Race & Poetry & Poetics in the UK


Citizens of the Archive: Uncovering Race and Poetry

2pm-8pm, Monday 3rd July 2017 at the National Poetry Library, Southbank Centre, London

Organised in partnership with the University of Sussex.


Abstracts & Biographies


Elizabeth-Jane Burnett


Elizabeth-Jane Burnett is a poet and academic. Publications out this year include the poetry collection Swims (Penned in the Margins) and pamphlet Rivering (Oystercatcher), both on wild swimming, and the monograph A Social Biography of Contemporary Innovative Poetry Communities – The Gift, the Wager, and Poethics (New York: Palgrave). She is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Newman University, Birmingham.


Elizabeth-Jane Burnett & Sophie Mayer


Popping the Canon [Workshop]


This workshop provides a screening of Benjamin Zephaniah’s Dread Poets’ Society, where Zephaniah is challenged to a poetry writing competition by the canonical ghosts of Byron, Keats and the Shelleys. This challenge takes place on a train journey from Birmingham to Cambridge, where Zephaniah will learn if he has been granted a prestigious poetry award. The workshop considers the ideas that this film foregrounds, of the challenge that poetry by writers of colour has faced in both entering and breaking down the canon, of its role in re-figuring what poetry is, and in showing language in transit, both temporarily (as with a live performance) and over centuries (as with the printed material of the Romantics). During the workshop, balloons containing texts by poets of colour will be popped in order to explode the possibilities of what poetry is, how it is encountered, and read. These breath explosions will allow us to consider the materiality of poetry. The revealed texts will link up with books available in the library, while other balloons, anchored by threads of texts to sites in the library, will invite participants to follow a poetry treasure hunt. We invite participants to play with ideas of canon making and breaking; breath, sound, and text; all the materials and possibilities of poetry.


Denise deCaires Narain


Migration Blues & Diasporic Forms: continuities and ruptures in writing migration from Edward Kamau Brathwaite to Warsan Shire [Workshop]


Starting with Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s The Arrivants and traveling through the poetry of Grace Nichols, Marlene NourbeSe Philip to arrive at, say, Warsan Shire’s ‘Home’ is to be struck by the continuities as well as disjunctures of this genealogy across the generations of black/WI/British poets. It’s a genealogy but a disrupted and untidy one; a mashed up genealogy, if you will. […] One of the key questions, it seems to me, is how to recognize the specific cultural and historical circumstances of migration and diaspora without assuming that that history is the only story, and that it must be told in a directly accessible manner – is it narratable/sayable? Another key question concerns diasporic aesthetics, forms and rhythms – we have to learn ‘to talk text’ and not just about ‘the themes’ that should supposedly concern black poets.


Dr Denise deCaires Narain was born in Guyana and has lived and taught in the Caribbean. She has published widely on Caribbean women’s writing and is interested in and published essays on the work of Jamaica Kincaid, Erna Brodber, Olive Senior and Shani Mootoo. Her monograph Contemporary Caribbean Women’s Poetry: Making Style (Routledge, 2001) is the first sustained study of Caribbean women’s poetry. She is currently researching the gendered implications of debates about orality, sexuality and popular culture in the Caribbean and in the ongoing contestation over the relevance of the categories 'postcolonial' and 'queer' within the region. Her monograph on the Jamaican short story writer, poet and cultural archivist, Olive Senior, is due out in Summer 2011 (Northcote House). It explores the distinctive Creole poetics in Senior’s work, her subversive use of 'devious respectability' and the ambivalence of her representation of migration as a guarantee of upward social mobility. Denise has recently co-edited a special edition of the Journal of West Indian Literature with Evelyn O’Callaghan and Alison Donnell on 'Shani Mootoo: Writing, Difference and the Caribbean'. She is completing an essay, 'After Creolization and Before Queer: Reflections on Naming Desire Between Women in Caribbean Literature' which suggests returning to and revising the Caribbean creolization paradigm, rather than privileging queer interpretive strategies. She is also working on a book-length study, Strange Intimacies: Representing the Servant in Postcolonial Women’s Texts, which explores how the maid/madam relationship figures in contemporary postcolonial women’s texts. Focused largely on the Caribbean, Africa, India and their diasporas, this study will interrogate the challenges and possibilities for feminisms that these relationships suggest and the hybrid literary forms which emerge in the process. Writers to be discussed include: Jamaica Kincaid, Jean Rhys, Phyllis Shand Allfrey, Shani Mootoo, Olive Senior, Zoe Wicomb, Marlene Van Niekerk, Ama Ata Aidoo, Assia Djebar, Amma Darko, Gcina Mhlophe, Kiran Desai, Anita Desai, Kamila Shamsie, Bapsi Sidhwa and Attia Hosein.


Kadija George


The Need for Black British Publishers [Panel Discussion]


Outlining the contributions of New Beacon, Bogle L’Ouverture, Hansib (highlighting the poetry they published) and the importance of what they published and when. The importance of publishing anthologies of Black British poets and reviewing (https://all-about-african-publishers.blogspot.com).


Kadija (George) Sesay, FRSA, is the founder/publisher of SABLE LitMag, SABLE LitFest, and co-founder of The Mboka Festival of Arts, Culture and Sport in The Gambia.  She is the editor of several anthologies of work by writers of African and Asian descent and the Publications Manager for the Inscribe Programme for Peepal Tree Press.  Her poetry collection, Irki (which means ‘Homeland’ in the Nubian language) (Peepal Tree Press, 2013) was shortlisted for the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry in 2014. She received an Arts Council grant for Research and Development for her second collection, the Modern Pan Africanist’s Journey and produced an app based on it, The Modern Pan Africanist’s Journey (http://www.sablelitmag.org/mpajweb1/webapp/). Kadija has received several awards for her work in the Creative Arts. She is a Fellow of the George Bell Institute, a Fellow of the Kennedy Arts Centre of Performance Arts Management. She is currently on an AHRC scholarship to research Black British Publishing at Brighton University. @kadijattu_g


Nazmia Jamal


[Panel Discussion]


Nazmia will reflect on the importance of studying poets of colour in the classroom and on the impact of bringing poets into schools.


Nazmia Jamal is the Education Manager at The Poetry Society. She taught English at an inner London comprehensive Sixth Form for many years.


Anthony Joseph


Anthony Joseph is a poet, novelist, musician and academic described as ‘the leader of the black avant-garde in Britain’. He is the author of four poetry collections, and a novel, The African Origins of UFOs for which he won an Arts Council of England Touring Award. In 2005 he was selected by the Arts Council of England and Renaissance One as one of 50 Black and Asian writers who have made major contributions to contemporary British literature. He received an AHRC postgraduate scholarship for his thesis on Trinidadian calypso icon Lord Kitchener. He has released six critically acclaimed albums as a musician and has collaborated with Archie Shepp, Jerry Dammers, Joseph Bowie, Keziah Jones and Meshell Ndgeocello who produced his 2014 album, Time. His sixth album, Caribbean Roots, was released in 2016. He lectures in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London.


Rachel Long


Spotlighting [Workshop]


‘Spotlighting’ a poem from the collection, we'll explore the collectivism of Black women's presses of the era. We'll write in response using prompts, and then we'll pool our individual ‘spotlight’ lines together to create a collective poem.


Rachel Long was awarded an Arvon/Jerwood Foundation Mentorship for poetry in 2015. Her work has featured in Butcher's Dog, Magma, and The London Magazine. Rachel is Assistant Tutor to Jacob Sam-La Rose on the Barbican Young Poets programme, and is the leader of Octavia – Poetry Collective for Women of Colour, housed at Southbank Centre. Since their creation in September 2015, Octavia have featured on BBC’s World Service and in The Guardian. They've facilitated workshops at University of Oxford and for the Serpentine Galleries. Octavia closed this year’s Women of the World festival with their poetic response to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Inspired by Octavia, Rachel has curated ‘Telling Her Story’, a monthly open workshop series for all women of colour, hosted and in partnership with Southbank Centre.


Sophie Mayer


Sophie Mayer is the co-editor (with Sarah Crewe) of Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, Binders Full of Women, and Glitter is a Gender. Her most recent poetry collections are (O) (Arc, 2015), kaolin, or How Does a Girl Like You Get to Be a Girl Like You (Lark Books, US, 2015), and the chapbook what the waste land said (Fair Ladies, 2017). She is also the author of Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema (IB Tauris, 2015), and a feminist film critic, curator and activist. @tr0ublemayer


Momtaza Mehri


Momtaza Mehri is a poet, essayist and meme archivist. Her work has been featured in DAZED, Sukoon, Berkeley Poetry Review, VINYL and Bone Bouquet. She is a Complete Works Fellow and winner of the 2017 Out-Spoken Page Poetry Prize. Her chapbook sugah lump prayer was published in 2017 as part of the New Generation African Poets series. She also co-edits Diaspora Drama, a digital platform showcasing international immigrant artists.


Nisha Ramayya


Nisha Ramayya’s pamphlets Notes on Sanskrit (2015) and Correspondences (2016) are published by Oystercatcher Press. Her writing can be found in Ambit, Datableed, Litmus, Poetry London, The White Review, and Zarf. She is a member of the ‘Race & Poetry & Poetics in the UK’ research group and a Teaching Fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London.


Nisha Ramayya & Sam Solomon




This workshop is about figuring out what it means to find and identify British poetry that has to do with questions of race, racialized experiences and identity, and categories of Britishness with regards to poetry and poets of colour. We will explore the Poetry Library’s online catalogue and physical collection, discussing the relationships between publication, race, and readership (for example, looking closely at publishers, book titles and covers, blurbs and poets’ biographies).


Savannah Sevenzo


Savannah Sevenzo studied English and Philosophy at Sussex, where she also worked as the undergraduate education officer for the Student Union. She lives in Brighton and writes when on the move. She recently completed a collection of poetry for her final year dissertation project called Colonised Objects.


Sam Solomon


Samuel Solomon is the author of Special Subcommittee (Commune Editions, forthcoming 2017) and co-translator of The Acrobat: Selected Poems of Celia Dropkin (Tebot Bach, 2014). He teaches in the School of English at the University of Sussex, where he is Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Sexual Dissidence.