I wrote this poem inspired by a poem by my friend Lauren, and an amusing video I keep seeing crop up on YouTube by the streaming platform BBC 3.
That day in history class, I was giving the teacher a grilling; talking at speed about the chosen truths they make kids read.
I paused, preparing my trident for war like Poseidon, preparing to debate with spitting snakes of Medusa.
Her speech hisses, her mouth a boneyard of teeth, like the streets of England below, a banjo with its heart ripped out
Her mouth leans in and asks:
I wrote this poem inspired by language, specifically the stories between the layers of the English language. Moreover, it was written in response to ‘My Spanish’ by Melissa Lozada-Oliva.
If you ask me if English is my mother tongue,
I will tell you my English is a Cat o’ Nine Tails.
My English is my parents’ wedding reception:
part of it anecdote and the rest is family history.
If you ask me if I am fluent,
I will tell you that my English is a battleship.
My English is not my English.
Now begins my song of praise
bless me with your righteous gaze.
I pray you’ll concede that this world’s future
depends on the arts, creativity and poetry.
Poems weren’t always in my view
but what better way to talk to you
and read in front of all these faces
as poetry transcends colour, creed, sex and races.
I once wanted to be a police officer, a cricketer, you know?
Now I write poems, using rhythm,
rhyme, meter and onomatopoeia
and I’ll stand tall, like the walls
between poetry and spoken word.
They’re one and the same, haven’t you heard?
In order to have Blackness or Brownness, we must have Whiteness
talking about racism puts the onus on the victim
without any inclination to discuss the system
that keeps it between individuals, not how White power has quashed
and undermined movements like the Black Panthers
and DiAngelo tells a clipped narrative that doesn’t really answer
questions about history and we got to this
since White supremacy is fluid and adapts and disjoints itself to fit
cus terms like “fragility” and “privilege” tend to only flirt
at the frames…
My degree was a gentleman’s club
of dead poets. Tattooed trees planted by
corpsed hands from the Firm of
of Pitt & Pitt, an England gassed
by the Etonian variant. I wanted to pen
incantations on #MeToo and BLM
but we were forced to write about stems
and rosebuds. So, naturally I wrote of 400 years
in verse and line breaks that bloomed claret
not the sustained incandescence of the Mayflower
in big 2021 … but Black Britain looks cross-eyed
at the British Museum. Despite the
asylum-like White walls, 180,000 Londoners
marched for a free Palestine –
a nation state…
A few months ago
there were leaflets going round Bristol
saying “it’s okay to white”
but that is not the same as being English
race and culture split like Brexit
I have been told I am English
but what is English culture
cus the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh
have theirs, with a pride in self
the etymology of English / England —
etymology meaning word history — comes from
the Old English pertaining to the Land of Angles
who were Germanic in origin
so, when the far-right boast English nation
history replies with songs of immigration
I have burned untold days
on Leaf Green, Emerald and Heart Gold
throwing balls at battle beasts for lols
just to give myself a shock to the system
that there’s more to life than 9 to 5
kids in 2016 spoke to me about Pokémon
like they discovered it. They stare perplexed
at my guffaw. I was there in its
heyday of 2004 in battles between
Magma and Aqua, and they still lecture me.
I couldn’t blame them. Once those ‘mons
latch on that’s you for life. They spoke of this
new magic called Pokémon Go. I remember
Having grown up in close proximity to the Windrush Generation as a grandchild and great-grandchild of Jamaican and Grenadian migrants, watching the crisis unravel since 2018 struck a nerve. Before my paternal Jamaican grandparents moved from Staffs to Spain, I once upon a time would have been roaming around their house to see photographs harking back to their lives in the 1960s and 1970s. But today, I can only easily visit my maternal grandparents to see such photos of Black Northants in this era, in the years that followed numbers of Caribbean arrivals by air and sea.
Whilst watching the first episode featuring Aballava, we must acknowledge that Olusoga and Benjamin were also not the first Black and Brown scholars to discuss Black history — from J. A Rogers and his work that combatted racist views of history, to Trinidadian Ron Ramdin on the working class, resulting in The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain (1987). A short breath after Peter Fryer’s Staying Power (1984). An argument could be made, though, is David Olusoga was the first to take it mainstream.
Anyone that was came through the British education system would have learnt about…
mugging the Queen’s English
growing up I recall
my grandmother and her friends
proclaiming Will Shakespeare “a jobsworth”
you know them ladies
with their diddly hands
like a cantankerous rex in the front room
instead of calling us kids rude
they would call us “boisterous youths”
or “rascals.” Women with names
like Phyllis that’d say
“I’m jos going out to the veranda”
using words like finicky
as she plays with her needle and thread
labelling her niece, a “craven buzzard”
for taking the last piece of plantain
like “highfalutin rapscallions”