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

WORLD POETRY DAY!!!!!!

Hello everyone, AND HAPPY WORLD POETRY DAY!!!!!!! MAY WE ALL BASK IN THE BOUNTIFUL LUMINESCENCE OF THIS GLORIOUS ART FORM!!!!!!!! ❤ ❤ ❤

I think it is self-evident by now that I really believe in the power of poetry to heal, inspire and give souls a home in the vibrating thorax of life’s cosmic mystery. Poetry can do anything! It can take you to Mars, or to ancient Greece. It can make you want to weep for beauty and love and to hold onto each pore and detail of life until you sprout wings. It can make you laugh, give you chills or knock you out for six. Poetry has had a role for centuries in helping couples express their joy at weddings, and consoled the ineffable devastation of lost life at funerals. Whether you’re a fascist scumbag or a freedom fighter, you will use poetry to define your goals, to explain your mission for better or worse. Poetry is too often confined to the frivolous, or to the dark back alleys of academia for allegedly being too difficult to be classed as entertaining… SICKENING LIES!!!! Poetry can be as deep or as silly as you will it, and one of the joys of my life is scouring the internet, and any book shelves that I see for obscure poets from across the world; people dead or alive, who I may meet or never. I may be able to identify with them, but more likely than not we are aliens to each other. And it is a miracle on earth when a stranger can say with clarity what you have had within you all along. Poetry connects us to the universe, and helps us create more of it for ourselves and others to share.

I know I am gushing, but poetry is a force worth gushing over. Poetry can define our lives like songs or smells can, evoking emotions again from a time you thought you could never return to. Poetry smashes the clock. I remember being tucked up in bed, my soft smelling wet hair tangled upon the pillow as the rest of me from the stomach downwards dipped slightly lower- my father’s body sitting on the side of the bed, weighting down the mattress with his loveable chub. We adored A.A Milne’s poetry, and his favourite was King John’s Christmas– an epic tale of a man’s redemption back into the world of community after corrupting forces of authority almost smother his soul:

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out…

After King John, I remember The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. The lyricism and pace of the poem thrilled my little ears, imagining a lone silhouetted rider and dark hooves pounding on a moon drenched road, breaking out red sparks against the din of night. Our teacher, Miss Armstrong, let us listen to a folk song version of the poem, and I still remember the sweat of my palms gripped tight around a pencil, writing as fast as I could, trailing each line and break of the song to scrawl down the words so I wouldn’t forget. Miss Armstrong thought I wasn’t listening and told me off, but I am proud of the little geek I have always been. The Highwayman enthralled and enamoured me with its drama and gothic flare- the beginning of a lifelong dedication to bringing motion to a moment- capturing speed, pulse and the story that beats.

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.   
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.   
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   
And the highwayman came riding—
         Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

I am acutely aware that considering I pride myself on trying to keep this a feminist friendly blog I haven’t even mentioned one female poet who kicks ass yet! So, for brevity’s sake I will fast forward to now and pick one of the bright stars shining out of the current milleu of poets I love to read. The latest poet who made me literally sob, her words are so sincere and powerful is the British- Nigerian poet, Therese Lola. Lola’s first collection is a grappling with faith in the face of her grandfather developing Alzheimer’s. She talks of the impact of the gradual loss of his memory upon her family, how this affects how they are able to love each other and God. But, the first poem to really give me tingles was not about her family or faith- it explores depression and the pressure of ‘beauty’ upon women, particularly black women.

I will include it here, as a new poem to make you think this World Poetry Day! I hope you give yourself time to at least read a haiku, or maybe try writing a little sonnet or sestina of your own! Poetry is truly for the people, and I hope we can all continue to keep it blossoming as a force for growth and intelligent emotion! POETRY IS POWER NEVER FORGET GOD MADE THE WORLD WITH WORDS, YOU TOO ARE A POWERFUL CREATOR! XOXOXOXOXXOXOXOXOXOOXO

Black Marilyn

Today I woke up surprised I was still alive,
last thing I remember was my body swinging
from a ceiling of inadequacies.
In my head I have died in so many ways
I must be a god the way I keep resurrecting
into prettier caskets.

In Lagos, a photograph of Marilyn Monroe watches me
in my hotel room as I scrub my body
like it’s a house preparing for an estate agent’s visit.
I think Marilyn wants to say something to me,
the way her mouth is always open
like a cheating husband’s zipper.

My mind carries more weapons
than all war-torn countries combined.
Every day I survive is worth a medal or two.
I celebrate by buying more clothes than I can afford.
I must be rich, my void is always building
a bigger room to accommodate new things.

Marilyn’s photographer, Lawrence Schiller, said
Marilyn was afraid that she was nothing
more than her beauty.
You can call me arrogant, call me black Marilyn,
come celebrate with me,
I am so beautiful death can’t take its eyes off me.

-Therese Lola

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- ‘Happier’ by Tal Ben-Shahar

Hello beautiful people!!!! Today’s book was actually an unexpected read for me, as I found it festering amongst neglected leaves of newspaper piling up around the computer at home. At first I was sceptical of how good it could be considering it was just a freebie. But would you give it credence, it did actually turn out to be rather useful and interesting… it is Tal Ben-Shahar’s ‘Happier: Can you learn to be happy?

Happier is all about that: if and how we can learn to be happier people. It emerges pretty quickly in this self-help guide that happiness definitely isn’t a fixed inheritance or finite chemical resource that ebbs effortlessly from seemingly god-blessed beings of perfection, distant icons of inspiration who never worry or struggle to feel beauty or joy. Happiness is an innate prescient energy within us all, but like any muscle or lesson it has to become a consciously chosen habit to make a lasting difference to how you live your life. Ben-Shahar strongly advocates that everybody has a capacity for building up happiness, but that it isn’t as simple as just accomplishing your goals or doing what you’re told and expecting to be rewarded forever after with bliss. Nope, not at all. Happiness cannot be made into an object; is not money, the ‘perfect body’, or thousands of admirers- whatever ‘thing’ you believe would make you content. Those objects are symbols of status and safety in our capitalist world, but in themselves alone are meaningless without a jolly soul to enjoy, appreciate and give them value. Happiness, in this book, must be a sustained and cultivated perspective- of seeing and being- for it to be of any sincere use.

Happiness is defined by Ben-Shahar as synthesis and balance: harmonising present pleasure with long term self-concordant goals of personal significance. At the beginning, he diagnoses three types of people with different methods for survival, and he refers back to these archetypes throughout.

There’s the rat-racer: somebody who works hard for success with little time to enjoy themselves, and whose happiness is only ever ephemeral. Rat-racers mistake the relief they feel when a goal is reached for happiness, but because relief implicitly means there was discomfort before, happiness only ever comes after suffering. This yo-yo between constantly working like a frenzied bitch and then gasping for air evidently is not a nice way to live BUT THANKS CAPITALISM!!!

Next there’s the hedonist: somebody who has given up on the delayed pleasure and incessant slogging of the rat-racer, and instead chooses to only focus on present pleasure with no thought for the future, or what is really meaningful to strive for. They want to relax, but because they have nothing to temper the hours, eventually what once brought pleasure is just a bore. Ennui and despondency sink in, having nothing to make the pleasure meaningful, and so the hedonist becomes the final archetype. The nihilist: Somebody who has given up on finding meaningful work, and given up on the idea that pleasure brings happiness. The nihilist believes life has no purpose or pleasure and there’s nothing to do about it (can relate)…

BUT THAT’S WHERE TAL BEN-SHAHAR STEPS IN! In Happier, there’s different sections for different aspects of life- your work/career, love life, family and aspirations- where Ben-Shahar explains what could currently be wrong with the way we have become accustomed to think, and gives exercises to help us see ourselves better so we know what to do differently. He uses footnotes and real psychology research, so this is bona fide advice for any of the haters out there. And ultimately I think the lesson that the book showed me is perspective, and what you choose to prioritize in your life.

Like, you can’t always control what happens to you or how people you love (or not) treat you, but you can choose how to respond and conduct yourself. You can choose not to let it be a reflection of your worth, and not to let it grind you down or make you behave nasty. I think it is a call to a more authentic dialogue with the self, to really listen and be tough with yourself about whether the current things you think are important, or which get you down, really are important or deserve to have that power of emotions over you. If you listen to what you, ONLY YOU- not what TV or teachers or magazines or priests or singers or celebrities or friends or doctors or enemies or lovers have told you- then there can be no doubt as to what will really make you happy.

It made me think a lot about the commodification of emotion too, the sense that our western culture operates on the idea that obtaining certain things (wealth, beauty, popularity) imbues you with a corresponding emotion. IT IS ALL LIES, because if we are always changing and each one of us different, how can we possibly all need the same objects/goals to be happy?! The book is a reality check: None of us have been explicitly given a list of things that we have to do before we die. The sadness sets in when we feel we’ve lost power over this opportunity of freedom to make our own definitions, and choices of what happiness is and looks like to us. Do not let other people decide your life for you. To me, the good life is a zoot with my friends, a cup of tea and a book, writing poems and thinking of ideas about literature and society and THE UNIVERSE. To my brother it is art, star wars and frankfurters. To my dogs it is good smelling mud, a warm fire, cuddles and chews. We are all so wonderful and none of us live long enough, so don’t let other people think or decide things about you for you, it can never bring happiness, just more of the same: more people all aiming for a small plinth of fabricated grandiose, money and celebrity, and all climbing over and crushing each other to get there.

One of my favourite ideas that Ben-Shahar puts forward is that of the spreading of happiness being like a revolution, BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T LIVE FOR REVOLTUION AM I RIGHT LADIES?!? It can’t fail like other revolutions, where people have been forced externally to submit to new habits, because happiness cannot be forced or indoctrinated. It can only come from depths of yourself, and if it really is happiness and not pride or ego, shouldn’t ever bring others down. To Ben-Shahar happiness isn’t a competition, but infinity- you never want the feeling to end, you want a party to make the whole world dance! Helping yourself makes you more able of helping others, and looking at the state of the world right now, we definitely need to be helping and looking out for each other more.

To finish (sorry for this long cheesy post, the book has a lot to say and I have no qualms with being cheesy) I will include a quote as per usual. The book really isn’t long, and is accessible in its language and exercises so I really would recommend it to everybody! Whether you are in serious need of some guidance through murky waters, or just want to strengthen an already jolly soul- Happier might be able to help!!!! XOXOXOXOX

“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. It is when we liberate ourselves from our fear of happiness that we can help others… ”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- New River Press Yearbook 2019!!!

Hello Everyone! Today’s post is a bit of a shameless self-promotion, but I am that bitch and so WHO CARES!?! I am going to talk a little about a poetry anthology I am very honoured and excited to be a part of, ‘WHEN THEY START TO LOVE YOU AS A MACHINE YOU SHOULD RUN’: The New River Press Yearbook of 2019. An anthology of poetry and poets, some well-known names, and people who have never been published before in their lives. Young and old, all genders, races and creeds, and most importantly- completely different perspectives and modes of seeing the world.

The New River Press is a small quirky publisher from London who already have made a bit of a name for themselves in supporting and publishing poets like Heathcote Williams (I have read his collection about Trump, ‘American Porn’ and it is a powerful read) and Greta Bellamacina, who has curated anthologies of love poetry and most recently ‘Smear’– an anthology of poetry for girls. The press strikes me as quite bohemian, trying to see with an untainted, innate eye the fragments of magic that break through the cracks of mundane routine. The range of topics they publish is vast, spanning from the metaphysical poetry of love, to other works being resolutely rooted in atoms and sound, tracing the reverberations of the city, its people and their ideas. I only heard of New River Press via learning about the poetry of Bellamacina, and decided to try enter their competition on a whim, a burst of hot air happiness in my head one moment scrolling through twitter. I didn’t actually think they would accept any of my poems, but I loved myself and so decided to choose hope over not trying at all AND IT WORKED!!!

I have grown into the habit of always trying to be modest and let other people decide whether things I do are ‘good’ or not, but on this occasion (and into the future, hopefully) I don’t give a fuck about being a fabulous brat and blowing my own trumpet because IT IS EXCITING TO WRITE AND PUBLISH AND READ POETRY!!!! I feel honoured for my work to be included in such a wide-ranging, yet tremendously sincere and creative book alongside other souls with a poetic mission. On the cover is a picture of the tender prophet Allen Ginsberg, and it does feel wonderful to be able to connect with so many ideas and people, in the past for inspiration and in the present for community to keep poetry flowing through all peoples liberating dreaming from its subjugation. There are 200 poets in the anthology, so I can’t possibly talk about them all with justice, but just to give you a taste of what this anthology covers…

There’s chaotic minglings of the material city and digital anxieties, spiralling moons into memes to discuss the isolation and confusion of modern living (Zia Ahmed). There’s hating Klimt and Tequila (Nika Kechaeva), and forgiving others for what they haven’t even done yet (Phoebe Bishop-Wright). Dead flowers help console the insurmountable and inexpressible reality of things (Lily Ashley), whilst buying gas station bouquets speak of how love always searches its muckiest pockets for change to give (Dean Brindley). I could go on and on, but to summarize: this anthology is vast in the visions it includes, the infinite potentials for new ways of seeing and being. As it says on the blurb, Andre Breton’s description of poetry encapsulates the mood and mantra of what the New River Press aims for: ‘DREAMING WITH YOUR EYES OPEN’.

If you are interested in getting a copy, have a look online (http://www.thenewriverpress.com/shopn) !!!! I was given a discount code when my work was accepted and am allowed to share it, so if you would like the code just message me and I can give it to you!!! J

The poem of mine included is ‘I AM A WORTHLESS BOAT’, a modern translation of Shakespeare’s 80th sonnet and part of one my final projects at undergraduate level which I am still working on. Worthless Boat is about knowing you aren’t necessarily the sharpest tool in the shed, but still trying to create a ramshackle magnificence of love with the grime and beauty that cannot be wiped clean- it is a poem for romantic underdogs.

If you want to read it, go get a copy or message me and I can send you the page!!!!! I do hope you will give the anthology and New River Press a try, to cleanse some of the muck of ‘reality’ away from your cosmic lens aha and release the poet within us all! LIBERATE YOUR MIND FROM THE SHAKLES OF DRUDGERY AND EXPAND YOUR COSMIC HORIZONS!!!!! Xoxoxxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!- ‘Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far’

Hello everyone! Today’s post is going to be talking about a book I got from Elvis for Christmas; I had wanted to read it for a while but felt unsure, so I am glad that he took the initiative! It is the first release under #Merky Books, ‘Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far’, about Stormzy’s journey and the work it took to cultivate raw talent into a global force for black excellence. We are all familiar with the music and the man (if you haven’t seen the Grenfell Brit performance, go on Youtube now and change your life), but the style in how the book is written by Jude Yawson, and the perspectives on fame, work and ambition are all welcomingly new.

What I really loved was that even though Rise Up is of course focused on Stormzy, it isn’t just his voice or perspective you hear. The book pulls apart the lie of celebrity, the myth that some exceptional individuals get luckier than the rest, elevated above anonymity into the bright glare of accolade and wealth. Instead, it shows a web of like-minded, hardworking people all motivated in their differing areas of expertise for one goal: Black Excellence. Stormzy doesn’t appear as a monolithic idol isolated from his origins or the hard graft, but as a gracious, humble man who is eager and passionate about what he believes is a duty in God to uplift others using your talents. The virtues of team work, patience and humility in tough grind are core foundations for success throughout. It is like a self-help book, but a lot more sincere. It doesn’t brag about money or parties or womanizing (Stormzy is actually very big on feminism, his mother raised him well), but talks about how to persist when the going seems tough, how to see the brighter side of the bigger picture when work seems futile.

I thought reading Rise Up might make me a bit of an intruder, if that makes sense? It’s funny, because I like Stormzy, the type of music and other artists in similar genres, and was so excited when he announced the #Merky Books- yet for some unclear reason I still felt like I shouldn’t read it. As if me reading the book was another example of white people trying to steal from and gentrify black culture without any understanding of or care for the people who produced it. In reluctance to try and reach out of my own life for fear of getting things wrong, I mistakenly felt the book was meant just for people like Stormzy; young black boys trying to make it in a hostile country, not white girls like me who’ve not been forced to think about, let alone reckon with half the difficulties and setbacks the black community have been forced to. Rise Up is obviously and rightly targeted at black youth, with its message deeply invested in bringing out the best of black British talent not just in music but all industries. My point is, that even though I believed this book wasn’t meant for me, I was wrong!!! You don’t have to be able to identify with all the same experiences as another person in order to be able to listen to what they have to say, apply it to your own life, and try and use the lesson for forces of good. You don’t have to centre yourself and your own understanding of things in order to learn from what another person has to say.

That is the beautiful thing; I truly believe that even if you don’t like Grime music particularly, even if you have never learnt about, or cared enough to notice and listen to the lived experience of black youth in Britain today (if you have previously been apathetic, please start caring and try to do something), this book is universal in its ambition to empower and inspire.

That’s the whole point of Rise Up really, to prove that you should never pigeonhole people in what they should do and be able to say. Stormzy is a MC from the ends who knows how to put on a show, but he is also just as philosophical as any university scholar, as musically talented as the big producers- his capacity isn’t limited to grime or underground scenes, he uses his blackness as a bridge to reach bigger heights. To show that black boys can be successful in business and management as well as music or sport, that he isn’t only an entertainer but an educator.

Art and Music are ways of expressing emotion, ideas and debate as modes of activism, but Stormzy doesn’t take pride in pretending to have all the answers. Stormzy firmly positions himself amongst and connected to people as a web of strength through which we must all listen and help one another. Rise Up is a rallying cry for all of us to be accountable, to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be, to achieve our own excellence and share that strength with others.

My only very minor criticism would be that, because the narrative intermingles so many voices to build a timeline- like a radio chat transcribed- it could sometimes be difficult at the beginning to keep track of who everyone was without constantly flipping to the list of contributors. However, like I say this is only minor as I do believe having the various voices makes for a much more compelling and meaningful read than had it just been Stromzy alone trying to big himself up. Jude Yawson, who collected the separate stories, has done a really good job on holding onto the integrity and personality of the original conversations, all whilst making it gel into a cohesive narrative.

Overall, I would recommend Rise Up to everyone whether you like Stormzy and his music or not!!! It is a beautiful book which celebrates the fulfilment of working hard for what you love and the possibilities created by surrounding yourself with people who strive for similar goals and values. Rise Up is keen on championing and inspiring the next generation of black kings and queens to rise up (as the title says so), and is wholeheartedly invested in self-belief as the key to all success and happiness. If you are looking for a book to empower and uplift, Rise Up is perfect!!!!!! I hope you will give Stormzy a try and assist the journey of black excellence by downloading his music, reading this book and making action informed by listening to others on how to invest in and build better lives for everybody!!!!

“… I’m not trying to be that corny don. I’m not on some presidential shit. I just know that no one is going to help my little brother. You can talk about things, but you have to take action. Man can go on stage and spray a two-bar about the prime minister and get a reaction. But there’s a lot more I can do. It’s a duty…”

TOMBOY BOOKCLUB!!! ‘Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?’

Hello everyone!!!! Today’s book is one that I’ve had my eye on for a year or so, and finally I found it again at a feminist book fair I went to a few weeks ago and said to myself I CANNOT LEAVE WITHOUT THIS BOOK!!!! It is a collection of short stories, not a genre I usually dabble in but this was glorious; so, without further ado, I introduce to you ‘Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?’ by Kathleen Collins.

If you live for political activism and Love stories (all the best people do), these stories will fill you with a nostalgic delight so that you’ll wish you had a time machine to go back to the early 60’s, pick up a placard and march along (and fall in love with) the people who trail blazed the world’s progressing social justices we are still working on today. Collins hearkens back to the time when integration, interracial communities and ‘the melting pot’ were young American ideals still unsullied from failure. When young white people and black people still believed that simply living together would solve all the problems created by white ancestors. Of course, we know this idealism failed and that the benefits of multiculturalism often turn out in reality to contribute to the erasures and misunderstandings that it is trying to solve. But Collins is both nostalgic and critical- revealing a tense undercurrent of dissatisfaction with this periods’ short-comings whilst also celebrating it as a time of energy, of enthusiasm and hope- even if free love didn’t have such strong foundations as the political arguments that would come after. Collins shows the bad and the good of the time when people didn’t want their love to be confined by race, and these are stories of love- in all its complexities of heart-break, young love, marriage and friendship. Love and race, how the two interact with each other in the lives of young, vivacious black women.

That is one of my favourite things about this collection: all of the stories centre around black experience, and most specifically, the vast majority are focused on the narratives of black women. IDK about you, but I can hardly think of any main-stream romantic heroine/ hero of screen or fiction who is black, and not made into some mistress, sexualized beast or just generally chastised because of it (I am always open to being wrong, so if I am mistaken please let me know which rom-coms to watch which don’t make me feel like I am observing a Nazis dream of marital eugenics). Most romantic stories, in trying to please white male publishers and producers, have constructed stories of love that fulfil their notions of what it is that will complete them. Unsurprisingly, most men (whatever race) don’t want their meek beloved- who they will supposedly save from the cruelty of spinsterhood (yawn) – to outshine them; hence why so many female romantic protagonists turn out the same: white, ‘beautiful’ (read: able-bodied and skinny), alone and needing dick to rescue them from whatever it is women can’t possibly have enough brain to solve themselves- everyone KNOWS that dick is the answer to all life’s problems!!!!

But in these stories shine black women, from many different class back grounds, but specifically focusing on middle-class/ boujie black girls which I found refreshing opposed to the stereotype of all black people always being poor. Black Women (Collins often chooses to focus on lighter skinned black girls) who are exploring love on their own terms and are not afraid to break out of stereotypes white people and even their own well-intentioned family’s force upon them. There’s the girl who cuts her hair and lets it grow natural and falls in love on a summer French course (with her professor- I didn’t wanna give spoilers but that story was so sweet I couldn’t stop smiling); there’s the sophisticated, cultured and elegant black girl who doesn’t need white validation, or to demean other black girls to prove her worth; there’s painters, mothers, freedom fighters, violinists, and daughters. They may not always be ‘empowered’ as such, as in many stories the girls are wrangling with men emotionally distant, abusive and just generally immature- not leaving relationships as quickly as we may like with our more modern ways of thinking. But each woman is an agent of her desire, and all the stories speak of some awakening, whether it be realising what love is, or figuring out how your skin colour affects what love is available to you- these stories are beautiful in how they show emotion so fleetingly and yet so powerfully, without the breadth or scope a whole novel would have to use.

Collins also worked with film, and this influence can be seen in some of the stories. Because they’re so short, many of the stories don’t get their emotional depth from the coming together of plot, but from the overlapping of time periods and omissions of narrative that allow you to fill in the gaps yourself. One short story, ‘Interiors’, is a set of two monologues from a husband and wife; its 9 pages, but the way Collins’ fits so much story into such ‘little’ prose, so much heart into sentences that don’t reveal everything- it does as much work that a story triple its length may not achieve.

I will stop blabbering now, but honestly these stories do not take ages to read and anyone interested in race, relationships, civil rights, art or LUV would adore these stories! Collins has long been forgotten as a black woman playwright, director and author and reading these stories it is wonderful she has been rediscovered from the mire of history to enlighten us again!!!!!!!

“… The night I danced for you. Why am I recalling such a simple time? We were taking a walk and suddenly I started dancing. I don’t know why; it wasn’t like me at all. I just wanted to jump outside my coloured looks and make you laugh… Why am I recalling such a simple time? We said good bye. We never saw each other again. Once my father mentioned that you’d moved to Washington, become a doctor, married. But all that seemed beside the point. It took so well between us…

TOMBOY BOOK CLUB- HOME FIRE!!!!!

Hello everyone!!!! I have just finished reading Kamila Shamsie’s 2017 Women’s Fiction Prize Winning novel, Home Fire, and fucking hell IT IS SO AMAZING!!! A story of love VS betrayal, of state VS family, and of East Vs West in the ‘melting-pot’ of modern Britain. It is loneliness- what to do with the unbearableness of it: sink into the comfort of hostility and proclaim that there must be revenge, or to reach out through the pain, be honest with it and fight for what you need to survive?

Based off the ancient Greek myth of Antigone reworked for the modern day climate of Islamophobia- how it causes terrorism, and then even more Islamophobia, like a grim merry-go round of hate- this devastating novel has love and betrayal at its core; how we cope with each emotion, and which one should prevail overall if we are to hold on to one another. I had to keep stopping reading so that I could process all the conflicting passions without losing myself, and it is a book that will tear your heart not into two pieces, but a scattering of a million shards.

Shamsie’s novel is told through narrating the experiences of 5 main characters, all British- Pakistani citizens, all woven to put together a larger narrative that will draw them together whilst tearing them apart. This plot of tragedy and love is condensed into a seemingly anonymous Wembley household; the unseeming characters progressively more and more embroiled into a conclusion that reaches far beyond what they ever could imagine.

It starts with Isma, an intelligent but world-worn woman and elder sister/ mother to her two twin siblings, Aneeka and Parvaiz. I think Isma is one of my favourite characters, she is very good at balancing acts, of gently toeing the line between obeying the law to avoid further pain, and standing up for what she really believes in. Love of her family is Isma’s motive for pretty much all she does. Aneeka also is fuelled by love of her family, but without the forgivingness or subtlety of her sister- Aneeka’s love is pretty much all for her brother, not the mothering and hence oppressive Isma. Aneeka and Parvaiz’ twinhood is evoked so beautifully it makes the forces tearing them apart so cruel and callous I could hardly bear it; but whereas Isma’s love aims to bring everyone back together, Aneeka’s love is driven for one purpose only: to bring Parvaiz home from the terrorists he has been groomed into joining.

However, Aneekas love at first solely meant for Parvaiz actually multiplies in another direction. Aneeka falls in love with a man- Eamonn- her sister first met and sent her way- but this is not a tale of sisters fighting over a man ( it does still make me really sad that Isma is so alone in the book, it would have been nice for her to have at least one solace for herself). Eamonn is the son of the Home Secretary, and Aneeka, at first using him as a vessel for escape to bring Parvaiz home, ends up finding another escape for herself, away from the extremes of loyalty demanded by religion and state. Eamonn’s family are rich, integrated and push the piety of Islam to the back of their minds. Aneeka’s family are poor, derided by the general public for their devotion to their home land and religion. The contrasts are striking, which makes their falling in love only more bitter-sweet with the subtext of Parvaiz between them.

Shamsie evokes the character of Parvaiz before and after his defection to ‘the enemy state’ (the book’s main debate is essentially of loyalty to a state: which comes first, the state of law or love?) with a cleverness that doesn’t exempt him from criticism, but goes into detailed explanations of why what has happened has happened. Yes, he switched himself off and is complicit in the horrors of the Caliphate world in which he finds himself- but if that was the only way to survive, wouldn’t you dance for the devil, too? His choice to abandon his sisters, despite one of them literally being his other half, seems selfish and awful to the extremes. But, again, if you constantly felt alienated as the lone boy without a father in a world ran by women, at an age where you want to talk but don’t feel like anyone wants you… what I’m trying to say is that sadness makes people desperate, and desperation makes people do un-explainable things.

I don’t want to say what happens in the last scene, but it is a conclusion at once satisfying in its inevitability of plot tragedy, yet still discordant, gut-wrenchingly sad for all parties involved. It is reconciliation through grief, a reckoning that will make you want to simultaneously punch every bigot in the face (and by bigot, I don’t just mean Tommy Robinson clones, also the unflinchingly wicked men in suits at Westminster, too) and weep, clinging onto whoever love is to you.

I recommend this book very highly. It makes your brain think hard about the climate of xenophobia, islamophobia and prejudice that seems to govern politics today, and gives your heart a work out- that is never a bad thing!

“The language of violence, spoken by the powerful of all nations, erased distinctions beneath the surface. Two girls walked past, laughing, uninhibited. The sound- continuing on, burrowing down from the girls’ throats to their bellies- was more remarkable than bracelets or wrists. Perhaps surface was all there was to fight for. He remembered how it felt to float on a surface of freedom and safety, to feel himself buoyed up by it, and longing tugged at his heart…”