is having a meltdown over this story", which is more than a little dramatic. But the fact this story can instantly go viral, worldwide, in this format, can't be ignored.

If ever I feel insecure about what I('m trying to) do, there's a reason.

3. Hissy fit

If ever I feel really insecure about what I do, I seek validation. And when I don't get it in the way I want, it's dangerous. I remember one gig I performed at several months ago. I was feeling low, it was still winter, I was tired; things weren't going well...etc. I did a poem and got a few claps but no whoops. I wanted whoops. I did another poem and fluffed a line or two. I thought I heard someone slurp on their drink; the ice cubes knocking on the glass grated. I dithered over which poem to choose next, like choosing the right spell to cast that would either unleash the magic or turn me back into a mouse, but forgetting which was which (I know, it's Halloween coming up... If you can't beat them, join them) Evidently, I'd gone for mouse. The applause was polite, but lukewarm, and I was ripping my heart out and presenting it in verse! I wanted to be admired for it. I wanted to be the most powerful, wise poet in the room and for the walls to crumble and the earth to quake and all because I felt tired and lonely and perhaps, if I'm truthful, depressed. The next day, I couldn't get out of bed and I was furious with myself for feeling that way. It had nothing to do with the audience (I since got a couple of messages saying they were touched by a couple of my poems) and everything to do with me promising to do too much, with me feeling stressed, with me not taking care of myself beforehand.

(Btw, there's no real moral to the story except that now I try not to judge people who throw what appears to be hissy fits on social media etc.)

4. Missing out

So I've decided to take care of myself by not promising to do any more poetry gigs for a while (with some exceptions). I need to have a life and pursue friendships and do my studies justice. I have a couple of events left in November, a couple in December and one in January and February (my Upcoming Gigs section is almost up-to-date). Aside from those, you can find me performing in the library.

While poetry gigs are where I find community, I need to make sure I'm doing my uni work first, before I venture out. I can always come back to the gigs. There'll always be a room smelling of stale beer above a pub where poets listen to each other. And I'll find that room again and again.

Meanwhile, despite telling myself that, I can't help feeling I'm missing out. You know that new poet? The one who has that one that can make you cry? She's only like 16 and she's been writing for a month but she's genius. Like seriously. You know that line she wrote which had that amazing metaphor and you're totally going to use that in a workshop at the school because it's perfect for the exercise you've come up with and anyway, you just found a YouTube clip of her and it's not really that great because the recording's dodgy and you can't really hear but she's a.m.a.z.i.n.g. and you know she's like performing in Dalston tomorrow, which is only down the road... you wanna come? We can always run to the other gig later and catch that other poet who's going to be doing a set too... And you don't want to miss him. He's legend.

5. Quick off the mark   

So far I've missed some really interesting events. And film screenings. And gallery openings. And loads of Black History Month related stuff (including events I was invited to perform at). And plenty of gigs. And plenty of free wine. And, there I am, at 2am, wondering how relevant I am being right now and whether I should just tweet my next genius ideas or find some new media to break. it. down.

And there I am, in the afternoon, tidying up at home and using the opportunity to see what's new in the world and thinking the trick is to be quick off the mark, right? Got an idea? Write it down yesterday! A news story breaks - best have an opinion ready.

And I can't help but feel astounded by the rapid fire response to Adele's new single 'Hello'.

This is the video, in case you haven't seen it:



And, pretty much straight away, this appeared:



And, then, if that's not enough, I was amused to watch several video responses... just going onto YouTube and typing "Adele Hello reaction" unleashes a massive list of videos ranging from this (standard, hyper-excited camp response) to this (how ruude!) which goes on for pages. And the song's only been out a few days. What's going on??!

6. Let It Go

And then I think, let it go. Relax. It's fine.

I'm sitting at the top of Primrose Hill rabbiting on to a friend about how there always seems to be yet another plastic shiny building polluting my view of this city and how each is a reminder of how I'm not welcome (in some of) this new super shiny London which is pretty much kicking out all but the mega-rich, one neighbourhood at a time... and this friend, who's just got back from Germany says 'you sound just like some of the people I know in Berlin who are always moaning... actually, you sound like some of the people I know who say "with all this migration I don't recognise my own country anymore"'. And I laughed.

I know I have triggers. Like the word "street food" which emerged as a way for (usually sit-in) restaurants to charge more for tinier portions on paper plates. The word "urban" before that, which was, initially, a less controversial way of saying "black" (we're returning to theme), and now denotes anything multicultural or vaguely trendy. I see them for the cynical marketing tactics they are. But, hey, things change. It's not that big a deal. If I feel secure about my own place in the world, if I've had one of those super days where I've written half a chapter and maybe a poem and I've called my mum and met up with some friends and I've rested and the sun is shining, none of that will affect me.

7. To Be Continued

It was here I was going to write a little about the whole tax credits thing. And the "migrant crisis", as they're calling it. And how the PM just got boyed**** at PMQs (I'm asking you for the sixth time!). But I'm going to finish my work and go to bed. The rest can wait.
 


Wish you were here.



_________
P.s. just a reminder, if you want a signed copy of my new poetry pamphlet, just click the link at the top of the page, (or try this one here).

P.p.s. a brief update coming soon about a couple of projects in the pipeline... Stay posted!


*this year it's a favela in the South of Rio (near the beach) and I've just found out who's doing the slam this year and I'm jumping up and down in joy - and slight jealousy - for her.

**yes, I've managed to fit the word "paradigm" into a post! (en' I clever, mum?) Next week's word: "praxis". Better yet, I'll try something from the Academic random sentence generator (i.e.Pootwattle's meditation on the relationship between the ideology of the image and the emergence of the unnamed is insufficiently problematized).  

***will source later, in case you're interested.

****shamed


   

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Postcard from Home: not Halloween again! (and upcoming gig)

Haverstock Hill, NW3

Upcoming Gig: October Shuffle - O is for Awesome


Like Halloween? YES

In which case, I have the perfect event for you... October Shuffle is at Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. It starts at 7, it'll be done by a decent hour and you can hit the West End for some spooky antics afterwards. The spirits of Covent Garden I'm sure are very strong, or something.

Like Halloween? NO

In which case, I have the perfect event for you... etc.

You can escape all the madness by listening to some great poetry from:

Seraphima Kennedy 
A.F. Harrold 
Katie Griffiths 
Jonathan Davidson 
Shazea Quraishi 

and me.

Enough! As you were...

Oh! And in the meantime, I'll be here tomorrow eve ;)

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Update in 5: Required reading and Unknown Knowns

1) Required Reading

 

Spot the difference between now and last month's reading list. Things just got a little more academic. 

I'm mostly researching particular branches of Pentecostalism within the Caribbean diaspora from the 1970s onwards. I already feel a little apprehensive about coming up with a decent approach, but I'll find my way into it.

I'm still reading a little poetry on the side: after a trip to Spain, I picked up a bilingual edition of an Elizabeth Bishop collection; I've also been devouring Mona Arshi's Small Hands, which I bought after hearing her read at an event I was also performing at. I'm glad to see I'm not the only person who appreciated the book - she just won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. 

I went to the the Prize event at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday and enjoyed seeing and hearing the poet nominees and the audience, comprised of fans, associates and clusters of fellow poets. I was happy Claudia Rankine won the Forward Prize; it's also the second time in a row a Jamaican writer has done it! I don't think the couple sitting next to me in the audience were particularly thrilled; after giving the obligatory polite three-second applause, they glared at me when I cheered. I'm not one for sustained passive aggressive behaviour; I proceeded to whooping, spurred on by the people behind.

2) Unknown knowns




I remember this moment, back in 2009, when the whole world seemed to go "huh??!" 

At the time, I considered it to be the most profound thing a politician has said [insert big smiley face here]. But there are some things we know we know right? The sky is blue, the grass is green, the Pope is Catholic, global warming is a problem*, power corrupts... that sort of thing. Then there are absolute unknowns. Then all the stuff in between. 

Among that stuff in between, there's the stuff we know but can't always prove without a doubt. While we know that power corrupts, for instance, the statement is meaningless unless we dig further. And when we dig further, other assumptions follow, which could be proven if we dare to. For instance, we can assume, based on human nature, that institutions which exert power will often attract the kind of people who shouldn't have it: bullies; people prone to taking draconian measures in order to hold on to that power; people who will abuse said power if left unchecked. We know that police, politicians, security forces (etc.) all, to a greater or lesser extent, have the power to destroy lives and that, with that power, comes a bit of recklessness and corruption. 

The fact that Lord Ashcroft published an allegation about the Prime Minister after feeling he was snubbed a government position he felt entitled to buy says less about Lord Ashcroft or even David Cameron and more about the *possibility* that others have successfully bought their place into government. The gap between what we absolutely know and what we intuit is full of such possibilities, or 'unknown knowns' [said with a wink], hypotheses that we can only flesh out through anecdotal evidence.  

But while there are things we - perhaps understandably - can't fully get a grasp on, there are others that haven't come into focus through wilful ignorance. We know that thousands of people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea on boats in the last couple of years. Many of these drownings have been reported; it doesn't take much to imagine that many more have occurred which weren't. We know that women and children will have been among those found dead, or permanently lost at sea. It needn't have taken photos of one Syrian boy** to stir public conscience. We already knew many others like him have died in similar circumstances; we already knew many Africans of all ages and genders have been in the habit of dying en route to Europe. But to 'unknow' it is a way of alleviating responsibility. Up until recently, it hasn't been reported in a way that portrays these dead as human. It's easier to use words like 'cockroach' or 'swarm' or 'economic migrants' to describe people feeling from war and extreme poverty than it is to really know what is moving them to take these extreme measures. It's also easier to go with the 'official line' as a way of legitimising that lack of engagement. It's simpler to say that Syria and Eritrea are now countries with 'legitimate' refugee crises, but other people in desperate situations are 'economic migrants' (as if that were a dirty word...) Anyway, don't let me get started.   

Among the other 'unknown knowns' popular sayings, like 'don't trust everything you read', figure. I don't know anyone, for instance, who would really look at all the emissions or efficiency data before purchasing a car; we know that, somehow, figures will have been massaged for some kind of impossible optimum performance. Yet, when Volkswagen is shown to have done a little massaging, cue the surprise. I doubt they're the only ones. FIFA awards the World Cup to Qatar, of all the unsuitable places for a summer competition; even if no one were ever accused/charged with corruption, everyone knows there's something fishy going on. But it's only now that the charges have been pressed the corporate sponsors need to show something's being done. So they exert pressure to get rid of the guy at the top, as if it would do something. As if they really cared about it in the first place...

When we talk about corruption, and when we talk about police violence - disproportionately affecting black and minority groups - we know there is much more that will never be reported, filmed, documented. Places such as prisons, refugee detention centres (and even some care homes) form a blind spot for the powerless - we know awful abuses take place there but it would be too painful to acknowledge them properly, to accept that the system is broken, not just individual units within it. 

Looking at the past week, there's a lot of stuff we know which we prefer to 'unknow' to keep the status quo going* but I shan't go on much longer, because I also know that opinion pieces are a little ridiculous. You either agree or disagree. I won't know everyone who reads this but I'll gather most of you are friends, friends of friends, or people who already know and like what I do. In my experience, people often like to hear what they already think they know, from people they like and already mostly agree with. I have yet to meet someone (who isn't already a close friend) who says to me, "You know what, Keith, I had one opinion about this thing and you've just completely changed my mind. Thank you". I also have probably only had my views changed a handful of times in my life by someone who wasn't already a close relative or close friend, or perhaps a teacher with whom I was in regular contact. 

One thing I didn't fully know - which I only now realise - is that I've become ever-increasingly intolerant of people who hold widely-differing opinions to mine on certain issues. I don't like that about myself. But I still find myself being drawn to below-the-line comments when particular news stories break. This time round it was probably a video of a man mauled to death by a police dog, and the steady stream of suggestions that he 'must have been struggling', despite all the evidence to suggest he was knocked out at the time, and already on the floor. (I don't even need to say he was black. I don't even need to say people will always believe what they want to believe. You could film an incident and show it to five different people and get twenty five wildly differing accounts). Next time it'll be something else, usually some social issue I have a bee in my bonnet about. And I'll still feel physical recoil at the way humans bicker, berate and belittle at each other online and then twist their bigoted views into more presentable jargon out in public. I know deep down that it's mostly bravado - frightened and often ignorant human beings posturing, preening, hoping that if they scream loud enough someone will pay attention, but it still makes me feel much less optimistic about the fate of humanity.      

*don't even... it is a well-proven scientific fact
**I won't link to actual pictures of him dead... I agree with many, if not all, points in the linked article as to why
***and that's how the stock market works too, much of the time. 


3) Black History Month again

After just ranting about 'unknown knowns' I have little urge to discuss this in depth but the Prime Minister's visit to Jamaica is an interesting one for bringing up a certain element of black history which won't go away.

When Cameron told Jamaicans to 'move on' when urged to consider reparations (beginning with an apology) for transatlantic slavery, we knew that even to countenance a positive reply would be a big no no. But the fact this was even brought up suggests real change; the reparations movement, even just a few years ago, was something people outright laughed at.* But his offer to build a prison on the island screams 'fuck you' loud and clear.

The legacy of slavery and colonialism - 500 years worth of it! - cannot just disappear in the space of a few decades. My parents were both born in Jamaica during British colonial rule (and, consequently, probably see themselves as more British than I do). The legacy of slavery is written in my facial features, in my name, in the countless occasions I'm asked where I'm really from, in my reasons for being in Britain in the first place, for my parents being born in Jamaica in the first place, in some inherited cultural practices, in religion, in my genetics.... need I go on? I agree that we do need to 'move on' from it, but part of the 'moving on', surely, could be found in the symbolic act of a state apology. This isn't a personal apology from the Prime Minister, or the Queen, or an apology that ignores the fact that worldwide slavery still occurs - although not on an official state-sanctioned level - or ignores the fact that other countries profited from slavery, or ignores Africa's part in it, or that Britain was not as bad as the US, post-slavery (all the reasons people give... which I call 'they did it first/worse, Miss!' syndrome). 


With or without an apology, with or without reparations (you cannot unpeel an orange**), I'll do pretty well and get on with my life. As one Year 8 pupil I taught put it: 'the paper you have crumpled will never be ironed of its creases but I will write my own story, no matter what'. I do, however, see power in the symbolic (which is also one of the reasons I'm anti-monarchist and why I'm drawn to fiction and poetry). The symbolic act of apologising does not change the past but it represents turning towards that past, accepting it as part of a continuous reality - i.e. that events in the distant past affect events in the recent past which affect our present, including the way we see things - and deliberately, publicly, renouncing it as a way of 'moving on', not just for the historically oppressed but also for the historical oppressors, a burial rite if you will, in order to appease the unsettled spirits.          

*The Indian government also, recently, made a similar case. It won't be a surprise when more countries do.
**I think Ngugi Wa Thiong'o said this... I can't be sure, so don't quote me on that.

4) 

[musical interlude]
Phew!

5) Upcoming  

Tonight, I head to Nunhead for the South London portion of We Shall Overcome festival, in solidarity with those hit hardest by government cuts. More info is on the website. Really looking forward!


  

Friday, 2 October 2015

Postcard(s) from Home: Bug Infested

(Reads: Do Not Take Bug Infested)

Algae

Both pics taken in Regents Canal. Wish you were here.

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UPCOMING....


See Coming Up tab at the top of the page