Oli Page from Eye on Leicester sent me a few questions about being an artist living and loving in Leicester. This adoptive hometown of mine is more than disease and despair. It is art, innovation, hope and community, and I’m very proud of it.
(featured image: Unsplash)
The lovely folks from Leicester LGBT Centre invited me to judge their latest poetry contest for members of their social youth groups First Out (13-15 yrs), T Party (13-18 yrs trans kids) and Jump (16-18).
The “baby queers” from the centre are so close to my heart, as I have mentioned before when talking about the times I’ve given them workshops. They did not disappoint at all. Everyone’s work was powerful, honest, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, but packed with a lot of soul and determination.
It was so, so hard to choose only five winners out of nine excellent entries to be rewarded with books supplied by Category Is Books (the best indie library in Britain!) to keep reading for inspiration and encouragement. I was relieved the runner-ups wouldn’t go empty handed and would get some nice notebooks to keep honing their craft.
To read all the entries, go to Leics LGBT Youth’s Instagram (cw: slurs, LGBTQ+phobia, but kept PG-13 and optimistic). Wonderful stuff.
My city is on the news as 866 new COVID-19 infections were confirmed in the first two weeks of June. That’s one quarter of Leicester’s total since the beginning of lockdown.
There were initially rumours about returning Leicester to lockdown, but now the proposal is to continue the current level of restriction (which is very low, to be fair) until 18th July, instead of 4th of July as in the rest of the country. But decisions can change by the minute.
The more you know the details, the more it becomes crystal clear that systematic racism, incompetence and socio-politic deprivation are heavily involved in the cost of so many lives (or at least the quality of them).
Thinking about Liverpool in the 80s, for instance. Basically defunded for being Labour by a Tory federal government, used to opportunity to cause chaos and cost lives in the Hillsborough massacre, only to have the victims satanised and blamed by right-wing tabloids.
I’m afraid COVID-19 might be our Hillsborough.
While in nice comfy Clarendon Park I’ve seen a lot of people breaking the rules, most of the focal areas affected are actually working-class people of colour. Farhana Shaikh from Dahlia Publishing was tweeting earlier today that the spike seems to coincide with the Prime Minister’s order of reopening factories. And who works in factories, particularly Leicester factories? Working-class people of colour.
This is all very deliberate and targeted. The spike does not match with the BLM protests, which were made keeping distance and precaution. I couldn’t attend as I’m in a vulnerable group, but most people in the pictures were wearing masks and staying safe. Not the same can be said about “football” fans in London a couple of weeks ago trying to “protect statues” and “stop history from being erased” while zieg heiling at the cenotaph and pissing on plates dedicated to heroes who saved lives during terrorist attacks. That far-right meeting, by the way, also included anti-5G, anti-masks, anti-vax conspiracy theorists protesting along while chanting “All Lives Matter”. We still need to hear about the consequences of that one.
Either way, I’m fuming, but also willing to continue the lockdown (if not strengthened, to be fair) until it is safer and necessary. We need to make sure our people are safe, especially if they are also from the particular affected communities by this pandemic and this system.
UPDATE: poet Cathi Rae says something similar, but more eloquently and from her testimonial as someone who has lived and worked in those areas of the city.
(featured image source: Nappy.co)
Note: as a non-black person of colour, it’s not up to me to decide what will and won’t lead to black liberation. It is not up to me to call myself an ally either, since calling yourself an ally is a performative sign. The final decision lies on the people. This is just something I have observed online. And yes, I have done specific actions in support of BLM from quarantine, but I’m not talking about them because I don’t want a cookie for doing what needed to be done.
These past few weeks I have been keeping quiet over here because I felt my voice was not needed. I did not want to take up space via performative allyship, as this is the time for black liberation.
I had initially avoided to write about my support for Black Lives Matter because the general timeline was getting too crowded with nonblack individuals and corporations showing their support. In theory, this should be a really good thing: privileged people are using their social and economic capital to spread information on the often-lethal biased actions of the so-called “justice system” against black men, women and children across Western civilisation. A lot of them were posting black squares on their Instagram accounts to silence themselves using #BlackLivesMatter. However, the feeds were soon clogged with big dark silence, making it harder to find news and advice from actual black people and activists involved in direct action.
The same thing happened when the black squares were shared under #BlackOutTuesday: darkness, just darkness. Some users did get a hint and used the hashtag to amplify the work of black creators, but it would all still managed to drown in a sea of dark.
Recently, some celebrities shared a video montage of themselves looking upset about unspecified actions in the past — vaguely announcing they probably did racist jokes and comments back in the days — and promising to not just not do it again, but call out anyone who does it in their vicinity. Let’s see how long they remember. Some comedians, such as Leigh Francis, Matt Lucas and David Walliams, have apologised for the use of blackface in their successful comedy shows. In the case of Francis, it seemed quite counter-productive, leading to online rabid fans racially abusing Trisha Goddard, one of his most popular impersonations.
Other famous white people, such as Lea Michele, jumped on the BLM hype train without addressing their previous problematic behaviours, as if they never happened in the first place.
It’s all staged white noise and dark squares, and the murder of George Floyd is not fully avenged. The murder of Tony McDade is not fully avenged. The murder of Rayshard Brooks is not fully avenged. The murder of Breonna Taylor is not even avenged. Trayvon Martin’s murderer is free and going on dating platforms. Philando Castile’s murderer is free. Tamir Rice is not having a high school Zoom graduation.Eric Garner is not breathing.His daughter is not breathing either. Sandra Bland. Alton Sterling. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. Stephon Clark. And these are only a few, in one country, a land where not everyone’s free and a home where the bravery of existing as the underdog is a threat.
3% of the population in Britain is black, but 8% of the people who die in custody are black as well. Christopher Alder is still dead. Kingsley Burrell. Darren Cumberbatch. Mark Duggan. Rashan Charles. Xenophobia, racism and ableism clash: Edson Da Costa, Zahid Mubarek. No one has paid.
Out of prison, the genocide continues. Black people are four times more likely to die of Covid 19, mostly attributed to geographic and socio-economic factors. In words of the ONS, “other courses are still to be identified”.
Yesterday was the third anniversary of the Grenfell massacre. 72 people lost their breath. The overwhelming majority, black and brown migrants and their children. One of them, Khadija Saye, was a promising artist about to be displayed at the Venice Biennale and homaged by Tate Britain much later.
Of all the celebrity tributes to Floyd, only Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) mentioned that Floyd was an artist himself: in the 90s, he was known as Big Floyd and was part of the Screwed Up Clique in Houston, Texas.
These black artists are only revisited after death and reap no fruits for their labour. Besides, it is not necessary to be an artist to be mourned. It is not necessary to be “an outstanding member of society” to be mourned. Not even the victims with criminal convictions deserved to die. Not even the disabled, the old, the children, the migrants with no papers who lived and died in that tower deserved this end.
Black people do not owe us talent, charisma, physical or mental work, in exchange for their survival and legacy. In fact, it is us who owe them plenty. We owe them a peaceful life, freedom, justice, reparations. We need to let them be and let them stay, and for that, we sometimes need to be quiet if we have nothing more to offer besides white guilt and black squares.
Next week, Bentfest will host a series of talks on their Instagram Live if you want to tune in. The queer punk London festival will host a few of us at 6pm BST:
Monday, 18th May, Kirsty Fife zine reading and discussion of class, DIY politics, academia and more.
Tuesday, 19th May, Sop will talk about embodiment, chronic illness, sound experiments and more art.
Thursday, 21st May, I’ll be reading a few poems from my upcoming collection Meanwhile, and discuss writing from the in-between.
So yeah, all these days, 6pm BST, go to Bentfest’s Instagram account, look at their live stream on stories, and join the conversation. 👁🗨
Adrian B. Earle (ThinkWriteFly) is one of the most active creators and promoters of poetry in the Midlands. VerseFirst is his multimedia portal in which through podcasts and videos he showcases voices from fellow poets across the region.
His latest podcast, Alone Together, is a very interesting project merging words and sounds in small, reflective moments, following a prompt that unites them from a distance.
I am fortunate enough to be featured on its second episode, Arboretum. The poem is called “East Midlands is for Lovers”, and it features Arboretum Park in Nottingham. The episode, less than 15 minutes long, also features work by Lerah Mae Barcenilla and Leila Khanem, threaded through a path of music and ambience by Earle himself. It does feel like a late night walk around an arboretum.
If you want to be part of further episodes, select a prompt that attracts you and follow the instructions on the website.
It’s my birthday today. 34 years old now, and we’re mostly celebrating indoors watching television and cuddling the cat.
Coincidentally, I got another present: my interview on Gem Kennedy’s Queers & Co. podcast is out now. For a bit more than half an hour, I talk to Gem about Anglophilia and soft power, racism in the queer punk scene, writing poetry, migration and so on . You should listen to it. While you’re at it, also listen to previous episodes with fabulous guests such as Cameryn Moore, Lady Blue Phoenix and Imogen Fox.
Ok check it out!
One of the things I miss from the outside world is spoken word open mic nights. Fortunately, some of my fave nights in Leicester have found a way for us to keep talking, keep listening and keep connecting from quarantine and self-isolation.
Jess Green’s Find the Right Words is now available as a poetry podcast with the usual features of their evenings Upstairs at the Western: speed poet, headline acts, open mic and the raffle. You can access it for $5 USD per month on Patreon. Cheaper than a ticket at the pub. Gutted I couldn’t see Maria Ferguson and Dan Simpson in person this month (as well as whole lovely FTRW tribe), but at least we can hear them.
WORD! hosted by Lydia Towsey, is doing this daily thing on social media called “Poetry to Wash Your Hands to”, where some of us shared a snippet of our work in 20 seconds, the recommended time you should spend washing your hands to get clean and prevent illnesses. This is my video, an adaptation of my NaPoWriMo poem “Taking Back Sunday”, called “Taking Back the Quarantine”.
You can hot desk on your laptopCynthia Rodríguez – Taking Back the Quarantine
from your kitchen or your living room.
Don’t be ashamed if your job or vocation’s a labour of love.
Look at art. Make some art.
Read some books. Write some lines.
Listen to some new music. Make even newer sounds.
Lying down on your bed,
know that the quarantine is yours and that you’ve done your best.
Have some rest.
A lot of the time I’ve been feeling useless as someone at risk who can’t just go outside and help, so this is kind of a self-reminder in a way.
Next week, you can still perform for Some Antics, regularly hosted by Sammy Nour at Bean Gaming Cafe. Their 15th episode will be released online, headlined by Jemima Hughes, on the weekend of the 3rd of April. If you fancy being on the open mic or exercise your competitive bone at the slam, send Sammy your video by Wednesday 1st April. Donations are more than welcome, to keep Bean Gaming afloat waiting for us in all our nerdom once this mess is all over.
Finally, in the not-so-distant future, Soulful Group are holding their Soulful Sunday relaxed-fit gathering online on 13th April, 3pm. If you want the link to join, email Shobana: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re from Leicester (or the rest of the world because THE INTERNET) and you are holding open mic and poetry events online, let us know.
Featured picture: Kings Place.
The first Young Adult verse novel in Dean Atta’s catalogue, feels like a warm hug to my inner child, inner teenager, inner baby queer.
We grow through over 300 pages (over three hours as an audiobook — you must listen to the poets read their work whenever you can) along Michael’s journey of self-discovery within his family, his school(s) and university, and the world we share together. Through friendships, heartbreak and ignorance from the people surrounding him, and our own ignorance, as he is the sole holder of his ever-shifting truth. A fabulously proud miracle of melanin in a sea of pink.
Between the narrative verses of his story, there are poems within poems, textual conversations where the unspoken speaks volumes, user manuals for drag, performance, gender, race, origins, destinations.
Michael (and Atta) never forgets who he is and where he comes from, regardless of occassional turbulence in his flight, and always takes the opportunity to give a shout out to other black queer pioneers and trailblazers, from Beyonce and Audre Lorde to Jacob V Joyce and Chardine Taylor Stone. The last two, people I am blessed to know in person as influential figures, colleagues and friends. I have also been honoured to have taken workshops under Atta’s guidance in the dearly departed Mouthy Poets collective, the Pangea Poets project, and the MAC in Birmingham. It is amazing to see him thrive and reach audiences of all ages across the world, hopefully inspiring them all to write their stories, their guides, their truth.
Waiting for the sequel, to see Michael grow through the rest of his university years, drag and poetry career, and life. What happens to his friends, to that one cutie from the London hip hop gay club, and that no-so-cute person at the end. Not going to give out any spoilers, but Michael is fierce, beautiful, handsome and brave. Leventis, as those girls at the beach say. Leventis indeed.
Heyy, I had a lovely workshop at Everybody’s Reading Festival and would definitely do it again. The festival is still going on this month and you should go to the events. Particularly looking forward to the Black History Month Special Man on the Moon written and performed by Keisha Thompson on the 31st. She is also giving a workshop at Word! a few hours before the show on the same day on Afrofuturism. Signal boost to any Black writers and performers reading this.