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Life Sentence.

LIFE SENTENCE, 1995

For Ken Saro-Wiwa, #After Elizabeth Bartlett

The judge and junta who had stirred in the small hours
before, hugged their illicit thin gifts and stayed in bed
trying not to dream of the prisoner, how he feared
more for his land and people than he did for his head,

how his punishment would not fit his crime. No Murder
had been committed by him; the chaos and confusion
he’d caused were peaceful protest’s kind. “We were toys
to them, they’re done playing now”. He knew collusion

was likely— that the country's corridors of power faced
the oil company’s and what connected them— the slightly
greying sludge water— would burst its banks, that really,
it would become a sloe–black flood. Yet, he'd rise lightly

to the hangman who would lift the noose. No crowds
would bay, no family present, no wife wailing. No ill
willed towards the hangman, no insulting reference
to his tribe; to Ken’s last few seconds they wouldn’t kill

his inner gentleman. Three chances they’d have to evade
execution, thrice the trapdoor failed, thrice the shame
of noosing his clean neck. The fourth time, they’d have
it working, pulling the lever down, calling out his name.

And waking, they would wish it had all been a dream,
and try as they might, they would not be able to explain
away what sacred thing they broke, why fishing baskets
now came up slick and empty, what brand of pain

it was, how crude and sinister, how troubled they felt
to have framed and killed him in the broad light of day.
That courtroom would shadow every door and corner
like an all-powerful omen. It would not go away.


From #Afterhours, published by Nine Arches

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An Evening With An Immigrant.

So! This begins next week! I hope you are free and available to come and check out this show. It is funny, ridiculous and exciting. Playing here in London, at Soho Theatre. Tickets cost £14/£12 - and can be bought here.

Born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother in what is now considered by many to be Boko Haram territory, in 1996 award-winning poet and playwright Inua Ellams left Nigeria for England aged 12, moved to Ireland for three years, before returning to London and starting work as a writer and graphic designer.

Part of this story was documented in his hilarious autobiographical Edinburgh Fringe First Award-winning play The 14th Tale, but much of it is untold. Littered with poems, stories and anecdotes, Inua will tell his ridiculous, fantastic, poignant immigrant-story of escaping fundamentalist Islam, directing an arts festival at his college in Dublin, performing solo shows at the National Theatre, and drinking wine with the Queen of England, all the while without a country to belong to or place to call home.

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The New Tate Modern.

For one year in 2012, I was a writer in residence at the Tate Modern Building project. My job was to interview some of the architects and construction workers, and write. Below is footage I shot on my phone, early in the construction of the site behind the original Tate building. The New Tate building opened last Friday, I was invited to a private view the Monday before and walking through it was an incredible experience...  I gasped so many times! Seeing and breathing in a structure I'd first encountered as lines and gradients on paper, now live, alive...

Some of the work was carried out by MACE who built Heathrow's Terminal 5 and the employment manager (as she talked me through various incredible schemes they had to train young and working class folks from South London to work on the site) had this MACE screensaver on her laptop. And this was the start of my poem...

The Employment Manager’s Laptop.


Over her shoulder the photograph glowing
on the screen is of an airport's new terminal
and folks in transit; a brunette in pink swings

an umbrella over the polished marble floor.
In the foreground, two others wheel luggage
towards the check-in desks. Three attendants,

their lanyards laden, talk relaxed beneath
the soaring arched ceiling as so much light fills
the just-unwrapped brilliance of the building

and in the middle, one man stands behind
his stacked bags, facing the departure lounge, 
perhaps he thinks of flight. 

                                                  And it's all I need 

to imagine past her shoulders, blur the screen, 
this contractor’s office stuffed with boxes,
scuffed boots, hard hats, and see into the years

from now, when these drawings littered like
white leaves have grown into the building, 
how the planned asphalt and gravel walk

touches the quilt-pattern brick of the new
tower, twisting up as birds nose dive towards
the silver birch on grass and so much light 

hits the window slits cut in the walls and
the glass, catching the sun's wide wink, glints
from the future, promising what's to come.

 

Hope you enjoyed this, share if you did, and go check out the Tate Modern.

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Currently Reading.

I'm flying to Kenya for 9/10 days tonight and these are the books I plan to get through while I'm there. The two Poetry Magazines are for joy, the others are for work, a play I'm writing: adapting Chekov's Magnificent Three Sisters, setting in the Nigerian Civil War. Like the family in the play (three sisters and a brother), I have three sisters and I'm the only dude. The more I read the play these other adaptations, the closer I fall in love with Chekov's characters.

Setting it in the Civil War though is something else and Flora Nwapa, Chinua Achebe and Buchi Emeechta are my guardian angels. 

One of the characters in Chekov's play is compared to a famous Russian poet. I'm trying to do the same thing: comparing a character to Christopher Okigbo, who not only remains important to Nigerian poetry but died fighting in the very war the play is set. 

Will keep you updated as I read and research. 
Cheers.  

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Where'd that title come from anyway?

So, last week, for the first time, someone asked me about the title. The book is 5 years old now and never had the question be posed to me. So, if you have ever wandered, here it is...

Way back when I was a little snot-nosed shawty... (can't believe I just wrote that... anyway, 2009 or so) I used to set myself various difficult writing challenges to force unusual poem. I took this to nth degree last year when working on the #Afterhours project, but in 2009, I'd sit with a pen and a pad and look around for images that seemed conflicting or opposite to one another. On finding a suitably opposing pair one, I'd try and figure out if they related to each other in any way and write a poem with that relationship at it's core.


Late one night, this old song from Soul for Real came on the radio.

 

After vibing out to it, embarrassingly missing the dance steps, the line 'Candy coated raindrops' stuck out to me. I wondered if candy coated raindrops could actually be created and how improbable it is for them to form naturally. I upped the ante a tad to a 'Candy Coated Unicorn' which seemed, given that unicorns do no exist, even more improbable and magical. That sorted, I looked around for something opposite. Something very ubiquitous, every-day, down to earth, ordinary and shit stained... and my eyes came to rest on my old pair of Converse All Stars.

Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars became the title of whatever it is I would write, but I had no idea where I was going. I just started. The result was the poem below which became the title poem of my second pamphlet of poems. 

That's it. Puzzle unpuzzled. 
xx

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Portrait of Icarus as an immigrant.

Portrait of Icarus
as an immigrant.
for R.A. Villanueva

Heavy-booted
and uniformed
the armed
who man
the borders
of narrative
and myth
who cast
the war-torn
and hungry
as other
will say
he reached
too far
dared dream
broader than
his country
than wings
could carry
that chant
of his
that song
of light
was foreign
sounded like
a battle
cry sounded
too much
like jihad
the whole
flight was
ill-advised
the father
should know
better now
nothing can
be done
nothing as
he plunged.

Also published today by the Guardian: Several dead after refugee boat sinks off Greek coast.

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Happy New Year + 2 podcasts.

Happy New Year folks! Welcome to the second week of 2016. I hope it has started calmly and fruitfully for you. I, personally, am still in holiday mode and wish to stay there for a good few more weeks. Perhaps months. Alas, try as I might, my Nigerian juju no get power reach - there are limits to my black-boy-magic and stopping time exceeds me.

On the subject of time-travel, I'd like to begin this year by taking you back to last year. I was interviewed for two different podcasts where I got to talk about art, poetry, politics, travel and The Midnight Run. 

The first was the inaugural episode for Diasporaphiles - a blog/meeting-place, discovering the common ground between people who feel in place out of place. (35:36min). 

The second was in conversation with the incredible write and urban traveller, Iain Sinclair, for the British council before our trip to Mexico last year.

Hope you find some time to spend listening. Any questions you have, please do not hesitate to ask. Enjoy!

Inua

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The Same City

The Same City

by Terrance Hayes
For James L. Hayes
 

The rain falling on a night
in mid-December, 
I pull to my father’s engine
wondering how long I’ll remember
this. His car is dead. He connects
jumper cables to his battery, 
then to mine without looking in
at me and the child. Water beads
on the windshields, the road sign, 
his thin blue coat. I’d get out now, 
prove I can stand with him
in the cold, but he told me to stay
with the infant. I wrap her
in the blanket, staring
for what seems like a long time
into her open, toothless mouth, 
and wish she was mine. I feed her
an orange softened first in my mouth, 
chewed gently until the juice runs
down my fingers as I squeeze it
into hers. What could any of this matter
to another man passing on his way
to his family, his radio deafening
the sound of water and breathing
along all the roads bound to his? 
But to rescue a soul is as close
as anyone comes to God. 
Think of Noah lifting a small black bird
from its nest. Think of Joseph, 
raising a son that wasn’t his. 

 

Let me begin again. 
I want to be holy. In rain
I pull to my father’s car
with my girlfriend’s infant. 
She was eight weeks pregnant when we met. 
But we’d make love. We’d make
love below stars and shingles
while her baby kicked between us. 
Perhaps a man whose young child
bears his face, whose wife waits
as he drives home through rain
& darkness, perhaps that man
would call me a fool. So what. 
There is one thing I will remember
all my life. It is as small
& holy as the mouth
of an infant. It is speechless. 
When his car would not stir, 
my father climbed in beside us, 
took the orange from my hand, 
took the baby in his arms. 
In 1974, this man met my mother
for the first time as I cried or slept
in the same city that holds us
tonight. If you ever tell my story, 
say that’s the year I was born.
 

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The Gift.

The Spalding Suite show is over. A thank you to those who saw it. For those who didn't, it may tour again... hopefully with some changes and improvements. Before then I'm gonna start work on an even bigger basketball story and wanted to share with y'all one poem that didn't make it into Spalding Suite. Hope you like it:

 

The Gift
After Roger Robinson

When I had taken half the court
and left the lone-star-glory lurching
to pass you the ball, the lane clear 
for an easy layup, you slouched out
a lazy three and laughed, sheepish 
as the leather bounced out of play.
Had I described my years of sweat,
of swollen knees, hung breath rising 
towards the moon of my backyard basket
the dust-scuffing-doggedness of faking
against one's shadow to aim and fade -
away, listening for the net’s swish 
the ball flanked by nothing but air,
barely audible against the clattering
trains and I, committing to memory 
the arch-up/ pull-back/ release, arch-up/
pull-back/ release, arch-up/ pull-back/ 
while, threatening this sacred of flows,
the staccato-fisted-selfishness of car horns
battering much like these trolls we fight, 
these winged giants who foul like ogres,
they’ve made a dancer of me (to best them 
I twirled, plied, split, risked team fouls 
and shot clock to pass you the ball)
had I detailed years of sacrifice, 
perhaps then you might have walked 
my gift safely down the lane, its smooth
skin to kiss the glass backboard 
and float into the hoop, even if 
you didn't want to.

 

Thanks for reading, here is a link to the full script.

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It was all yellow.

I had a really fun photoshoot in Madrid a few days ago with the amazing guys at www.theartvalley.es. Here are a couple  taken just fooling around, will share them properly in the coming weeks. 

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Why I'm giving up poetry for dance.

I'm not really. I couldn't even if I tried. I'm just making a piece with an old friend.

I met Tony Adigun about ten years ago somewhere in the deep of East London. I stepped off an open mic stage and he was there with compliments and questions and collaborations in mind. This was way before I ever called myself a writer and way before I knew the basics of graphic design. I was just a dude with a notepad and bootlegged photoshop, with things to say and sketch, looking for spaces and people to belong to.

Very quickly, I became the in-house graphic designer for Tony's dance company AVANT GARDE and grew to creating text for them and once in a blue while, taking part in performances, threatening that if he turned his back too long I's start dancing. I wrote for his productions: The Bunker Thing and Illegal Dance. I also wrote a libretto which Tony choreographed, which was performed at the Royal Opera House. I sometimes forget this happened... I reminded Tony yesterday and he went completely blank for a few seconds before saying... "Oh shit! Bruv, we did that!"

Tony is busy. I mean BUSY. I mean if his diary was sentient, it would have tried to make a run for it by now. I'm crazy at the best if times too... but over the years we have talked about ways of working together, just him and I on a stage. The Place and The BAC have worked together to make this happen under the expert hand of Christina Elliott who was my first project manager at Fuel and is now Tony's at The Place. 

I'm nervous and excited. Contemporary dance goes where language fails. It is concerned with communicating what the sounds of words mean to say... whereas poetry is the harsh blunt word; dance is the ghost and poetry is often the machine. Tony was born in England and speaks a Nigerian language. I was born in Nigeria and speak none. Tony is Yoruba and I am Hausa meaning historically, he is my mortal tribal enemy. Tony is stocky and muscular and I... well, my muscles mostly transport my brain from one room to another these days...

But we are creating something. For the first day of rehearsals, we talked and laughed and shook our heads and reminisced and dreamt came up with lists of things not to do, and parameters to guide what we will do. We have a first line and a title... I think it will be called 'On Any Given Night'.

Details here: 

http://www.theplace.org.uk/place-battersea-arts-centre-1?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_content=tony_vera&utm_campaign=bac

Come see me dance. 

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