WRITTEN AND SPOKEN WORD
Written Word Feature, Spring 2020
Jade Amoli-Jackson was born in northern Uganda, studied journalism and worked as a sports reporter on television and radio, and on national and local papers. After her husband, sister and father were killed during a period of internal conflict, and with her own life in danger, she sought refuge in England in July 2001. Jade has read her poetry across the UK and is a volunteer at the Refugee Council.
‘The big man wants to see you.’
Our hearts stopped pumping blood
We could not eat or swallow the food in our mouths
Our children’s eyes were wide with suspicion.
In my mind I knew what might happen
I had already been through it.
My friend’s husbands
Brothers, even sisters
Were picked the same way.
He put on his shoes
Looked at me and smiled
I knew he did not want
To be shot in front of me and the kids.
At home, I tried to cheer them up
But the dreams were fading away very fast.
I sat down with our children and told them
‘Mum is going to find out where dad is.’
We said our goodbyes, all in tears.
‘I have come to take my husband home.’
‘We have no idea what you’re talking about!’
Then, a young soldier beckoned me towards the gate.
‘I know where he is
Wait for me near the market.’
I walked like a zombie to the square
‘He was killed the same day he was brought here,’
The young man in civilian clothes told me
The man who was in uniform earlier.
‘Can you show me where his body is?’
‘For a price, the boss wants money.’
‘How much do you want?’
I had only three hundred pounds on me.
I was bargaining for my husband’s body
Which might already have started to collect maggots.
Finally, he accepted what I had.
He came out still dressed in his suit, headless
I am at peace now
He seemed to say.
Look after the kids and yourself.
I could not touch him
However hard I tried
The dreams faded away
Leaving only tears and heartache.
Moving a Country
Move the evergreen trees
Lakes and seas
Wild and domestic animals
Birds of all sizes
Pack them all up
In the suitcase of my brain.
Leave behind the soldiers
Covered in old sacks
Or place them on the tip of
I’ll kick them into the deep blue sea
So my head can’t remember
And my heart can’t bleed
And the dark memories
Can fade slowly away…
I ran out of the house
Without packing anything
Even my sanity
How can a country I called home
Became a butcher’s den
And my bed a foreigner’s heaven!
I walk through fire
And find no water to cool
My burning heart
Only distant recollections
Fond memories of my youth
And the good old days
I search my head and heart
But the huge dark memories
Planted in my brain remain
I will treasure the good ones
And loathe the bad ones.
You have accepted thousands of different people
To live here with their own traditions.
You encourage us all to respect others’ culture and religion
Even colour, because you have accepted all of us.
I have to learn your language so as to know you better.
I can’t speak my language
You will not understand me.
I have travelled a long way from my land
Of fighting, killing and poverty.
I want to learn your language so that I can shop
To buy the things I like
To go to the cinema
And understand what is said.
I want to say hello to my neighbours
English, Russian, Polish, Somali and from Pakistan
They do not know my language.
My next door neighbours
Kenyan, Italian, Kosovan
Have started an English course.
I want to learn ESOL
I will study until I get it right
I want to get a job and pay taxes, like everybody else
I want to help other people
But I cannot do that hiding in my room.
Link to Jade’s book on Amazon here.
Written and Spoken Word
Feature and Tribute, Winter 2020
Carole’s masterpiece was the Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling. Her incredible feat was to render into English and modern verse this ancient story, central to Hindu culture. Fifteen times longer than the combined length of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, the original narrative developed over half a millennium, reaching fruition around 300 CE. Based on the tale of an ongoing fierce war and our human difficulty with right action (dharma), it tells a universal story. In her preface, Carole states she was 'repeatedly struck by parallels, both at individual and at societal levels, between that world and our own'.
This 2015 Mahabharata is a staggeringly impressive accomplishment. Janet Henfrey reads three selections from Carole’s towering work of poetry, scholarship and insight, Mahabharata, and continues with four readings from other poetry collections.
Carole's prolific poetry collections reflect the many worlds she witnessed and inhabited. Ourstory (probably her most read poem, featured in London’s Poems on the Underground project) exhibits her feminist sensibilities.
Carole's first collection Broken Moon features poems of love, loss, motherhood, sexual awakening and the discovery of places and people both new and familiar. This sense of awakening is a thread throughout her work. Each word is a discovery of something both fragile and strong in herself and the world, reflecting her explorations of psychoanalysis and poetry.
Whether in outrage, delight or sadness, Carole's work speaks of something to be discovered and treasured. Listen to her fierce poetic courage as she takes in the news of her cancer diagnosis; a poem that speaks of being in the world with disabilities; her words on the anxieties of love and ageing and loss.
On Not Going Anywhere
The Seven Stages of Decrepitude
Carole has died, but her voice is ever-present, helping us confront the enormity of loss. Her concluding words in the Mahabharata remind us:
‘We are born, we live our lives, we die;
happiness and grief arise and fade.
But righteousness is measureless, eternal.’
And the words of this poet are also measureless and eternal.
Mahabarata: A Modern Re-telling. W. W. Norton and Company, 2015.
Countdown, Bloodaxe Books, 2011.
Stitching the Dark: New & Selected Poems. Bloodaxe Books, 2005.
Broken Moon. Oxford University Press. 1988.
Acquainted with the Night: Psychoanalysis and the Poetic Imagination; The Tavistock Clinic Series, 2003.
Check online to see Carole reading her work on YouTube, as well as tributes and articles about her.
Carole Satyamurti, prolific poet,writer, academic and winner of the 1986 National Poetry Prize, died on her 80th birthday in August 2019. This is a tribute to a woman of huge compassion and overarching intellect.
She listened, spoke and wrote carefully, with humour, a love of absurdity, a wellspring of outrage and tenderness. Her work weaves the personal and the political, inviting us to consider the smallness of our existence along with what binds us to the grandeur of endless history. Those who knew her, those who were touched by her, and those who will meet her and themselves anew through her poetry, will continue to find illumination in her work.
Spoken Word Feature, Autumn 2019
Ruth Valentine has published several collections of poetry, as well as a novel, The Jeweller's Skin. She is active in Haringey Welcome, a grassroots organization which campaigns against hostility to refugees and migrants who have settled in the borough.
Blog Journalist working for national papers and author of 12 books including Hyenas in Petticoats - A Look at Feminism between 1968 - 88 and This Is Our Time - the Crisis of Midlife.
For two years editor of Young Minds magazine, for young people’s mental health charity. Now working on family memoir. Lives in North London, has two grown up sons and three grandchildren .
Crossing Borders: an Intercultural Family in London
From my sitting room, I can hear my daughter- in- law Kio downstairs. On tiered platforms, she is setting up an elaborate display of china dolls dressed in ancient Japanese costumes. Kio does this every year in March to celebrate Hinamatsuri - Japanese Girl’s Day. The costumed dolls represent the imperial court of the Heian period (A.D. 794 to 1185) and feature the emperor, empress, attendants, and musicians dressed in traditional garb intended to ward off evil spirits. May will bring Boy’s Day. At the accompanying party, all the children will wear kimonos --which in no way will inhibit their riotous game playing.
This is just one of the ways in which my husband Olly and I share a way of life where Japanese and British customs are intertwined. The integration began when our son and his pregnant partner Kio moved into the flat below us. Kio explained that in Japan, living close to family when you have children is a core value.
Kio is very clear that our grandchildren Nina and Si must have the extreme good manners expected in Japan. These are often in conflict with the brash words and expletives-not-deleted of their peers at school. They have to meticulously clear up toys in their home. My son reprimands me and Olly for failing to be firm enough about this. Kio and my son are a good deal stricter with the children than feels comfortable to our laissez-faire 1970’s parenting style. But I vowed I would never be a critical mother-in-law. The lovely and loving relationship I have with Kio is worth biting my tongue. On the other hand, she does not hold back in telling me, with infinite politeness, if she disapproves of something I do. I assure her I like that far better than if she said nothing. I would never want her holding back to result in less family interaction. We share much of the heart.
We have stayed with Kio’s parents in Japan, indulging in smiling, nodding, bowing and reaching for Google translate, as none of us speaks the others’ language. Nina and four-year-old brother Si are amused watching us struggling. They are both fluently bi-lingual and can’t understand why we aren’t. For us, this precious opportunity to learn about their culture in such an intimate way is worth the linguistic challenge.
The children flow in a free range way between their flat and ours. They have come away with us for weekend trips with the firm proviso that we abide by stern bedtime, sugar overdose and TV rules. At the same time, Kio and my son know the children run riot around our place and play hectic games not permitted downstairs. They are fine with our more open ways--in our flat. As a result, we have a wonderfully joyous relationship with the children, even if we are excluded when they chatter away in Japanese and refuse to tell us what they are saying. We do not think of them as mixed race. But I have sometimes had to sit and chat at length with Kio when she has been upset at Nina being talked about as different by her classmates, teased about thinking she is special because of coming from Japan. I see too how it upsets Nina, with the result that she has more close Japanese friends from a Saturday club than at her primary school. It’s upsetting because we can see these things undermine Nina’s self-confidence. Olly and I often tell Nina and Sia what lovely kids they are, hoping our love will banish the unkindness of some.
Kio regularly invites us to share a sushi meal. At these meals, to the children’s amusement, we struggle with chopsticks They never fail to remind me how foolish I am about the strange raw wriggly fish they eat in Japan and I (literally) cannot stomach. On the other hand, Nina instructs me firmly to cook turkey and roast potatoes for the traditional family Christmas. And when the children present us with the enchanting gifts they have made, guided by two very artistic parents, we bask in the shared cultural world we’ve all created.
There may be downsides to having grandchildren who are part of a culture which I understand only superficially. But I don’t see it - yet, at least. And I cherish the closeness we have with Kio. She who would not naturally talk about feelings, does so these days. My son is clearly pleased she and I get on. The children are matter- of- fact about our being a multi-generational family under one roof. Although I cannot calculate how much it helps them to feel integrated in English society, I get the sense it does when I hear Si telling how we are real grandparents --just like his Grandma and Grandpa in Japan.
Kendall is my teacher and my friend. From them, I learn to understand gender in a profoundly new way. When I was a young girl in the fifties, you were male or female--period. Any 'deviation', like same sex attraction, was abnormal, wrong, something to be cured if possible. Today's gender fluidity, and the worlds it opens up, is an enormous shift. I embrace it, guided to new understandings by the gentle touch of my friend Kendall's hand. - Rose L.
“gender dysphoria has not been kind to me this summer,
and yet at the same time, it has certainly taught me a lot more about love.
to love despite the raging battle inside my mind and heart,
to love in the form of tears for the world,
to love in the form of speaking out, in setting boundaries,
to love in the form of standing up time and time again.
the messages i need most, i want to share with you too,
you are enough, so enough.
it's okay to feel the weight of sadness,
and this will get better.
you are beautiful and loved. “ - Self-Portrait, August 25th, 2018
In just a few months in the approaching London winter, I will be lying on a surgeon’s steel table, wrapped in a disposable gown and wheeled into the surgery theatre. In moments, or, three and a half hours to be precise, my body will emerge in a way I have always dreamed of. Once healed, I will run my hands smoothly down my chest. Button ups will sit flat. I will sit up straight without hunching. I will be flat chested. Flat as I haven’t known since before puberty!
I am twenty-six years old. Ten years ago, when I was sixteen, I had breast reduction surgery. Up until puberty, my gender was wild and free. I could express myself as a so-called “tomboy”. My slim hips and flat chest accommodated my androgynous expression. It wasn’t until puberty, when curves began to appear, and something began growing out of my chest, that gender binary issue became a consuming state. Who am I?
I was one of the first in my grade to begin developing breasts. I tried to hide them with large t-shirts, hockey jerseys, and to hide my hips with sweatpants. I despised going shopping. Feeling trapped when I felt the only option now that I am a “girl” is to shop in the “girls” section. Pink. Dresses. Tight tights. Whimsical patterns. No, not for me.
Well, what about the boys section? But, with my already internalized transphobia, I felt as though the ceiling might collapse on me if I were to venture into the boy’s section. And we are only talking about clothes here! At that age, in my early teens, I knew something was deeply troubling me. But I didn’t know where it was coming from, or what it was about. I just thought this is just the way I am, and I should do my best to fit into the boxes society wanted to push me into.
At fifteen, I had a consult with the surgeon, who would perform my breast reduction surgery. I distinctly remember asking “can you please make them as small as possible?”. I think what I really meant was, “can you please just take them away entirely? I don’t fit in this body. I am a genderqueer non-binary trans person!”. But I didn’t have this language or self-knowledge yet. I didn’t even know you could be outside the gender binary. That knowledge didn’t come until my early twenties.
Fast forward to the first year of my university life. I came out as queer and felt an enormous sense of freedom to feel open about my sexuality. I cut my hair, changed my wardrobe, and finally felt I could wear “boys” clothes and present as masculine-androgynous. However, that backfired a few years later, when I l felt that being a part of the ‘girls who love girls’ crowd also didn’t feel quite right. I tried a more feminine phase (for the first time ever!), with dresses, even long hair. No, that wasn’t right for me. Definitely not. What is going on?! Why do I feel so deeply out of place?
After meeting more and more gender-non conforming people and finding friends in the trans community, a little voice inside (my subconscious) kept saying -- “Yes, Kendall! This is you too! Will you let me show you more? Say yes; it will eventually be okay, actually more than okay! It will seem terrifying at first, but saying yes to opening the pandora’s box of gender identity will be one of your greatest teachers in this life. Take your time, but I hope one day you will say yes to me.”
After two years of this little voice piping up, I finally did said “yes!” after a rough summer of many breakdowns and a heightened state of constant anxiety. I ordered my first chest binder from GC2B, I put it on, and was delighted to see my chest was as flat as ever.. Who cares that it was uncomfortably tight and made it harder to breathe; my chest was finally FLAT! What a liberating feeling. At the same time, I decided to try they/them/theirs pronouns with close friends. It took getting used to, but now it feels like a I am truly seen for who I am when I hear it being used.
Now, many ups and downs and decisions later, I am on my way to top surgery, A.k.a., a double mastectomy with nipple grafts. This surgery removes your breasts and nipples, reconstructs your chest according to pectoral muscles and upper ribs, reattaches the nipples, thus creating a more masculine chest.
The day I emerge out of surgery will be a new beginning. I will be proud of the scars across my chest. I will contribute more trans visibility to this world, and hope to make it a safer place for more trans and gender non-conforming people to come out and express themselves fully.
Every non-binary, trans, genderqueer person has a different journey. This is where I am now. Gender exists on a spectrum (or off of the spectrum entirely if you’re agender). I fall somewhere on that spectrum in the transmasculine non-binary area. Transition is not a linear journey. It’s okay not to know all the answers. You don’t need to have any surgeries or go on hormones to be trans. Some do, some don’t. Some trans people are binary, some are non-binary. Some are queer, some aren’t. It’s okay to question, to be confused. It’s all part of the journey to becoming. This is a vignette of my queer, non-binary, creative self today.
Some written, visual, and audio resources for learning more:
Chella Man, Youtube Channel
Sam Dylan Finch articles:
Maybe Being Transgender Wasn’t a Mistake
I’m Transgender but Trust Me I’m Just as Surprised as You Are
Jackson Bird, Transmission Podcast
Jamie Raines, YouTube Channel
Ash Hardell: **They have put up a free PDF of an accompaniment to their book**
The ABC’s of LGBTQ+
Nancy's wedding day
Nancy and her daughter's stroller
Read This Book Feature, Summer 2018
Jeannie Davidson was born in Edinburgh in the same year as the NHS.
She has lived in London since 1974, reluctantly leaving her beloved home city to accompany her former husband to London. The city now feels completely like home, though Edinburgh retains pride of place.
Jeannie is deeply curious about cultural movements and how ‘tribes’ and affiliations function, questioning what tribe she is now in. She involves herself in projects aimed at making a difference and enriching lives.
From If It's Not One Thing, It's Our Mothers by Jeannie Davidson.
There are consistent themes running through the stories in this book, and a wonderful diversity of mother-daughter relationships. The intensity of the connection with the most important person in our lives has yielded many insights that I want to share with others.---Jeannie
'Possibly the worst relationship, showing the worst part of me, has been with my mother. The feelings I felt around her were just awful, to the point where she couldn't do or say anything right.'---Kerry
'My memories are fortunately very good. I feel blessed really that I had such a nice relationship with her.'---Pat
'I don't know how Mum managed when we came to England. Settling in this cold country, with language barriers and racism, was a real challenge.'---Parminder
'There was a hinterland that I don't feel I ever reached and maybe none of us did. But maybe none of us do with our mothers.'---Hilary
'I had a lot of unfinished business with my mum. That's why this project has been so good for me coming to some kind of acceptance and realising that other people have had similar experiences.'---Hannah
'During the process I have thought more and more about the relationship, and what other people have to say about their mothers was so much better than what I had to say about mine. But you get a more rounded picture as you continue talking about it. I thought more about things about her that were good. I needed to get rid of the rage.'---Sue
'I can think now, some years after her death, about what my mother gave me, which was a really strong sense of being a Scotswoman. It's something about having a particular identity and heritage. The night she died there was a crackling thunderstorm. I was lying in her bed in her flat where I was staying in Edinburgh and I remember feeling a jolt of something like lightning going through me. It felt like she was passing something on to me. Now that sounds completely crazy but I just had a sense that she'd passed her essence on to me. It was a lovely feeling, but then I remember really missing her and wondering where she'd gone, having that classic lost child feeling which so many people talk about when a parent dies.'---Jeannie
[Book price is £15 including p and p. Please contact Jeannie.firstname.lastname@example.org for copies.]
Spoken Word Feature, Spring/Summer 2018
Janet Henfrey is an actor who has performed in theatres throughout the UK including the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.
She’s also had ongoing roles in the tv series The Singing Detective and As Time Goes By and more recently,appearances in Wolf Hall and The Crown. Janet is also a Human Rights campaigner.
The two poems are Emily Dickinson's 'Hope is a Thing with Feathers' and Elizabeth Jenning's 'Friendship'.
A View From The Inside: Alexa Wright
Read This Book Feature, Spring 2018
A View From Inside (2012). A limited edition artist’s book. Ten digital C-Type prints, 76 x 100cm, mounted and framed + limited edition artist’s book.
Working with people who experience episodes of psychosis, Alexa Wright created ten photographic portraits. Whilst the men and women in the presentations appear entirely ‘normal’, their ability to function within society has been affected by the experience of a psychotic ‘disorder’ such as bipolar or schizophrenia. The 18th Century photo settings have been altered, both digitally and physically, to form ‘stage sets’ for the internal experience of each person when she/he is not in consensual reality. These highly constructed settings give clues to each individual’s private world.
Visual, auditory and other sensory phenomena that occur during a psychotic episode contradict accepted notions of ‘reality.’ Yet for one person they are absolutely real. This work asks: what do we mean by reality? It also aims to reduce the stigma that surrounds those who experience mental health issues. In the book that accompanies the exhibition prints, each portrait is accompanied by a statement from the person portrayed.
Alexa Wright is an artist based in London, UK. She uses a wide range of media, including photography, video, sound, interactive installation, performance and book works to explore narratives of otherness through the personal stories of people whose life experiences place them at the boundary of what is acceptably human. At the intersection of art and medical science, Alexa's works explore human inter-subjectivity through qualities like vulnerability and empathy.
Alexa's work has been shown nationally and internationally. Recent exhibitions include: Piecing it Together, (curator, participatory project), St Pancras Hospital and Tavistock Centre, London (2016-7); Visions in The Nunnery, Bow Arts, London (2016); Hybrid Bodies, KunstKraftWerk, Leipzig, Germany (2016); Phantom Limb, Victoria Museum & Gallery, Liverpool (2016).
Alexa teaches at University of Westminster, where she is Reader in Art and Visual Culture. Her book, ‘Monstrosity: The Human Monster in Visual Culture’ was published by IB Tauris in 2013.