07/12/11 - Nottingham. The legend always comes to mind of the men in emerald tights led by the sure-shot handsome one of Loxely, Robin, his hood and his band of merry man. Back when I was a snot-nosed short blur in Nigeria, I watched the series religiously on Saturday mornings. These warm memories dissolve into the hissing trains, cold drizzle, chain stores, traffic and harsh lights of the city. Jim, who is my guide to Maresa's house (where tonight's reading will happen) shakes my hand and speaks quickly bringing me up to speed on the plans so far: those who are expected to come, on Deborah Stevenson - a friend we have in common, and about his work. There is a lot going on here poetry wise, and Jacob Sam-La Rose's name punctuates each batch of sentences. Jacob is a friend of mine, an old teacher of Deborah's, an editor at Flipped Eye and a mentor of Nilofer's - Jim's girlfriend. She is in England for a few weeks and but lives and works as a teacher and poet in Singapore. I urge Jim to go spend a year with her there as though I had any influence whatsoever. He laughs off my suggestion, as he should, drops coins into the machine for our bus fares and 20 minutes later, we get out and walk through Maresa's kitchen to her living room.
It is a cosy house, a well lived in one, a packed kitchen with a vast, vast, VAST selection of tea, herbal and otherwise. In the living room there are framed pictures on the wall of family members, on the far right a piano, a small wooden table and Nilofer, sitting with Maresa. I met Maresa the first time I visited Nottingham. It was a fleeting meeting after a poetry show. A friend of her's had read out her poem for Maresa has cerebral palsy and cannot communicate verbally and speaks through a system called 'facilitated communication'. Jim who is also her personal assistant, sits down beside her wheelchair, holds her hand and through him Maresa welcomes me to her house. Caroline, her mother, prepares dinner and Nilofer passes over exquisitely designed poetry books she'd brought from Singapore. Dinner is the kinda that always hits the spot, huge baked potatoes, cheese, stew, falafels and sausages before the rich desert of apple crumble and cream. When the plates are cleared, I flick through Maresa's published book of essays and writings. She travels a lot to speak on behalf of "We who can't speak" she is articulate and passionate.
The guests begin to arrive: Jim's close friends, some of Caroline's and many of the Mouthy Poets - the collective of writers that Maresa is a part of. They flock into the living room, perch on stools, chairs, the sofa, a rocking chair, cushions on the wooden floors and Jim welcomes them as formally as one might in so informal a setting. There is a band sat close to the piano. They play one song to warm up the room before Asha sings. Her voice softly pierces, perfectly tempered to her guitar riffs, she sings of personal problems that bring a slight chill to the warmth of the room but it is swallowed, understood and held in this safe space. Jim asks if poets in the room would like to share anything and Panya, Asha's mother, who looks more like an older sister, speaks a long poem called 'Bad Boy', a rousing call to young men who live in the area. They read one after the other, their voices are sure, brave and honest. Matthew speaks of having suicidal tendencies and reads work about attempting to take his own life. Howard speaks of a meeting with his counsellor; a response to her question 'what would you like from me?' Wadah's slightly husky voice effortlessly controls her personal meditations on seeking acceptance, Wise performs one about London and Jim sways back and forth when he improvises his poems with one of the guitarists in the room; his eyes are part closed, his whole face alight with the joy of sharing, the elation of this simplest of things.
When the poets finish, the band strike up. They are called Zulu Road comprising of Julian - Caroline's brother in law, Fred and Ian. Julian plays the mandolin, Fred and Ian guitar, they sing, harmonise with each other playful at ease with themselves and look into the eyes of us gathered, squatting, sat and leaning into their songs. Soon it is my turn to speak and I swap seats with Ian. I'm by the piano. I begin. One thing I am struck by here is the openness with which they share their problems, how they bring what might make for uncomfortable or even embarrassing listening out and drop it unwaveringly in the light of the living room. To me, there is a glow. I'd reach for the word 'aura' to describe what holds us in the room and I try to pick poems that compliment its colour. I try to let my voice fill out, to rise and dip as the poems deem necessary. In honour of Loxely, I read a new commissioned poem called 'Robin Hood. To a friend' that isn't in the book, a couple more and I am done.
Every copy of Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars that I have with me is purchased, I sign most, some are for folks who were unable to come tonight, others for friends Caroline is confident will want a copy. The living room empties and there are four of us left tucking into the left over apple crumble and cream. The conversation is a sprawling one of politics, global economics, where money comes from, the looming financial crisis, how it is possible for a country to go bankrupt, the blossoming trade in carbon offsets and such talk far bigger, chaotic and destructive than poetry. Caroline says that as the guests departed, they asked if a gathering like this could happen again, and I suggest that if the recession deepens, this is how we will entertain ourselves, we will gather indoors share stories, sing. Time stuffs sleep into our eyes and we wish goodnight to each other.
In the morning, we gather round a small table and breakfast on friend eggs on toast, salted, black peppered and buttered. Kathy is here. She comes some mornings to bathe Maresa before going to her second job in a John Lewis outlet. She complains about having to, but happily dabs makeup on the sofa advising Nilofer on what to wear when she goes iceskating in London on Sunday. My train will leave Nottingham at 13.02 and we are to leave here at 11.45. It is close, but Maresa is ready just as we go, she thanks me for coming as though I had done the favour here. I kiss Caroline on her cheek, thanking her for her hospitality. Jim, Nilofer and I walk out the door for the bus stop and Kathy waves 'Good by Mr Poet, sorry I missed you, I'm sure you good...'