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Lola Olufemi, Odelia Younge, Waithera Sebatindira, Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan

Lola, Odelia, Waithera and Suhaiymah
Cover art design by Sheena Zhang

A FLY Girl’s Guide to University is a collection of memoirs, essays, poetry and prose from four women of colour who studied at the University of Cambridge. It is a multifaceted calling out of the wrongness underpinning their shared experience at Cambridge, and the experiences of others in similar institutions throughout the UK. But they describe it best: ‘The purpose of our book is simple: we believe that our lives, our experiences, and our voices matter, especially in a place of power, pervasive whiteness and exclusivity. Our voices not only deserve to be heard but must be because the ‘Cambridge experience’ of a middle-class, white, cisgendered, able-bodied man is not the only one. Ours cannot be silenced.

We came together through FLY, a network specifically by and for women and non-binary people of colour at Cambridge. As members of FLY, we were all vocal and active in feminist and anti-racist politics, as well as adamant about intersectionality – whether in education, research, creating spaces on campus or in our campaigning. Through meeting there, hearing one another and experiencing our absences elsewhere, we decided to write this book. Writing gave us a language and space that we were not often afforded and a chance to live beyond the niches carved out for us by others. This book exists as a testament to our existences in a place we were often made invisible, and stands as a demonstration of the fact that we have the power to validate ourselves.

We believe our book itself to be a form of activism in its fearless sharing of our experiences and in contributing to the provision of previously silenced truths. In some ways, the importance of what we say is almost as important as the fact we say it at all because the power of this book is borne from the desire to continue a legacy of recording lived experiences of those whose stories often go unpublished. We want our work to act as a disruption, a hope, and a symbol that though marginalised in many ways and many spaces, we are very much alive, evolving and powerful.’

This wonderful book needs to be read, discussed and understood, in Universities, but also in government offices, businesses and anywhere that people are made to feel excluded, estranged and exposed because of their heritage, their religion or their appearance.

Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan

Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan is a writer, spoken-word poet, and educator invested in unlearning the modalities of knowledge she has internalised, disrupting power relations, and asking questions around narratives to do with race, gender, Islamophobia, state violence and decoloniality. She did her BA in History at Queens’ College, Cambridge, and MA in Postcolonial Studies at SOAS. Alongside a wider education from the epistemology of Islam and work of women of colour and anti-systemic thinkers from across the world, Suhaiymah regularly speaks and workshops on racism, Islamophobia, feminism and poetry across the UK as well as writing about those topics at her website, www.thebrownhijabi.com. Her work has been featured in The Independent, The Guardian, Al-Jazeera, BBC, The Islam Channel, ITV, Sky TV, TEDx conferences, music festivals, US slams and British Universities. She is trying her best to destabilise accepted narratives and disrupt the tendency to fall into binary explanations, insha’Allah.

Waithera Sebatindira

Waithera Sebatindira is a Law graduate from Trinity Hall and recently completed her MPhil in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies at the same College. While facilitator of FLY, and with the indispensable support of its founders and a group of committed women of colour, she expanded the group’s membership and reach. During this time, Waithera developed a black feminist ethic that continues to be informed by the work of inspirational women she reads and meets – especially this book’s co-authors. She went on to become the first woman of colour to hold the position of full-time Women’s Officer on the Cambridge University Students’ Union and, during her tenure, campaigned on behalf of woman and non-binary students on campus while coordinating decolonial efforts across campus.

Lola Olufemi
Lola Olufemi is a black feminist and organiser from London.  She graduated from Cambridge with a degree in English Literature in 2016. She facilitated FLY, the group for women and non-binary people of colour at Cambridge from 2015-16 and held roles on the BME and Women’s Campaign. She was the Cambridge University Students Union Women’s Officer from 2017-18. During her time at university she was heavily involved in student activism, working on, amongst others: the establishment of support for survivors of sexual violence, decolonising the curriculum and opposing the marketisation of higher education. She is currently the NUS Second Place on the NUS Women’s Campaign & sits on the National Executive Council. She is a masters student in Gender Studies who is interested in black feminist thought as a vehicle for thinking about the self and others and disrupting systems of power. She is currently writing a book on reclaiming feminism for young people which will be published by Pluto Press in 2020.

Odelia Younge

Odelia Younge is an educator and writer based in Oakland, California. In her life and work, she centers discussions about blackness and resistance. Odelia earned a B.A. in history and literature from Harvard and an MPhil in politics, development and democratic education from Cambridge. Her research has focused on black women collectives, historical memory, transgressions and resistance, and black male youth identity within spatial theory, critical youth studies, and radical black feminist theory. Odelia also has a background in peace education and children’s rights, developing programs in places such as Miami, Florida and the Greater Accra region of Ghana. She has led work across the United States on transforming education, decolonising systems, and building out spaces for black writers, while also organizing spaces for creative expression. Odelia is driven by her faith, radical black love, and the concept of creating yourself to freedom — forgetting what your oppressors have told you is the truth, and building anew. Odelia is the co-founder of Novalia Collective, which focuses on storytelling, community building, and cultivating spaces that vanquish fear of uncertainty and the unknown. She takes immense pride in being the editor and compiler of A FLY Girl’s Guide to University.

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Polarbear

Polarbear

Polarbear AKA Steven Camden is a writer from Birmingham who moved to London for a girl.

His debut young adult novel ‘TAPE’ was published worldwide in January 2014 by HarperCollins to rave reviews and his second novel, ‘IT’S ABOUT LOVE’, published in June 2015, was Book of the Month for The Guardian. His third novel ‘NOBODY REAL’ was recently published in May 2018.

His collection of spoken word stories ‘EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE’ was published by Macmillan in July 2018. 

Under his performance name Polarbear, he is one of the most respected spoken word artists in the UK and has performed his work from California to Kuala Lumpur, via 

AKA Steven Camden

Glastonbury, Latitude, Camden Crawl and pretty much every festival going.

He came to prominence as part of Apples & Snakes Exposed tour 2007 and has since written and performed three feature length theatre pieces; If I Cover My Nose You Can’t See Me (Birmingham REP), RETURN (BAC and mac) and Old Me (Roundhouse) on national and international tours.

These three long pieces from Birmingham born Polarbear AKA Steven Camden are his first printed pieces for adults. We are over the moon that he has chosen Verve Poetry Press to release them for him.

The three long pieces, poetry meets performance, are what he describes as his ‘spoken brummie saga’ – and are what we describe as his ‘portrait of the artist as a young poet.’ Steven again: ‘I am proud of these pieces and how they map my journey of a spoken word artist trying to craft his own voice while at the same time trying to gather a sense of who the hell I am.’

The language of these pieces is typical Polarbear – rhythmical, arrestingly simple, every word laden with a great weight of meaning until a spell is cast over the reader or listener and magic begins to happen. The sometimes humdrum setting of brothers’ rooms or sofas in flats and houses in Birmingham suburbs, of Co-ops and buses and passenger seats, sparkles in these pieces. The tight lipped conversations are all this poet needs to communicate a world of feeling, loyalty and deep seated affection.

These pieces absolutely need to be read, and if they can be, listened to too. They are the journey that delivered the man, the evolution of the spirit of the bear.

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Hannah Swingler

Hannah Swingler

Hannah Swingler is a poet, teacher and artist, born and bred in Birmingham. She calls a forward roll a ‘gambole’.

She was the winner of CoachesSLAM 2018, as well as coaching the University of Birmingham’s uniSLAM team to victory. She went on to represent the UK at CUPSI in Philadelphia.

Hannah’s ‘haunting yet hopeful’ storytelling spans themes such as female identity, relationships and mental health. Luke Kennard observed, “her work finds the beautiful and the lyrical in the everyday with the wisest, self-deprecating heart and intuitive wit and humanity.”

Hannah At Kenilworth Arts Festival '18

She has performed across the country: with Tongue Fu, featuring at Howl, Grizzly Pear, Verve Poetry Festival, Cafe Grande Slam, Stirchley Speaks, and at REP Birmingham, BOM, the Old REP, Ikon Gallery, Upstairs at the Western, Derby Theatre, Oxjam Fest, Birmingham Weekender and mac, amongst others.  She featured on BBC radio discussing the importance of poetry for young people.

Hannah is an alumnus of both the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain and Beatfreeks YSC.

She believes good things come to those who make.

Hannah describes her incredible debut collections of fresh and original poetry best.

‘I struggle to throw things away. Used envelopes, mostly. This is not only my debut collection of poetry, it is my hoard, my memory bank, my adventure into the known.’

This dress has pockets exudes the feeling of finding a dress that fits in a charity shop for only £4.50 and it has the functionality of pockets that are deep enough to carry unsent love letters and conkers and those memories that you wish you could binge watch, or tape over.

It is ethereal but memorable, surreal, but familiar, like a dream you weren’t able to keep hold of. It is what it means to remember, what it means to grow up storing your thoughts close to you, in pockets of dresses that make you look alright until you sit down in them. Now is your time to dance in it, now is the time to empty your pockets and spin.

We are thrilled to be bringing you this poetry dress with its many marvellous pockets. We encourage you to peer deep into them and be amazed!

Sample Poem: Freddie Mercury

When I am nine, my parents move us to the countryside, away from bus routes and gang wars. The house they buy is bigger, too cheap for what is offers and their deliberation doesn’t last long. They don’t think to look at the old wiring; block out the sound of the motorway at the bottom of the garden.

Financial recklessness is hereditary.

We continue to go to school in the city, work in the city: be city dwellers that must sleep where we can see the stars clearer. Thirteen miles there, another thirteen back: the car becomes our living room, our bedroom, our home.

It doesn’t have a CD player, so my brother makes jukebox cassettes, one song per family member then repeat. I choose Jesus of Surburbia by Green Day because it is nine minutes and seven seconds long and I crave the attention.

Fields, trees, abandoned farm buildings, hair pin bends, blind junctions, I know the landscape better than the opening to my favourite movie.

I write birthday cards leaning on headrests without curving a line.

            I can apply a full face of makeup using the rear view mirror from the backseat.

                        I learn to change outfits without flashing the driver.

                                    I devour books like they will be burnt at the end of the day.

My brother falls in love with a girl who lives opposite our school. He stays overnight on a camp bed in her living room, I think. He stops making mix tapes.

I am given an ipod for my birthday and spend the mornings staring out of the window pretending I am in a music video.

My mother only drives when my Dad is already home. At night, she turns the lights off on roads without cat eyes and we scream in the seconds of darkness, before we flash back to visibility. One night, we drive passed a man in drag walking in the road towards us. Two weeks later, the local headlines talk of a “decapitated tranny” who got hit by a car on her way home from a dinner party.

My Mom stops turning the lights off after that.

                        Mornings mean minus six degrees and the heater breaks.

I fall in love with a boy who lives opposite my school in an adjacent road to my brother’s girlfriend. I can see my art room from my bedroom window. I stay overnight on a camp bed, sometimes.

I’m not sure whether the reason I love him is because I get an extra half an hour of sleep in the morning.

We resurrect Freddie Mercury on a thunder filled October night through dramatic, unrehearsed yet surprisingly harmonised word-perfect rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. We congratulate each other on hitting the high notes, swerve to miss a pheasant and hit a tree instead.

When I graduate – after thirteen years of thirteen miles there and thirteen back – my parents move to the road my brother’s now fiancée lives on. I can see my old room from my bedroom window. I get an extra half an hour of sleep in the morning.

There are bus routes and gang wars and no blind junctions.

We do not make mix tapes.

We do not resurrect Freddie Mercury anymore, but I can still apply liquid eyeliner travelling over potholes using the rear view mirror from the backseat.

 

CONTACT HANNAH:

Twitter: @HannahSwings
www.facebook.com/hannswings
https://hannahswings.com

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Jenna Clake

Jenna Clake (serious)
Cover for Clake/Interview for

We are thrilled that prize-winning poet Jenna Clake has agreed to let us produce her first published pamphlet, Clake/ Interview for, which follows on from her stunning debut collection, Fortune Cookie (Eyewear, 2017). #2 in our Experimental Pamphlet Series, this wonderful work consists of two long poems only. But what glorious long poems they are!

In Clake, a central character, as likely to be the author as any other central character, moves through the unexpected absence of a loved one in a scarily ordinary domestic setting in which cakes become threats, and cats have opinions and give mixed-quality advice.

Told in fifteen short prose poems that will charm and unsettle in equal measure, Clake is a powerful and masterful work.

In Interview for, unnamed characters move through a setting that is half reality, half television show, while voiceovers and interviewers chip in with questions and comments which are only sometimes helpful and rarely accurate. Pages are traversed, but stasis rather than progression is the dominant state.

Both of these masterful works are written in Jenna’s trademark deadpan, wide-eyed, wonderfully observational style, in which her humour is evident but always seem to be engulfed by a deep and undisturbed sadness. These poems will bear reading multiple times, and each time something new will be communicated. Wonderful, wonderful work!

Jenna Clake’s debut collection, Fortune Cookie, was awarded the Melita Hume Prize and shortlisted for a Somerset Maugham Award. In 2018, she received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. 

Jenna Clake (happy)

SAMPLE POEM BY JENNA

Wooden City

I build a wooden city of all the places I have been with my love. I build the train platform where we met. I build a miniature version of our house, complete with our car sitting out the front like it is waiting for a date. I build all the hotel rooms we have ever stayed in, and put them on a street next to each other. I build all the restaurants, all the evenings our dinner burned when we forgot about it, too busy doing something better, all the clothes we have swapped so that we can no longer remember what is truly ours.

I work on the wooden city every day. I clean the inside of our little wooden house with a paintbrush. My love comes home and asks me how the city is coming along. He touches everything lightly when I hold it up to him, tells me he has never seen anything so magnificent. Before he comes to bed, he stands over the wooden city and studies it, then switches off the light. He kisses my forehead. I feel the walls of the wooden city expand around us.

There is a street for our arguments. It is an alleyway, tucked far away from the centre of everything. There is always a way out of it: a gate into a garden, or a taxi rank, and then home. When my love sees the alleyway, he says, Do you see me like that? and I spend the whole night ripping it out.

Every day, my love takes a train into a real city. I can see the train station from our bedroom window. When he leaves, I spend another hour in bed. If I dream, I dream I am inside the wooden city. Last night, I walked into our house. I felt the papered walls, the bumps like bubble wrap, tripped over my love’s many pairs of shoes.

My love wakes me up in the middle of the night, crying. He says he doesn’t remember anything from the first few months of our relationship. The top left section of the wooden city is a new territory to him. I hold him and tell him it is okay, that I understand. Over breakfast the next morning he is silent. I try to smile at him, orange juice clinging to my lips.

I dedicate the wooden city to my love. I put his name on the surrounding walls. I send him a picture of it while he is at work. When he comes home, he asks me to make dinner. He throws his warm, worn shirt over the city, and leaves it there all week.

I build a new section of the wooden city: our first and only holiday together. I build the moment we talked about getting a bigger real house, the way the sky seemed to turn a light orange when he said it was something he couldn’t think about right now – maybe in a few months? I build the moment as thick as his alcoholic milkshake.

When my love leaves for work, I pretend to be asleep. He says I am working too hard on the wooden city. I lie in bed and think about how much attention the wooden city needs. For many years I dreamed of building a wooden city. Now every day I take care of it. When my love gets to the train platform, he forgets about it, and thinks of something else.

I dream that I am cleaning our wooden house with a paintbrush, as always, but the walls fall apart in my hands. When I look down, I am standing in the middle of the wooden city and I have crushed the buildings with my feet. My love comes through the front door and says, I am starving.

I take a week off from the wooden city. All day I lie in bed and hide my head under the duvet. When my love comes home, I say that I am building a new section of the wooden city; he’ll have to wait for the grand unveiling. He goes straight to the fridge.

I dream I am inside the wooden city. I walk into our wooden house. I feel the papered walls, the bumps like bubble wrap, trip over my love’s many pairs of shoes. Then I set it on fire, and sit down.

My love stops coming home from work, stays late and gets the last train home. I take out the wooden train station from the wooden city and move it right to the edge. In its place I build a garden. I plant real parsley and basil.

I start to move things around in the wooden city. I cut things in half, split them up so that our timeline is scrambled. I make more room for gardens, let them grow over the walls. The wooden city now takes up most of the spare bedroom of our real house. I look out the window for my love.

When I water the plants in the gardens of the wooden city, I pretend that it is raining on me and my love, and that we must run across the city to find each other, since only one of us has an umbrella.

I look out the window for my love, and find him standing on the real corner of our real street. On the day we moved in to our real house, we sat amongst our boxes and ate chips. I told my love about my plan to build the wooden city. He said, It will be the most wonderful thing about you. I washed my hands and started building.

I meet my love on the corner of our real street. I try to smile at him, sweat clinging to my lips. He says, You are not coping well with building the city. You should stay somewhere else for a while. I think, I would build this moment underneath our house. I go inside, to the wooden city. I pull the plants out of their gardens and place them in a plastic bag. My love stands at the top of the stairs. He doesn’t say goodbye.

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Matt Abbott

Matt Abbott

Matt Abbott is a poet, practitioner, producer and activist from Wakefield. He first began performing spoken word in between musical acts at Yorkshire indie gigs in December 2006, shortly before his 18th birthday. From 2007-2013 he fronted alternative pop act Skint & Demoralised, which included a stint with Universal Records as well as national and international acclaim.

Since returning to spoken word in 2013, he has toured the UK frequently; appearing in theatres, at festivals, at community and political events, and on stage with bands – his first love. In spring 2015 he formed the spoken word record label Nymphs & Thugs.

His work fuses socio-political commentary with kitchen sink realism and is presented in a dynamic and engaging manner. Matt captures a lot of his activism in his poetry, and always looks to focus on the human aspect of politics.

Matt is Poet-in-Residence at the National Coal Mining Museum for England, lead creative writing practitioner at The Hepworth Wakefield, and an ambassador for Eureka! The National Children’s Museum, Trinity Homeless Projects and CRIBS International.

Matt Abbott

He was also commissioned to write a collection as Poet-in Residence on a project with Efficiency North, a social housing enterprise based in Yorkshire. This was published in July 2018.

Two Little Ducks Cover

Matt was volunteering at the Calais Jungle refugee camp when his native Wakefield voted 66% Leave. Why did so many working-class communities like his support Brexit so strongly? How can the UK ignore a humanitarian crisis just 22 miles from Dover? And does anything ever actually change for people like Maria?

Matt’s one man poetry show, Two Little Ducks, is a powerful, personal and political spoken word show from one of UK poetry’s rising stars. He channels the human side of politics to look at national identity, preconceptions, class and anti-establishment anger. Poetic flair and storytelling, with a unique insight into the summer that changed everything.

To accompany the show, Verve Poetry Press has produced a book containing the full and final version of Two Little Ducks, along with a selection of the stand-alone poems Matt composed during the time of writing his show. Together they form a collection that gives a full and inspiring taste of this poet’s pin-point way with words and great concern for common people – their complexity, their great unpredictability.

The book also includes a selection of the standalone poems that wrote during the time of writing Two Little Ducks. Altogether, this collection is representative of three years of frenzied and focused writing and performing from a poet at the top of his game.

Two Little Ducks is Matt’s first collection.

QUOTES:

‘A joy to read and an instant counter culture classic.’ – Salena Godden

‘Matt Abbott is the voice of the UK in uprising. Powerful, empathetic and necessary.’ – Joelle Taylor

‘An artist with something to say, who knows how to say it.’ – The Scotsman

Sample Poem:

Overnight Megabus

Where denim and leather sit side by side
and strip-lights sabotage slumber.
Strangers stretching blurry eyed,
non-nocturnal minds encumbered.
Not through choice but desperate need:
the overnight Megabus, London to Leeds.

Where minutes match the miles on the motorway.
The strip-lights are surrendered,
leaving cricket scores in the Evening Standard
semi-censored by midnight’s mask.
The old man squints,
with nothing but the Butterscotch glow
from Finchley Road
to illuminate his wickets.

Bare feet stick out in aisles.
It looks like a cross between a bingo hall
and a morgue on wheels.
The stuffy air stands
behind the shoulders of your lungs,
forcing them to work for every breath.

The toilet
is out of order.
The stench floats just above your nose,
like the Baileys in a Baby Guinness.
Whenever you lean back to rest your head
(which is fairly often at 2am),
it cackles and catches you unaware.

 

And then you snooze for a bit,
with jacket between head and shoulder.
Trick your brain into thinking there’s a duvet and a mattress,
until the booze morphs a mouth
that’s munched a month’s worth of crackers.

The hot air stifles and your forehead pounds,
but still…
three quid from London to Leeds!

Look around: we’re winning at life.
We drop off at Rugby, and Leicester,
and Loughborough and Sheffield.

Sunlight creeps like a magnifying glass
on a coach full of ants
being dragged from the capital.

The particles of shit from the blocked-up bog
form a Morris dance pattern ‘round your nostrils.
The Services are always twenty-five miles away.
Jesus still loves us.
This billboard is still FOR SALE.

The cricket scores in the Evening Standard
have fallen to the floor.
The picture of the crease all creased by his sandals.
The strip-lights fight for attention,
but they’re long since a formality.

The overnight Megabus. London to Leeds.

Blurry eyes now bloodshot.
Strangers carry awkward familiarity.
Snoring and sighs, stretches and yawns:
cash is the Queen,
and we
are the Pawns.

@MattAbbottPoet | Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube
www.mattabbottpoet.com
www.nymphsandthugs.net

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Luke Kennard

Offical and quite dull biography beneath an offical and strangely happy and lovely picture: Luke Kennard is a poet and novelist. His books have been shortlisted for the Forward Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize and the International Dylan Thomas Prize. He lectures in the School of English at the University of Birmingham.

Unofficial and more exciting biography beneath a picture that we feel gets much nearer to the reality of the poet – edgy, troubled, slightly short-sighted: Thinking as we do that all of Luke’s poems are strictly autobiographical and not, as he maintains, wild leaps of imaginative fiction, Luke Kennard was both bullied and horrifically spiteful as a child and has very little grasp on the realities of modern life or the responsibilities he has within it. He would much rather be eating sweets, petting strange dogs, smoking cigarettes with no filter at all and tying himself in knots with deep and contradictory thoughts about very shallow literature than fathering his children in a responsible manner, working hard to earn a decent crust and educating his students well beyond their means. The little things – old phone-numbers on crumpled post-it notes, an unusual knot in the wood of his bedstead, a new freckly – are the things that entertain him most. 

To be serious for a second, we are thrilled and honoured to have LUKE KENNARD’s first pamphlet since 2012 – Truffle Hound – to kick of our new experimental pamphlet series this year. More resolutely prose than any of his previous books of poetry, here Luke allows his childhood (imagined or otherwise) to flood into the foreground, while his present (factual or fake news) distorts and fractures as if his life were being directed by a strange Gilliam/Lynch hybrid. Dogs, cigarettes, children and pills shouldn’t really be permitted to mix should they? Here they are a heady mixture indeed!

One of the shorter among some quite long prose poems in TRUFFLE HOUND

ITALICIZE THIS

This is a story about a geyser of untranslatable thoughts. But it starts with a Ratpack B-side called If You Can’t Translate a River, How You Gonna Translate the Sea? and from there things get “worse” which is to say “ ‘worse’ ” and the protagonist is a man who forgets all of his body parts so he has labels attached to all of his body parts and labels attached to the labels to remind him what labels are and why he needs them and a tertiary set of labels with caveats. Do the children run from him as he rustles by or point and laugh? Let’s be honest. Nobody points and laughs. If I saw someone pointing and laughing I’d point and laugh at them. I remember at the age of 6 I was trying to write the word treasure and I asked my teacher how do you spell zh? She said It’s entirely dependent on context and I said What’s context? You know when you accidentally hug someone too hard and there’s a moment where they struggle or say oof. What are you trying to do? On my shelf I have a copy of a journal from the 80s called Poetic Comment only it’s just poems – and they’re not great – no comment whatsoever, go figure. Go tell it on the mountain. If I tried to italicize the way I feel about you the letters would lean so far to the right they’d be invisible.

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Rupinder Kaur

Rupinder Kaur is a Birmingham born Panjabi poet and biomedical science student with an immense love for South Asian arts. She sees writing and reading poetry as a way to liberate the soul. 

For Rupinder, writing, along with any other art form, should be azaad – free, free to express what the artist wants or needs to say, without any censorship.  Rupinder is known for speaking her mind and this is reflected in her poems.

In Rooh, her debut poetry collection, she takes us on a poetic journey that transcends borders and arbitrary boundaries.

Her work straddles English and Punjabi culture – fusing words from Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu and English. They look at love, religion, identity, politics, history, taboos, society – often questioning orthodox views, particularly around the roles that different genders are expected to adopt. Rooh has a grand scope, and stares unblinkingly at the world. It is a stunning first collection from this young, intelligent poet.

To reflect these concerns the poems in Rooh have been detatched from their own moorings, to become and single river of verse. A river that by turns widens and narrows, meanders and charges rapidly onwards, that is contained when it isn’t breaking its bounds. The poems move with the freedom that Rupinder wishes she could see in the world around her, and with this in mind this book can be read in one long sitting or can be dipped into and out of like a cold river on a hot day, as your own rooh or soul dictates.

Rupinder Kaur

SAMPLE POEM FROM RUPINDER

 

o mereya jugni, jugni

o mereya jugni, jugni

 

jugni travels from Delhi to Amritsar

across to England

 

jungi; the essence of life, the spirit of life

comes inside my rooh

 

jugni comes and dances in my dreams

jugni makes me fly

 

jugni takes me across borders

taking me to Lahore

 

jugni removes the radcliffe line

and I see my five rivers flowing together

 

jugni sees me read and write poetry

jugni tells me to light the candle

 

jugni watches me apply kohl

jugni watches me paint my lips

 

jugni looks at me and smiles

jugni tells me to fall in love with myself

 

jugni is no kafir or fakir

jugni is azaad, jugni is azaad

 

and jugni makes me free

jugni sets my rooh free

 

the jugni becomes me…

and the jugni becomes me…

 

o mereya jugni, jugni…

o mereya jugni, jugni…

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Nafeesa Hamid

Nafeesa Hamid

Nafeesa Hamid is a British Pakistani poet and playwright based in Birmingham. Her work covers taboo themes such as sex, domestic violence and mental health, using personal experience as a basis for her writing.

Nafeesa has been writing and performing for 6 years at nights around the UK. She has featured at Outspoken (London), Poetry is Dead Good (Nottingham), Find the Right Words (Leicester) and Hit The Ode (Birmingham). She was invited to perform at TedxBrum 2016 (Power of Us).

Nafeesa Hamid

Nafeesa has also performed at Cheltenham and Manchester Literature Festivals as part of The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write, a recent (2017) anthology publication by Saqi Books, edited by Sabrina Mahfouz. She is an alumni of Mouthy Poets and Derby Theatre Graduate Associate Artists. She runs Twisted Tongues, an open-mic only poetry night at The Station in Kings Heath.

About Besharam: Learning that your mind and body have been taken hostage is one thing. Learning how to take them back is another. What if those that are returned are different to the ones that were lost?

Cover of Besharam

Besharam – Nafeesa Hamid’s glorious debut collection – asks this and many other questions. When does a girl become a woman? When does her world allow her to become a woman? And what kind of woman should she be? The answers aren’t readily forthcoming.

As she treads the shifting line between woman and daughter, between Pakistan and the West, between conservative Islam and liberal, Nafeesa has almost had to find a new language to try to communicate the difficulties of her situation. And what a language! At times hard and pointed, at other times wonderfully and colourfully evocative, erupting with 

femininity, empowerment and rebellion. It is this language that makes Besharam such a pleasure to read in spite of the pain it contains – Besharam really is a magical first book of poetry

About Nafeesa and Besharam … 

‘Besharam is an outstanding collection from Nafeesa… I think her poems are very special.’ – Imtiaz Dharker

‘Love this collection and finding it deeply affecting. The fearlessness is astonishing. Bravo!’ – Roz Goddard

‘One of the best readings we’ve ever had in the shop challenging sexism, domestic violence and claiming autonomy for woman.’ Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottm.

‘I highly, highly recommend pre-ordering [Nafeesa’s] first book of poetry – Besharam – as this writer resonates on a whole other level.’ – Pam Reader

 

Nafeesa preparing to read - Five Leaves, Nottm by Anne Holloway of Big White Shed.

‘Yesterday I read and was deeply moved by NafeesaHamid’s debut, Besharam. Thank you Nafeesa for articulating so deftly and elegantly such complex material. I know I’ll return to this book often. And big up VervePoetryPresS for publishing this important work.’ – Ruby Robinson

‘You know those times you pick up a poetry collection and read right the way through because every page is a grenade? … Besharam is powerful, rebellious, tender and bold. I could not put this ‘woman’ down.’ – Hafsah Basheer

‘I love Nafeesa’s vibrant, original and refreshingly original poems.’ – Josephine Corcoran

Sample Poem from Nafeesa

How to tell your parents you’re dating a white atheist

  1. Reassure them you are still Muslim.

  2. Wait for their bodies to relax.

  3. Wait for their faces to tense up as they realise the coming-out is still to come.

  4. Don’t tell them you’ve been dating for however many years.

  5. Leave the exit doors open. Wide open.

  6. Do not try and explain atheism to them.

  7. Do not expect them to smile.

  8. Do not try and touch them.

  9. Do offer them a helpline.

  10. Hardest blow first – “He’s an atheist.”

  11. Do not try and explain atheism.

  12. Carry on – “He’s a white atheist. He’s white. A white atheist. White. Atheist. Atheist.

  13. Hopefully, they will have understood by now.

  14. Imagine various scenarios where they hug you with you relief and declare through sweaty brows, “Gosh, phew! At least it’s not…”

  15. In reality your dad is the one that is crying and your mother is threatening to bury both you and her honour in the back yard.

  16. If you are the reason for your father’s first heart attack, turn to God and apologise profusely.

  17. Maybe don’t tell your parents.

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Leon Priestnall

Leon Priestnall is a Poet based in Birmingham. He has performed his poems up and down the country, headlining at The Door in the Birmingham Rep and performing spontaneous verse on BBC Radio. He is also host and founder of Birmingham spoken word night Howl. Bennetts Hill Blues is his first collection of Poetry.

Leon Priestnall Close-Up

ABOUT BENNETTS HILL BLUES: The Leon we meet in this debut collection is something quite rare on the Spoken Word circuit – a romantic, a lost soul, with so few of the right answers and so many of the wrong ones. His poems are full of questions, not solutions, or even a step further back from that – are asking the question of what questions to ask. In his work, he isn’t setting himself up as any kind of answer – he is as wrong as he is right, behaves badly as often as correctly. Often too confused to be able to move – beyond lighting another cigarette, taking another drink, running for the door – or speak. Often trapped inside the circle of his thoughts, which are a riot of possibilities and recriminations, what-ifs and why-nots.

Cover of Bennetts Hill Blues

That he is out and trying to engage at all feels like some kind of triumph. And he is out, in the locked throng of weekend bar-life, amidst the shouts and the laughter, the thrum of music, the night-life characters that appear and disappear like ghost-train skeletons, there as large and loud as life, until they are suddenly gone. He is out, trying to join in somehow. Either that or trying to forget.

Leon on the Mic
Leon in full flow

The other triumph is the language and energy of these hopeful no-hope poems. The lines sparkle like sharpened knives under the reflected light of glitterballs. From Johnny, the ‘flat out scoundrel rat/ with a scowl, prowling round your council flats,’ to Taxi Girl; ‘a rock n’ roll Marilyn Monroe … waiting for a sunrise myth-busting insomniac,’ – from ‘the narcissistic weight of a post-modern baby Hitler with a twitter’ to Leon himself, wishing he ‘was unhurried, mild, unafraid, perhaps colder, not so wild,’ myriad characters are brought to life with single breath-taking phrases, before the night, still young, but grown oh – so old, takes them off on their way again.

The upshot of all this is a glowing collection of wild and passionate verse, full of rhythm and urgency, from a poet with a glorious way with words. Leon is such an incredible performer – all heart and agitation and countless voices – the worry was always that we would struggle to stick him to the page. This book puts those worries well and truly to bed. Hopefully they won’t ‘wake up the following morning/ next to some pricky pick up artist/ who knew how to seduce his way/ into [their] low self esteem…’ – We are very proud of this first collection from Leon.

Leon’s performance style needs to be seen to be believed. Described by Jasmine Gardosi as ‘a one-of-a-kind performer … a master of onstage rhythm and personality,’ the video below will give you an idea of how he appears on stage.

SAMPLE POEM : Simple And Plain

Whilst others are taking flight
and not returning home.
I’m torn between writing a treatise of great philosophical insight
or a cliché break up poem.

Whilst others are breaking the mold,
taking hold of art
and redesigning it in their name,
I’m simple and plain –
still startled by a song lyric that mentions rain.

As the political order collapses
beneath the narcissistic weight
of a post modern baby Hitler with a twitter –
the world ending
not with a bang or a whimper
but with a hipsters ironic wink –
I just sit and think
about how I have too much time to sit and think.

Jealousies, ambitions, decisions, indecision,
hits and misses, misses the point.

Aching joints, broken hearts,
taking the piss, art,
kisses, is’s and ought’s.
I find a momentary spark,
upon giving up the pursuit
of finding the reality behind my thoughts.

I was looking but couldn’t find it.
I’m incredibly simple minded
and seemingly out to self destruct,
allowing myself to be bothered
by the actions of personas
we knowingly or unknowingly construct.

I wish I was unhurried, mild
unafraid, perhaps colder, not so wild.

Instead I’m thirty years old and still a bullied child.

Speaking philosophical wisdom
as I watch the codeine fizzle
but I like that I’m still startled
by a song lyric that mentions drizzle.

Should I write an essay of momentary importance
as if there’s nothing else to do?
Or should we discover whether I
is just another name for you?

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Amerah Saleh

Amerah is a British Yemeni poet from Birmingham. She has been writing and performing for 10 years across spoken word and theatre. She has taken her poetry all around the world to share messages with young people. She is a Board Member at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Co-founder of Verve Poetry Press and a Producer at Free Radical as part of The Beatfreeks Collective.

Amerah is well known in Birmingham as one who encourages and develops a love of poetry and its possibilities in young people. She has had a massive impact on the local scene.

Did you know? Amerah recently performed at The Birmingham Commonwealth Games Handover Ceremony on Sunday April 15 2018 which was broadcast live to the world!

I Am Not From Here has been a long time coming. It is a collection that twists and turns through the complexities of being Birmingham born but of Yemeni decent and culture; of being Muslim in a city of mixed faiths and in a country of little faith; of spending time in Yemen only to find that as a result you are refused entry to other countries and have forgotten how to live in yours; of losing loved ones too young (and when are we ever old enough for that?); of being split between the language and words of two tongues, and often finding that neither has the words you need; of facing hatred for acts that were none of your doing.

This book contains and engages with all this. That it doesn’t burst is down to the unique and unifying voice of Amerah’s poetry. Brimming with emotion, anger, frustration, grief and love – the beauty of the imagery, the often breath-taking turns of phrase, the soaring imagination, the gently woven structure, all help to turn the torments and confusion of a fractured experience into something unique and compelling. Amerah, against so many odds, has achieved something whole here – a complete and vibrant piece of work.

Amerah is a wonderful performer – catch her live if you can. This super video of her wonderful poem Fire-Eating Butterflies, gives you an idea. Filmed by the Beatfreeks Collective.

WEBSITE: www.amerahsaleh.co.uk

TWITTER: @Voiceofthepoets

INSTAGRAM: voiceofthepoets