Residency @ Bank St Arts

I am delighted to be working as an Artist in Residence at Bank St Arts (Sheffield). I am working on a project called “Soul Seeds and Wrinkly Bellies.” This collaborative project explores the poetics and politics of pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenthood: subjects that have historically received little attention in literature. There are three related strands to the project: …

Aikin Mata

It was my privilege to meet Tony Harrison at his home in Newcastle on a wet October afternoon. We sat at his kitchen table drinking strong coffee, and talking about his early years in Leeds and his work at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Northern Nigeria, where he worked from 1962-1966. Tony Harrison is often referred to as ‘Britain’s leading …

Up Hill and Down

It has been a packed few weeks for international cultural events in Leeds, Sheffield and the region. Last week the celebrated Mexican poet Pedro Serrano read his poems in Spanish and English to a captivated audience at an event run by the Poetry Centre at the University of Leeds. I ran from here to the White Cloth Gallery to …

Nigerian Student Verse (1960)

I recently had the honour of meeting Professor Martin Banham, one of the great authorities on Nigerian theatre and Director of the Workshop Theatre in Leeds, 1966-1998. We met on a windy October morning in the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Martin handed me a rare copy of Nigerian Student Verse (Ibadan, 1960): a slim anthology offering …

November 2015

Humanism does not have a chance unless we recognise the full humanness of every single person who is killed, regardless of their nationality or race. Until we recognise the structural inequalities that underpin cycles of violence and selective mourning. Until we cry and rage together for everyone. November 2015 I was a teenager in Beirut, …

We lit up the night

Even though it was a dark, wet November night, Verse Matters was packed out again this month. It was an incredible night. Louise Clines opened with some brilliant, heartfelt poems: the last about the birthing of her first child in water. Fran Critchlow read some beautiful poems, followed by Keira James’s mesmerising anti-war poem. Kev …

Poetry and Sufi Soul

It’s the last Verse Matters of 2015 tomorrow! Join us at the Mugen Tea House (Scotland Street) for fantastic poetry from Kate Garrett and Gina Elbow and beautiful music from Sufi Soul singer Sarah Yaseen (Rafiki Jazz). There’ll also be great open mic performances from Charlotte Cass, Louise Clines, Jude Calvert-Toulmin, Keira James, Faiza Zai, Liz …

Lunch Poems

We are offered an ‘injection of poetry’ every Wednesday at the fantastic LUNCH POEMS in Leeds, created by Dr Helen Mort, Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow in the School of English (University of Leeds). The sessions have been squarely international in outlook so far, ranging from the continuing inequalities in publishing, particularly for Black and Asian poets, to Frank O’Hara’s Lunch …

Wole Soyinka in Leeds

Wole Soyinka was a student in Leeds in the late 1950s, where he worked with Tony Harrison, James Simmons and Geoffrey Hill. The extensive archives in Special Collections at the Brotherton Library contain fascinating pictures, manuscripts and letters from this time, including photos of Soyinka performing alongside contemporaries including Barry Cryer, Simmons and Harrison at the Empire Theatre on Briggate. It was …

Review: Writing by Ivan Vladislavić and Eben Venter

This is the proof a review that was recently published in Wasafiri: a literary magazine of international writing: ‘My point is that “restless” doesn’t mean that you never rest. Don’t you see? It means, and I quote, never still, fidgety’ (86–87). Thus argues Aubrey Tearle, the narrator of Ivan Vladislavić’s extraordinary novel, in a vain attempt …

Freeing verse. And saxophones…

There was a fantastic mix of words and music at Verse Matters in October. Shelley Roche-Jacques kicked off the evening with a lovely reading which explored the historical role of women writers. This was an apt opener, given the continuing inequalities in publishing, particularly for women, and for Black and Asian writers. In 2005 the Free-Verse-Report asked why so few …