Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Shaped by experience

Out of Bounds, Saturday 20th October, 6pm, Waterstones Deansgate

Words by Simran Hans.

Pete Kalu of Commonword, a writing development organisation based in Manchester, is the man behind the launch of Out of Bounds, an anthology that brings together new and established black and Asian writers as they recount their experiences of living in Great Britain.

Commonword and Manchester-based independent publisher Bloodaxe have joined forces to create an anthology of poetry that traces the intimate and local geography of the UK, as seen through the eyes of first and second generation immigrant writers. The anthology, and indeed, the evening, is a linear journey from north to south, placing these distinctly British places in their wider global context.
Gemma Robinson, editor of Out of Bounds, is quick to addresses that the anthology “contains all sorts of awful gaps”; gaps that Commonword and Bloodaxe propose to address in a second edition.  However, despite Robinson’s measured introduction, what follows is an exciting and broad series of readings from a variety of writers ranging in gender, ethnicity and cultural background.

John Siddique is the first to perform, beginning with an anecdote about a recent viewing of BBC documentary Freddie Mercury, the Untold Story, which he watched by way of a “naughty torrent download” (Siddique doesn’t watch TV). Siddique praises the late Mercury, citing him as somebody who embodied the idea that “being brown and awesome is possible”. Siddique’s first poem recalls the box bedroom he grew up in, in Rochdale. Confronting his first brushes with the National Front and the skinhead culture of the 1980s, Siddique questions what it would be like if black and people from ethnic minorities “personally named our streets”. Siddique goes on to read two more poems, offering more prophetic wisdom along the way. “I’m not a very clever person... I’m a feeler,” he muses, going on to read a fiercely intelligent and emotionally perceptive piece about love. “We think we want things – freedom, love. But we don’t take risks,” he contests. Siddique’s vulnerability certainly feels like a risk – and one that pays off.

Next up is Shamshad Khan, Manchester-based poet and creator of theatre event Meglomaniac, who launches straight into her poetry with no introductory spiel.But then Khan’s first poem, the confidently whispered tale of a strained relationship needs no introduction. Delivered with heartfelt intensity, it is quietly powerful and speaks for itself. Khan, a perennial risk-taker, is joined on stage by the evening’s special guest, Irish poet Jeremiah Oliver O’Brien. Interpreting the anthology’s title as a nod to escaping the bounds of conformism, Khan hands the microphone to O’Brien, who gives a passionate, throaty reading. The spoken-word style of O’Brien’s performance has an improvisational quality; one wonders if he is reciting or creating the poem he reads. Nevertheless, O’Brien is a captivating character, his gravelly voice resonating around the room. Khan’s reading ends with Pot, an eccentric ode to a Nigerian pot, incarcerated in the Manchester Museum.

English teacher-turned-sales rep-turned-poet and winner of the Manchester Cathedral International Poetry Competition Nabila Jameel follows, opening with Turmeric, dedicated to her late sister-in-law.  Jameel contextualises the poem, telling the audience that turmeric is a “happy spice”, associated with good health and prosperity - ironic considering the poem’s grave subject matter.  Jameel’s other poems are similarly sombre; beautifully written and heart-breakingly bleak, Jameel performs Rooftops, the imagined memory of seeing prostitutes roam the streets of Pakistan, and Sirens, a grim tale of domestic abuse.

Kalu himself is the event’s fourth act, introducing himself, much to the crowd’s delight. A self-proclaimed radical, Kalu has “always had an intention to change the world”. Indeed, his Poem for Manchester doesn’t pander to expectations, refusing to create a false history by eulogising the city. Kalu then introduces Maya Chowdhry, writer and inTer-aCt-ive artist. Chowdhry reads My Eyes, excerpted from Time to Read and North West Libraries’ Perfect Places collection. Being part of an anthology “puts you in a context”, Chowdry rhapsodises, before launching into new poem The Edge. Capturing the cadence, rhythm and rhetoric of poetry as it’s meant to be heard, Chowdry’s performance packs a powerful punch.

The evening concludes with a reading by Segun Lee-French. Rain houses a chilling nursery rhyme, chronicling experiences of playground racism, whereas Ekundayo is dedicated to his twin brother, who died in infancy. Lee-French’s poetry is piercing, elegant and bold, ending the evening on a high-note – though not before Kalu is presented with a birthday cake, the crowd raucous in their rendition of Happy Birthday.

In her segment, Khan asks, what do we want to reverberate into the world? The answer is our experiences. In collating and contextualising these experiences in an anthology, the power behind these poems is expounded, reverberating loudly against the walls of the North West’s literary circle. 

Simran Hans is a writer, student and David Fincher enthusiast.  She is editor of online film journal Kubrick on the Guillotine, and has written for alternative film school SOHK.tv, The Guardian and Manchester’s international centre for contemporary art and film, Cornerhouse. You can follow her on Twitter here.