TOMBOY BOOKCLUB- The Half God of Rainfall

Hello everyone! I actually wrote about this author very recently, but after a light summer rain I wanted to dance in thunder, hear the clouds boom (do you see I’m setting up a rain vibe?). Today’s book is a blending of modern quotidian life with epic forces of Ancient mythos, and I have just learnt that it has been made into a play too- so I guess it spans genres as well as histories. The Half-God of Rainfall is the latest offering from Innua Ellams- a dramatic tale of revenge against the powers that be, in this case the gods themselves.

I talked about Candy Coated Unicorns & Converse All Stars a few weeks ago, and this long poem seems to be a technicolour extension of one of the poems at the beginning of that first pamphlet- Portrait of Prometheus as a Basketball Player. Combining the drama, power and passion required for ruling the basketball court with the patience, meter and skill for composing poetry- The Half-God of Rainfall brings apparently separate realms of sport and art, of gods and mortals together into glorious collision. It follows the story of Demi: a half-god bastard prodigy born of rape. His mother is the mystic and quietly strong Modupe, a woman drenched with the sacrifices of her ancestors, who is forced through the cruelty of the Gods to repeat that cycle of pain herself- left alone and traumatized with a life she never asked for in her arms. The powers and influence of the Gods flow down to the world of mortals below, and whilst Demi may seem like a wimp to the other boys in his Nigerian village- it is his tears that rock the world, cause devastation with their emotion. He has inherited his mother’s humanity, along with some distant power. Love and rage. A powerful combination, which the Gods in their weakening purity cannot ignore, and like the mortal men they foolhardily think they’re so different from, seek to control in order to protect themselves.

However, whilst Demi is lauded with stardom he is not really the hero of this revenge plot. Ellams’ poem is a reworking of myth and modernity to make an exciting (and very satisfying) blood bath of feminine retribution against the Gods- who for all of history have been demanding that the feminine stays on her knees, in more ways than one… With the protection of the Nigerian spirits, and what turns out to be an inter-connected rebellion of all the feminine deities across the globe- rest assured Modupe does not let the Gods decide fate easily. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but Hollywood ought to zip it with Superman and that rabble, and really should make this poem into a film because I would LOVE to watch Modupe fuck shit up all goddess style. I thought I could predict the ending from the plot, and the tradition of revenge tragedies (me being an arrogant lil boffin) but what is remarkable about The Half-God is that it uses the old and hidden to make something dynamic and timeless. We all know that mothers are superheroes without capes, but this is a revision of herstory that truly reinstates mothers- and all those who suffer under colonial patriarchal violence- to their true majesty and vivacity.

If you love a good old plot of celestial planets and powers, sports and punch ups I would highly recommend this book. Its rhyme and metered verses make it fairly straight-forward to follow, without the laborious and cryptic language that epic poetry rooted in the ancients often remains. A modern decolonialization of myth to give the world a new taste of what power can look like, it’s potential when fuelled by love and not bloodlust.

“…Among the Greeks there is a famous tale of pride,
about a child strapped with feathers and wax. It’s told
this child who got too close to the sun fell and died.

Whenever and however this story unfolds,
it’s never admired that he flew that he proved,
it was possible, knew it, that- wings- fluttered bold,

Bright, b r o a d, a graceful glide of a thing and it moved
towards the horizon before gravity pulled.
His vengeance needed greatness… “

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- NANCY CUNARD!!!!

Hello again!!!!! It has been a hot minute since I’ve had a chance to write! I have been twitching to get the poetry/blog ball rolling again, and so I’ve decided to indulge myself and write about a poet I don’t know too much about, but whose work makes my soul sing in the lushest and funkiest of ways… NANCY CUNARD!!!

I first discovered this poet/heiress/bad-ass icon at an art exhibition- Modern Couples at the Barbican, to be exact. After having read a few more articles about her, I can paraphrase her fascinating life with my patchy knowledge as such: Nancy was born to filthy rich parents, magnates of the Cunard shipping line and famous for their posh parties. She was always embarrassed by her wealth, but used it to fund her art: establishing a printing press, The Hours, and hobnobbing with Modernist greats (she knew Virginia Woolf- FANGIRL MOMENT), even bedding many of them as her lovers too. SHE IS A COOL LADY. In her later years, she dedicated much of her life to fighting injustice: she was involved in the Spanish civil war, actively fought fascism as it spread throughout Europe, and also used her money to help champion the artistic talents and civil rights of black people in America to fight against racism there. Nancy actually lost her huge inheritance over her refusal to concede to her family’s wishes to break up with black Jazz musician, Henry Crowder (but sadly they split eventually anyways). She helped the French Resistance in London during WW2, and somehow was even on board SS Windrush from Jamaica when it travelled over to the UK (not that she was involved in fighting for immigrant rights so much, it is just a weird coincidence she was on board). Her activist efforts are sometimes dubious by today’s standards, many rightly criticise her efforts for being heavily steeped in exoticism and White Saviour-is, not really making the efforts to fully grasp how to best help people and rather revelling in the drama. However, I do like to believe Nancy had good intentions even if her execution was not always on point. In the end, her life was very sad- abandoned by most of her former friends and artistic cohorts, sick and mentally unwell in a Sanatorium; which is also why I think it is important to remember her now, so that grim loneliness in the hospital isn’t really her end at all.

Nancy’s poetry is full of heart and soulful observations about the world around her, infused with messages- whether it is an apple tree, a bunch of jonquils or a busy Parisian street, Cunard finds meaning in many places. One of the most stunning works to me is a long poem- Parallax– she wrote in response to T.S Eliot’s Wasteland, and what she felt was an uncompromising and somewhat misplaced negativity after the chaos of WW1. Where Eliot’s work is stark and undeniably morose, Cunard is febrile and sensitive, mingling the past sorrow of lost adolescence with the happiness from those memories that still lives in details of her contemporary post-war moment. She channels exuberance with grief, sensitivity with a tasteful gaudiness for expanding on minutiae, and doesn’t present a monotone landscape of emotion. Her works are serious in their poetic sincerity, adventurous in how they manipulate traditional motifs and structures in on themselves to create fresher voices, and saturated with nerve. Whether lamenting the loss of love and beauty, traversing and interpreting/interrupting urban landscapes or challenging social status quos and injustices- Cunard has a gravitas that can change its tune, but never its conviction to making us feel something.

Without going on and on, I will finish by including a poem of Nancy’s that I found very romantic and despondently beautiful in its intense stoicism on the pains of unrequited love. A sonnet of sorts that, in its strict structuring of lines, hides a trembling heart afraid of its own devotion, and the terribleness of the implications of being known. Nancy is a poet of mystic and fantastic vision, not fully understood but still starkly passionate in her various rebellions against family, cultural tradition and dominating politics. May we continue to rediscover and celebrate her legacy to modernism, activism, and generally being a bad ass rich bitch with a mission. The so called ‘socialites’ of today could never….WE LOVE YOU ALWAYS NANCY XOXOXOXOXXOXOXOXO

You Have Lit the Only Candle

You have lit the only candle in my heart that I am bound to worship,
Kneeling in the draughts of that cold and most solitary place,
Alone, without the stirring priests and breathless sounds of confession
That have made holy such other seclusions, and in their hour of grace
Absolved desires and sins that I am barren of. This sharp
Straight flame of yours is silent, and like a saint throws down on me,
Now I have knelt again after so long on this remembered ground,
The steadfast radiance of his mute impersonality.
You have lit the only candle that shall illumine my wayward paths;
And I tell you, before the time comes when its flames must tremble
and start,
Facing some great wind of eternity that rends and masters it,
I shall be gone with the thread of its tall spirit safe against my heart.

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 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…”