In ’05, 3 years after I started writing poetry, my first pamphlet, the Thirteen Fairy Negro Tales – published by mouthmark, a flipped eye publishing series that began with Nick Makoha’s The Lost Collection of an Invisible Man and will end with Warsan Shire’s teaching mother how to give birth - came out. The Thirteen Fairy Negro Tales was written in my angry-young-black-man phase, where I’d gather what I thought to be ills of the world and throw my pen hard, knocking them down one by one. Three years before that, I had just returned to London after another three years spent in Dublin where an enthusiastic English teacher plied us with so much Shakespeare, Boland, Heaney and Keats, it split the class into two factions: lovers and haters of poetry. I was in the former camp, but I lived in the suburbs of Dublin and after school, friends and would gather round hi-fis chanting after 2Pac, Eminem, Snoop, Dre, swearing allegiance to House Of Pain, bouncing on the balls of our feet. Words from those rappers conjured so rich a world they’d sit comfortably on the Irish fields that surrounded us. I discovered the classics and hip hop simultaneously. So, when I began writing my voice was tinged with this. It was Hip Hop influenced as it was classic, as of the fields as it was of the city and as I studied Keats’ construction of sonnets, I’d deconstruct Mos Def. Yet each creation of mine would sail softly into dustbins; I never considered it poetry, just fooling with words.
London 2002, and Jack, a close friend hands over an unlabelled CD with ‘you like poetry, check this out’. That night I pressed play and from the speakers came the Buddhist meditation chant ‘Ooooooohhhhhmmmmm’, followed by the words: ‘Through meditation I program my heart to be breakbeats and hum baselines and exhalations’ Those hypnotic seconds opened Saul Williams’ first album Amethyst Rockstar and in the half darkness of the South London summer night, between the thick, rhythmic, philosophy-inspired hip hop, drilled rock and rolling hymns of hope and hardship, I found the courage to consider myself a writer, perhaps even a poet.
The fire I wrote the Thirteen Fairy Negro Tales by was lit from Saul’s songs and it warmed everything I wrote until I turned 22 when, confident I had a voice, I took to other fires. The night I turned 22, the night I grew up, is one of the most memorable I have ever lived. My birthday in 2006 coincided with the official launch of the mouthmark series and after the reading we gathered at a Wagamama restaurant for dinner. Writers who had led me to new fires: Jacob Sam-La Rose, Roger Robinson, Malika Booker were there, as where a generous troupe of friends. After dinner, after all of Wagamama – staff and random diners sang happy birthday to me. Then we stood outside comfortable in boyish banter when a man walked by.
Jack pointed after him – That’s Saul, he said. – No dude, don’t be… huh ? – I studied the swagger disappearing into the night, ran, tapped his shoulder, stuttered, swallowed, then spoke: Hi Saul / Inua / remember me, I interviewed you a few months ago for flipped eye’s x magazine / You do?! / I’m cool. Today is my birthday / what are you doing here?
And Saul told a story of missing a flight to California and instead of staying in his hotel, something called him out. He’d just seen a film about an artist isolated and he did not want that tonight. – Cool / So what are you doing now? / You were just gonna walk the streets, well, wanna walk with us? / -
We left the Southbank Centre in London, walked through Waterloo, to Elephant and Castle, journeyed to Camberwell and in the basement of a moth-eaten, smoke-filled, low-lit student house, Saul and I sat swapping poems and stories till 3 in the morning. I was 22, and felt great. If Saul was Mr Miyagi, I was the Karate Kid and he had just told me my karate-chop was on point. After that, I became brash, careless and wrote some really horrid, artless poems; the master who cut me down to size after I strayed was Kwame Dawes. But that is another story.