TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- The Terrible!!!

Everybody gets settled in layers sometimes: relentless sediments of little things that somehow pile up, broiling into a bodily pressure. Like a stone of fruit nuzzled at the back of your throat, or the constant feeling there is something you need to do, but don’t know how- a heavy mantle of blue. Blue that prickles and hisses from time to time, flashing hot points of red that peak to a frenzy- you petrify, then stutter. Words tumbling faster into nonsense, trying to outrun and mask the wildfire infection of nerves scrambling for safety in a place of dead ends.

Emotions are a spectrum, which we all tilt and glide upon, attempting revelation, to reach that sweet spot of happy sanity. The fact that knowledge and identity are so intimately bound in such a mercurial, turbulent realm as emotion/ feeling, the foundational impulse of life impossible to define or fluently articulate, is both the saving grace and damning fall of us all. Feelings are so important, but it is so hard for us to say what we mean, to define or describe or demarcate. Today’s book- The Terrible, by Yrsa Daley-Ward- has a remarkable literacy for tremulous inklings, sinewed vibrations of soul; and while the narrative events are specific and local to one person, the articulation of the emotion behind the person is something I think everybody could benefit from reading.

The Terrible is a pretty neat title encapsulating the ‘plot’- but really, there is no strict plot so far as the traditional rules apply. Daley-Ward uses poetry in all its various styles and modern applications to weave scenes, good and Terrible ones, to tell the story of a girl’s growth through childhood with her brother towards lonely adult life, all too familiar with pain. The way each poem functions as both a standalone piece and one part of a chain makes for a very compelling read, the pace is taut but always shifting in its moods.

Another element of the writing which I found beautiful was the role of imagination and fantasy, especially in episodes in the early part of the book. In order to cope with grim adult reality infiltrating their young souls, Little Roo and the main speaker (Yrsa) concoct sparkling realms of unicorns in the night and distant kingdoms where absent fathers are kings. It is a tender and magical touch of beauty in the sprawling chaos of lives ensnared in the grip of troubles- be that money as a Northern working class family, facing racism and misogyny (misogynoir) as a black girl/ woman, or problems finding and sustaining love when you’re used to feeling less than lovable.

Some parts of the book are incredibly difficult to read, especially knowing that the events are based in reality in some way. One episode that sticks with me is how the protagonist (Yrsa) behaves towards another stripper whilst working; the betrayal of female love and friendship for the dirty money of a nasty man is not something you can read without your heart hurting. The desolation and depression seems unbearable, but that only makes it all the more astounding that somehow, beauty was forged by Daley-Ward from it all. She survived the Terrible, in herself and the world, and she has crafted magnificence.

If you’re feeling some kind of way and don’t know how to say it I recommend this book; Daley-Ward has a striking clarity with the powerful, direct language that she uses, tempered by whimsical strains of tenderness and imagination to bring the harmony. If you are feeling down trodden, lonely or lost The Terrible will show you how one girl coped with it- that infinite, unspeakable place called the mind that we all have in common.

“You may not run away from the thing that you are
because it comes and come and comes as sure as you
breathe. As certain. The thing is deep inside your linings, way
down in the marrow. People have a lot of words for it…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- ASSATA SHAKUR!!!

Hello everybody!!! It has been a HOT MINUTE since I posted on here, so excuse me if this is long…  BUT ANYWAYS!!! Todays book is thoroughly inspiring and informative, offering an alternative history; the flip side of a coin that has us all in its clutches, exposing the sinister and ubiquitous state sanctioned violence that upholds white western capitalist patriarchies. It is with great esteem and admiration that I introduce todays book… ASSATA: An Autobiography. The story of the FBI’s most wanted woman.

First and foremost: Assata Shakur is a fucking bad ass and we should all worship at her feet. Now we have that out the way I can make my next statement: how and why isn’t Assata’s story more pronounced in popular culture and mainstream histories of Black American resistance to racism?!? We all know Malcolm and Martin, but where was Assata on the history syllabus?!? Perhaps my ignorance stems from individual laziness, or a lack of prompts into further investigation from a white background unconcerned with disrupting the status quo. But I also strongly believe larger white supremacist algorithms have worked hard at disrupting the astounding influence of Assata’s activism, painting her out to be a monster rather than the martyr she truly is.

Prior to reading her book, the only knowledge I had of Assata was that she is Tupac’s god mother, and was in the Black Panthers. In my basicness, I imagined god-like qualities for her, assuming that she had been born enlightened and was always down for Black liberation the moment she exited the womb. Reading Assata, you follow the events and experiences that accumulated towards her acute awareness of racial inequality- how she describes the segregated south and its forbidden amusement parks, or how cruel she was to the first boy who loved her on account of his skin and how other kids teased him. It is not easy sailing following the path that unfolded for Assata to learn her activism, her enlightenment to violent abuse systemically and sustainably enacted upon the Black American community (I could go into her developing awareness of gender differences as well, but despite her undeniable intersectional feminism, Assata’s book is proudly preoccupied with racial politics).

However, as this is a very personal account and as Assata is still in hiding (she can’t give certain names or go in-depth about her escape, as the US government could use it against her), it feels like some larger historical details and general explanations of political happenings are missing. If you are wanting to educate yourself on the wider history of Black Liberation, especially the Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army, then this book is a great place to start but you will still need to do further reading to fully build the whole picture.

Assata has a brilliant knack for exposing hidden realities underpinning the seemingly innocuous face of the ‘American Dream’. She interjects some history lessons about the American Civil war alongside the unfolding of her own education, as she was taught to praise Northern America for helping end slavery, feeling betrayed and rightly furious when deeper investigation during her college years revealed a very different truth. Assata critiques many facets of culture where black people are exploited but never praised, and thanks to Assata spilling the tea I now no longer like Elvis Presley. It is mind-boggling when you become aware of the double-sided nature of things, how the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy masquerades in flowered dresses to hide the wolf within.

Despite the scathing and rightly critical analysis of racism in American society, her voice throughout is an inviting one. There’s a bohemian coolness underlying a zealous love for life, and disrespect for abusive authority in all its manifestations. You get the sense of somebody loud but not arrogant, somebody striving to find beauty rather than be it. The style of writing is traditional prose, which narrated by Assata’s keen wit and tenderness, makes for an easy but emotional read. One element of the novel I really enjoyed was the inclusion of some of Assata’s poetry, it was interesting to see the contrast and similarities between her prose and poetry. There is a directness of line and sparse intensity of language in the poems that really enhances the prosaic progression of narrative; adding deeper intimacy into how she was feeling at the time.

Ultimately this autobiography does exactly what it should: gives unprecedented access into the inner mind of one of the 20th century’s most radical revolutionaries. Her bravery and determination in defying the norms of a fucked up world are very inspiring- resisting arrest, giving birth in prison, escaping to Cuba- and I wish I had found this book earlier on. Not only to learn more about the history of Black Liberation to fight white supremacism manifest in all western capitalist societies, but because I really think she is a great role model. Assata teaches us to think for ourselves, to know your enemies and not build your own prison from their lies, her story is for anybody who wants to dedicate their life to being a free individual.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXO

“…My patience was zero. i didn’t want to wait for something to happen. i was into living and living for now. i was hungry, starving for life, but at the same time i was growing more and more cynical every day. i wanted to go everywhere, do everything, and be everything, all at the same time. i wanted to experience everything, know how everything felt. i had many zigzag conflicting ideas rolling around in my head at the same time. One day i was happy just to be alive and young and moving. The next day i felt like the world was coming to the end. Everything in my life was jagged, sharp, unfinished edges. Nothing happened calmly. Nothing was like i had thought it would be when i was little…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- THE HOUSE OF IMPOSSIBLE BEAUTIES!!!

Helloooo!!!!!

It has been a hot minute since I last blessed the internet with my unwarranted literary insights and opinions, BUT NO WORRIES I AM STILL HERE TO BLABBER INTO THE ETHER!!!! The book today is a slightly chunkier tome which may be why it took me a tad longer to organise my thoughts but I am so glad to have ploughed through, which ended up happening with ever increasing speed- such irresistible words. It has beauty and tenderness at its core, swirling in a universe of New York streets, glittering fineries and many, many cigarettes. The House of Impossible Beauties, by Joseph Cassara is not a book that will leave you quickly.

Paradoxically, it was actually by watching TV that I found out about Impossible Beauties. For anyone whose eyes haven’t yet been graced by the drama unfolding in the TV show POSE (The Category is: FIERCENESS!), then get on it!!!!! Pose (and Cassara’s novel) is inspired by ballroom culture curated by lgbtq+ people of colour from mainly Black and Hispanic descent- in particular and especially transgender women and drag queens- during the 1970s/80s onwards in New York. Mostly rejected by their original ‘nuclear’ families, young gender non-conforming people would come to the city homeless, and (hopefully) become members of their own self-made communities; putting on Balls, runway dance battle extravaganzas to celebrate (and read to filth) each other’s’ existence, dressing as whoever they wanted to be, away from the cruel white supremacist, heterosexual mainstream.

Impossible Beauties is inspired by the lives of Angie Xtravaganza and Venus Xtravaganza- of the Xtravaganza House- two transgender women who should be celebrated for their undeniable contribution to queer culture, but also towards fashion and club history. One criticism I have read, is that Cassara based his novel on real history without doing the necessary research. I believe he couldn’t conduct any face to face interviews with people who had been influential in the scene, and many dates in the novel are not in synch with details surrounding how the AIDS epidemic impacted lgbtq+ life. I will say there seems to be a lot of empty gaps in the novel, often serious events in the characters’ lives are omitted, and regarding scene setting- there is only one ball actually detailed in the entire book! I think omitting the personal scenes is one way to emphasise already devastating loss further, letting emptiness breathe for itself. A lot more effort has gone into imagining quotidian detail in fleshing out past backstories and how characters relate with each other, which I do still adore. It just would have made a lot more sense to set a greater portion of the book at the actual balls, considering that is what it’s based off!

Having said that, what the book lacks in historical clarity is made up for with emotional detail: this book will make you smile, it will make you weep. The way the characters are followed as they grow up into themselves, only to be misunderstood or devalued somehow, and the damage that leaves, is a searing study on the humanity of outsider-ness. All of them- Angel, Dorian, Venus, Hector, Juanito and Daniel- are fun-loving souls entangled in the needless brutality of a world that doesn’t want them to be fabulous. The love they have for each other is immense, but this love comes with an unspeakable baggage of trauma, trauma they must navigate around each other. But humans are humans, mistakes are made, and devastating hurt ensues. I did not think a book could be so brimming with laughter and dancing and sequins, yet simultaneously so deeply rooted in pain, violence and goodbyes.

Historically it may not be 100%, but Cassara certainly does not wash over lgbtq+ history with rose tinted glasses to make everything one big piss up of amnesia. Without giving too much away, one of the most heart wrenching parts for me was how the AIDS epidemic at the time is portrayed: too, too many people dying with no explanation why; people losing their lovers without being able to say it as such, grieving alone. (Never forget) Impossible Beauties is a testimony to the absolute zenith of glamour and feisty togetherness that Ballrooms gave, and a eulogy to everybody who lost all that they had in the name of living for love, real love.

May we always continue to delight in the beauty and glamour that femme queens have been serving for themselves, with a sincere and sober commitment to fight for and defend the political rights that enable such brilliance. If The House of Impossible Beauties has anything to teach us, it’s that beauty wears a brave face. Beauty always survives.

“It is about love, but a different kind. A kind that you can only find and not substitute for. And I think it’s hard for them to realise. So they go out to the balls for all the wrong reasons. Not all of them, but most of them. They go out seeking an audience of adoring fans who aren’t gonna hurl shade. And they go out looking for their Adam or their Eve, their other half, the other pea in the pod, or whatever you want to imagine it as.

I just want to shake all those darlings. Love is great, it is. But it’s also so brief. Didn’t these kids ever learn that even in the Garden of Eden, someone betrayed the other?”

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXXOXOXXOXOXOX

PS: If you are interested in learning more about transgender history and the origins of much of lgbtq+ culture now (*ahem RUPAUL*), I also highly recommend watching the documentary Paris is Burning!!!

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- FRANKISSSTEIN!!!

Hello everyone! I chose today’s book as it definitely fits in with the Pride Month focus of exploring/championing views that challenge our heteronormative cis-gendered capitalist white supremacist patriarchy (phew that’s a lot of words to just mean BULLYBOY BULLSHIT). This book is vanguard in its scope, both experimental in it use of time in narrative and the technological horizons it purports for our shared future. At turns movingly reflective, laugh out loud funny, and just plain fucking weird (Fancy some disembodied limbs having a lark about? LOVES IT!), I shall take no further ado in introducing FRANKISSTEIN: A Love Story, by one of my fave authors, the indomitable Jeanette Winterson.

The book is a retelling of Frankenstein’s monster, grappling with the implications of creating independent life in the context of 21st Century robots and AI. Blending Mary Shelley’s life from eloping with Percy to her time writing in the Alps (not in that chronological order), with modern day Brexit Britain and the sci-fi exploits of a transgender doctor named Ry. It isn’t ever made explicit, but the characters are not ‘singular’ in this novel; each separate voice and its emotions bleed into how another narrates their own movement in a certain blob of time. Ry and Mary share similar sentiments in their different threads, and Winterson has created a comedic gem in her rendering of Lord Byron into a modern day Welsh sex-bot manufacturer, Ron Lord. Turning Byron’s hyper-masculinity and sexual promiscuity into a caricature of modern fuckboi pathetic-ness and surprising vulnerability.

Sometimes this layering and fracturing of different stories into one ‘thread’ leaves you feeling a bit wanting, as there are gaps of detail which, me being the pesky Virgo that I am, would love to go into the nitty gritty of more. But overall, I think the overlapping and collapsing of different realities to create a transgressive take on the repercussions of Frankenstein’s monster on the world is uber clever. Huge jumps in time and consciousnesses inevitably need empty space to move. To give all this jibber jabber I am spouting cohesion I will briefly outline the plot: Ry, a transgender medical doctor, finds themselves enthralled by the passionate yet dangerous affections of a world famous AI scientist, Victor Stein. Victor Stein is all about furthering human intelligence beyond the material limitations of the body, mainly how bodies naturally decay and take the brain with them, and how bodies impinge upon our freedom, encasing us in identities we may/may not fully align with on the inside. It emerges that Stein’s interest in Ry is not merely (or even mainly?) based in romance, but an intellectual desire that goes beyond what Ry could ever imagine.

Sometimes the way Stein reflects on Ry being transgender and the scientific implications of that did make me feel a bit uncomfortable, as at the end of the day all identities are not scientific theses but just fucking breathing beings, whose personhoods do not need to be so intricately theorized. But, no progress comes without knowledge and the way Stein conjectures about transgenderism may sometimes be alarmingly OTT, but is ultimately rooted in admiration not fear. Granted, that admiration thrives in a distance of not actually understanding what Ry lives through (Ron constantly mis-genders them as one example of a daily micro-aggression, but Ry always bites back with a wit that is very satisfying) but that is why their relationship is so deliciously precarious. The loneliness of love.

Transgenderism is entwined with transhumanism in Victor’s mind and the awesome potential of choosing your own destiny- biological or technological existence- a parallel beyond what Ry really envisions for their self. Ry doesn’t want to be warped into machines or protected by a metal shell, they just want love returned. And Winterson is a writer who profoundly and deftly deals with the big L word. In Frankissstein, computer algorithms and mathematical systems are the language in which love expresses itself for Victor. For Ry, the grandness of Victor’s vision for humanity escaping the tyranny of flesh becomes more pernicious and authoritarian as the plot unfolds, and the battle no longer is just one of social ethics and practical technological advancements. How can we feel love without our bodies? Is it fair to teach a robot always to give, but never feel love in the same way for themselves? And if we really can return to each other in another life, will we be wearing angel wings or tin cases? Is it possible to fall in love without faces?

Frankissstein can sometimes be rather meta in how deep Winterson gets into discussing technology, but this seriousness is offset with a tender romanticism and undeniable humour- there’s a bit where Ron and a Christian fundamentalist called Claire end up hitting it off which really did make my head spin in giggling. I recommend Frankissstein if you are prepared for your mind to be blown with scientific prophecies, for an adventure of bodies exploring internal landscapes of love in a technological future already unfolding. THANK YOU JEANETTE FOR ANOTHER BANGER!!!!! XOXOXOXOXXOXOXOXOXXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOOXOXOXOXOXOXOOXOXOXOXOXOX

“Victor shrugged. There is a view that love, because it begins so spontaneously, is also simple. Yet if love engages our whole being and affects our whole world, how can it be simple? The days of simple are done- if they ever existed. Love is not a pristine planet before contaminants and pollutants, before the arrival of Man. Love is a disturbance among the disturbed.”

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- FRESHWATER!!!

Todays’ book has me utterly besotted. It is one of the best – in my humble opinion- that I have read recently, way up there with Audre and Patti. I first found out about it because it is one of the longlisted books for the 2019 ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction’, but, more interestingly to me, it is the first book in the prize’s 27 year run to be written by a non-binary transgender author. By glorious coincidence, just as I finished this oracle of a book the months had changed to welcome in the beginning of PRIDE season- so what better way to usher in a month of acknowledging and understanding all things and people non-heteronormative or cis-gendered than by celebrating a book sincerely invested in expanding that conversation even more? Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi is stunning, wild and daring in its pursuit of defining freedom in identity: who really are we, and to whom do we belong, if not ourselves?

I didn’t realise it until mid-way through after reading some interviews, but Freshwater is actually a fictionalised representation of ‘real’ autobiographical experiences. I had been reading, stunned and touched that somehow, some stranger had put into words feelings I had never known myself how to articulate. To then learn that this story wasn’t pure imagination spoken through an art form, but grounded in and woven through actual breath and body was serious magic. This blurring of fiction and non-fiction is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to Emezi’s dismantling of oppressive reason and the destruction of organizing meta-narratives rooted in binaries. Freshwater vibrates with a low humming queerness and punk, strung through a modern indigenous ‘fairy tale’ of Nigerian spirits from another realm.

We follow Ada from birth throughout *her* becoming, however this isn’t a story of growing up- it isn’t wholly her speaking. It is the tale of the spirits trapped inside her- who both are and are not her, who want to live so badly, just not here– and what they make her do in the pursuit of their own freedom. The Obanje spirits are at once mischievous, malicious and innocent- not good or bad, childlike yet wise beyond years with their inherent knowings. They rail against the torture of individualized embodiment, the concomitant fears and consequences that come with realizing you are one and singular… to then throw away their rules. The sprits know they aren’t alone in Ada, she is of them.

In my feeble reckonings, I think the integral mission of Freshwater is to make known the alienating, terrifying, yet utterly freeing and beautiful realisations that come through the collapsing of the binary and fusion of supposed opposites. Deviation flows in abundance through Freshwater, a transgression of established borders, the edges we put up to organize ourselves which only leave us lonely: Blurring happy/sad, god/mortal, insanity/sanity, life/ death, the individual/ the crowd, male / female, black / white, animality / humanity, emotion /empirical fact… INTERCONNECTEDNESS IS A SECRET NO MORE!!! Awareness of self and the construction of destiny is rendered back to primal impressions, where knowledge is powerful because it cannot be appropriated for gain or purpose; it simply is what it is, and that’s who you are- for one moment.

I will stop fangirling now, but for anyone interested in concepts of multitudes and hybridity, I cannot recommend this book enough. Akwaeke Emezi has created a world of sprightliness and depth; intoxicating in its imaginings of private mental space, made vivid through the scaffolds of reality structured around raw flux at its centre. Freshwater was also a breath of fresh air for me, and I can’t wait for what else Akwaeke Emezi has in store!!!!!!

“…This is all, ultimately, a litany of madness- the colours of it, the sounds it makes in heavy nights, the chirping of it across the shoulder of the morning. Think of brief insanities that are in you, not just the ones that blossomed as you grew into taller, more sinful versions of yourself, but the ones you were born with, tucked behind your liver. Take us, for instance…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- INNUA ELLAMS!!!!

Hello!!!! Today’s post is going to be a little bit different from how I usually write, because there is actually a bit of a real life story behind how I discovered this author! EXCITING!!!! I went to a poetry workshop last week in York and to a poetry Slam- Say Owt– afterwards (with my doting lover, I know they would not want to be left out of this post aha). I wish I could go into detail about all the marvellous Slammers I witnessed- bright, quick-witted poets showcasing the intelligence of the mighty North. But to be frank, I was giddy on rum and reefer and my time there wasn’t solely for intellectual probings, but to have a good lark. I know the winner of the Slam was Dami Okhiria, a medical student training to be a doctor at Cardiff uni. Her first poem used humour to talk about the seriousness of domestic violence, and had everyone laughing then holding back tears- it was FIRE, and I hope she manages to get more of her work out into the world in the future!!!!!!! But I am not going to write about her work, but about Innua Ellams. He taught our workshop before the slam, all based around personal story-telling and how to interrogate objects into speaking narratives for you. I got his book, which he read at the slam: Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars. Hence, this blog post.

I got goosebumps reading Candy Coated Unicorns, loving the balance of humour with sentimentality, solids with light, and of plot, storytelling with abstract poetic imagery. The way some of the poems slotted themselves into a wider chain of imaginative events reminded me of how many of my own poems start out: the bones of a moment, a snippet of story that I can mould into other meanings- creating fiction from a private timeline of ‘fact’.

Ellams is a Nigerian author who has lived in the UK for much of his life, and one renowned aspect of his work is celebrating and exploring race in an anti-colonialist agenda (he has also had plays performed at Edinburgh fringe) and whilst that isn’t the main focus of Unicorns, it is clear how resistance to authoritarian powers always informs his poetry, the need to create meaning and beauty: a refusal to contain your mind in one lonely world is in itself a rebellious way to think, the first step of manifesting hope.

The stories told in these poems are a treasure trove of detail and sound: each blends surreal, busy magic with a curiosity for expanding upon what we see as material into a bridge towards more iridescent states of being. I want to finish this blog post with a section of Corinne Bailey Rae. I interpret it as a scene captured of life, of the speaker listening to Corinne in their room and watching the small world around unfurl fresh textures of colour as music tumbles out of a speaker somewhere. The specific moment described that I love is just sunlight hitting a glass- every day spellbinding in the air. This poem reminded me of the importance of respecting the tiniest of motes in the shortest of moments, because you never know when poetry will come to whisk it up into heaven. I will definitely keep an eye out for more of Ellams’ poetry and that like it, and please do let me know if you do it! 🙂  xoxoxoxxoxxoxxox

….

“The beam hits a tumbled glass and scatters,
the glass plays prism, a rainbow pallet splatters
and colours come into their own, red rides an apple,
bleeds into a burning candle’s orange glow, wax
drips onto a copy of Othello, the yellow’d paper
greens where blue ink stains, fades to a dusty
indigo, rests on a violet folder.

This harmonious violent, accidental rainbow
hits a mirror and smatters across the room, sends
a thousand things twinkling in the summer gloom.
A confined borealis blinks, sinks into the swirl
and soft madness of a still warm duvet: the ghost
of sleep rises to meet the ghost of music, entwines
in the sparse sparkle. Worn footpaths in the carpet
look like crop circles, and a natural mystic fills the air.

…….

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- LINTON KWESI JOHNSON!!!!

Hello everyone! Today’s blog post is all about the Jamaican-British, Reggae-poet genius of the one and only LINTON KWESI JOHNSON, dub and rhyme master of the verse!!!!! 

Before reading his poetry, I knew Johnson was the only living poet to have the honour of their work being published by Penguin Classics, normally reserved for deceased writers of greatness only. So he is a pretty big fucking deal to be a LITERAL living classic. To give a brief summary of him before I talk more about his poetry: Linton Kwesi Johnson was born in Jamaica, but moved to Tulse Hill to join his mother again in 1963. He was involved in the British Black Panthers during the the 70s and 80s, and now has poetry accolades and awards coming out of his ears! His engagement with combining music and poetry has led to the creation of an almost spoken-word reggae poetics on music albums, and is majorly interesting! If you don’t like reading poetry, just listen to his songs instead!

His poetry deals with the visceral ups and downs of life for Caribbean immigrants in London, the potentials for joy and violence in the instability of transitioning from one life to another in a hostile country. They celebrate brotherhood and youth culture, exploring the city and new language forming from the mixing of Creole and patois with standard English. A big fuck you to colonial logic, separatism and binaries, and the hierarchies of language alongside race. The poems spit in the face of authority: Johnson writes of police brutality with a fast paced anger, and whilst his poetry does not expand on imagery or soft lyricism, the guttural iterations of his reggae rhythms pack all the descriptive punch you need to grasp the systemic violence he sees. Sadly, its not just the police who instigate strife: Johnson also writes of the violence amongst immigrants at that time fighting with each other. It isn’t hard to work out how Johnson’s themes- immigration, law and order, racism, community and class- make his poetry timeless even today. What with Brexit, Windrush, the refugee crisis and general global disdain for immigrants and travellers of all kinds- Johnson’s poetry brings forth a marginalised displacement I am certain many still live through now, and that everybody must respect and pay witness to.   

For better or for worse- depending on your preferred style- the only way to truly appreciate the sonic mastery and rhythmic precision of these poems is to read them aloud. I know! It does seem silly to read aloud sometimes, and especially if- like myself- you are a somewhat nerdy white girl who really has no idea how to pronounce some of the words and have no intention of being a culture vulture/ putting on a blaccent. BUT I STILL INSIST! Much of the language is more phonetic anyways, so even if you cant understand what a word is on the page odds are as soon as you say it aloud the meaning will reveal itself. And once you grasp the pattern of a verse, and feel the pauses in your breath- the reggae powers do the rest. I can attest from first hand experience, as me and my lover read some of these poems together aloud, and even though we did have a bit of a laugh at each other, hearing the words spoken really is captivating. We also decided the poetry was best enjoyed the most authentic way- with a fat zoot…

These are poems not to be dithered about, and so I will stop waffling here. These poems are for crowds- to read in the park, the pub or political rally- to hear rhythm and feel emotional truths, not silently in loneliness piking metaphor apart. They are bodacious in character and precious in history, with a distinct vernacular and vocabulary that still manages to talk to us in this moment, about problems which should have been solved a long time ago… I shall leave you with an extract from a poem both Elvis and I loved: INGLAN IS A BITCH. And it truly is. England is a fucking bitch, we have to do better. XOXOXOXOXO


Inglan Is A Bitch


well mi dhu day wok an mi dhu nite work
mi dhu clean wok an mi dhu dutty wok
dem seh dat black man is very lazy
but if yu si how mi wok yu woodah seh mi crazy

Inglan is a bitch
dere’s no escapin it
Inglan is a bitch
yu bettah face up to it