Monday 30 October 2023

Anthony Joseph in Conversation at the London Buddhist Centre

This time last week I was still reflecting on Anthony Joseph who read from his T S Eliot award winning collection of poetry Sonnets for Albert (2022). This really was a wonderful evening where Anthony was in conversation with Maitreyabandhu at the London Buddhist Centre, in East London on 21 October. This was part of a series of Poetry East events that the centre organise, held in the beautiful Buddhist Temple, which is adorned with an ambience of candles in abundance and vases of flowers that were remarkable to view.

My friend and I arrived early enough so as to get a front-row seat. Anthony was blessed with a full house and we were blessed with hearing many of the poems from Sonnets for Albert, written after the death of Anthony's father. The poems mainly stemmed from the absence of Anthony's father due to a range of factors including the fact that he had twelve children. Here's the first poem in the book's inside cover that sums up this theme perfectly:


My father would be gone.
Months into mystery.
But he persisted
in our longing.
We saw him
maybe once, maybe
twice a year. We sang
Flack and Hathaway,
that he would come running.
And while we waited
the myth of him grew,
till the anticipation
of his return
would fill each room. 

This event was so inspiring. I was moved by the emotional content of Anthony's poems, especially that despite the absence of his father, he grew to love him, which may have had something to do with Anthony living with his grandmother, his father's mother, who also experienced the same absence in her relationship with her son. Maybe growing up with his grandmother in Trinidad ensured that the connection with Anthony's father was less likely to be severed.

Anthony also discussed how the personal can be universal. I really like the way the book is structured; the shortness of the self-contained poems and their related themes didn't detract from the significance of their depth and breadth. I know it's a cliche but less is definitely more with this book. 

Some of the sonnets exceeded fourteen lines — I love a rebel poet! This was a deliberate action on Anthony's part, a kind of of rule-breaking, a manipulation of the form, acknowledging the imperialism of not just the sonnet's form but its history. 
Black and white photographs taken in Trinidad and sprinkled throughout the book, was also a nice touch as we could see Anthony's father in a range of guises as well as other family members and garner a real sense of nostalgia. The white space behind each image worked really well to provide a slight distance from the text, a refreshing pause.

I also thought it would be really interesting to explore writing in the sonnet form myself at some point, in exactly the same rule-breaking way. 

This Poetry East event was so refreshing and thought-provoking, especially as I could resonate with the absent father theme although I didn't quite grow to love my father. Maybe it is a different scenario when you are growing up with your father's grandmother. How lovely that must have been for Anthony to at least find out about his father through his grandmother. It must be nice to be that close when you're growing up with your grandmother. I grew up with my grandmother so I totally understand that element.

No Q&A!

I mentioned this to Maitreyabandhu as I was leaving and he nodded as if to say yes I get you. There was more than enough time for a Q & A, since the event was two hours long, and included a tea-break too, so this was a missed opportunity. 

I got around this by making sure to ask Anthony a question while I was getting his book signed. My question was: How much artistic control did you have when putting the collection of poetry together. Anthony responded by saying that he did have artistic control which included curating the order of the poems and the book's landscape and inclusion of imagery. 

If you get a chance to see Anthony Joseph, don't hesitate. You will enjoy the experience!

Author Bio:

Anthony Joseph is a Trinidad-born poet, novelist, academic and musician. He is the author of four poetry collections and three novels. His 2018 novel Kitch: A Fictional Biography of a Calypso Icon was shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize, the Royal Society of Literature's Encore Award, and longlisted for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. In 2019, he was awarded a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship. As a musician, he has released eight critically acclaimed albums, and in 2020 received a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Composers Award. He is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montfort University, Leicester. Anthony was awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize for Sonnets for Albert (2022) his first poetry collection since Rubber Orchestra in 2013. 

Tuesday 20 June 2023

Claudia Rankine In Conversation with Nicola Rollock

On 14 March 2023, I went to see Claudia Rankine In Conversation with Nicola Rollock, at the London Review Bookshop (LRB) which holds 20,000 titles on two floors in Bloomsbury, London, plus there's a cafe that serves cake and tea!

This was one of the best literary events I had been to in years.  To say I'm a fan of Claudia Rankine is putting it mildly, so I made sure to sit at the front.

Claudia Rankine, poet, essayist and playwright, was at LRB to discuss a new forthcoming revised and re-issued version of PLOT,  (2023) her third collection of poetry, initially written in 2001, before Claudia Rankine had a child, as a thought experiment around what it means to decide to be an artist and to be a parent and the challenges that brings. PLOT is a poetry collection concerning pregnancy and motherhood told fictiously by using a couple named Erland and Liv to drive the narrative. 

The text of PLOT crosses genres, existing at times in poetry, at times in dialogue, in order to arrive at new life and baby Ersatz. At most, the text explores what it means to be human and to invest in humanity.



Submerged deeper than appetite she bit into a freakish anatomy, the hard plastic of filiation, a fetus dream, once severed, reattached, the baby femur not fork-tender though flesh, the baby face now anchored.

What Liv would make would be familial, not foreign, forsaken. She knew this and tried to force the scene, focus the world, in the dream. Snapping, the crisp rub of thumb to index, she was in rehearsal with everyone, loving the feel of cartilage, ponderous of damaged leaves, then only she, singing internally, only she revealed, humming, undressing a lullaby: bitterly, sinkholes to underground streams ...

In the dream waist deep, retrieving a fossilized pattern forming in attempt to prevent whispers, or poisoned regrets, reaching into reams and reams, to needle-scam a cord in the stream, as if a wish borne out of rah-rah's rude protrusion to follow the rest was sporded, split, and now hard pressed to enter the birth.

In the dream the reassembled desire to conceive wraps the tearing placenta to a walled uterus, urge formed complicit.

* * *

The event lasted 45 minutes and was also streamed live online. In the Q&A at the end, I was keen to ask a question:

NM: It's great to see you in the flesh as I've been watching you on YouTube for a long time. It actually feels like I'm in your front room.

CR: Because you are! This is my home. I'm really enjoying reading.

NM: I wanted to ask you about Just Us — the process — because I also make art and I'm a writer and poet, so all of that is working well for me. Do you think there will be any more books like Just Us in the future?

CR: Right now, I'm failing badly at trying to work on a new book ... I've been looking at all of these people ... Mahsa Amini, people who do things ... in grasping life they also have to grasp death at the same time, that you can't separate the two things. [NB: Mahsa Amini, aged 22, died in custody on 18 September 2022, three days after her arrest by the notorious morality police in Tehran for allegedly breaching the Islamic Republic's strict dress code for women] Mahsa Amini, the woman who lowered her headscarf, was killed in Iran. But the people came out in objection to her killing, but, they too in coming out to value Mahsa's life, had to grasp their own death and know that the moment you do that, is the moment that the State no longer has control over you.

Lewis Hyde once said, 'Poetry is outside of the market economy so it allows that freedom for the writer to do whatever they want.' So, I've always felt that in the realm of poetry, it's the one genre that has not needed market controls or influences. The world of poetry is the most open place"

When asked about the meanings of the title PLOT, Claudia Rankine said:

CR: The title was chosen because of the multiple meanings and it contained both the idea of a storyline and a plan and also a grave — all thematically relevant to the possibilities of where we were going, i.e. whether following Wolff to the River Ouse or fighting in scenes of a marriage or using language to describe my own husband. Throughout the book, there are moments when the titles are words that are contained in other words. I wanted to show how the word lives independently and also in relation too.

The final question was 'Do you have any advice on how to broaden the readership of poetry?

CR: Poets like T.S. Eliot used to be able to fill stadiums. I think poetry should be heard on the radio. It's an oral activity ... the music ... there's so much work that goes into the cadenza... we could have five-minute sections in mainstream radio, just before the 12 o'clock news, to listen to a poem. I think when people begin to hear it, they'll become less afraid because poetry is just language but because it defies the rules of grammar, of expectation, there's a kind of 'I don't get it.' But you do know, and you will get it if you're open to it. You have to let down the guard that says, because this isn't functioning like a newspaper article, I'll be able to understand this. It's just habits of reading and listening.

Claudia Rankine recommended Poor (2020) by Caleb Femi, winner of The Forward Prize Best First Collection (2021). "Unlike me, he doesn't have to buy in images, he takes his own photographs that are in the book. It's really phenomenal."

Claudia Rankine is the author of five volumes of poetry, two plays and various essays. She has won numerous awards, too many to list here. I particularly enjoyed reading Just Us: An American Conversation, a brilliant arrangement of essays, poems, and images, which includes the voices and rebuttals of others, e.g., white men in first class responding to, and with, their white male privilege; a friend's explanation of her infuriating behaviour at a play, and much more.

Friday 17 March 2023

Sara Ahmed in Conversation with Sunny Singh


Image Credit: N.Moore L: Sara Ahmed, R: Sunny Singh

On 9 March 2023, I went to see Sara Ahmed, one of the world's leading feminist thinkers and writers, in conversation with academic and writer Sunny Singh, who teaches English Literature at London Metropolitan University, with a special interest in feminist and postcolonial theory. The conversation was about The Feminist Killjoy Handbook, followed by an audience Q&A and a book signing.

The event was held at Foyles in Charing Cross Road, London, one of the UK's most famous booksellers, comprising five floors of books, with a dedicated events space on the sixth-floor hosting author events, in conversations and more.

Sara Ahmed spoke about the stories, theory and history that inspired The Feminist Killjoy Handbook. This book calls on those dismissed or ridiculed for calling out sexism and division, to find solidarity and empowerment.

I first came across 'A Killjoy Survival Kit' and 'A Killjoy Manifesto' in Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed where she unpacks the term 'killjoy' in ways that open up a whole different way of seeing how those experiences of being or becoming a killjoy:

"can feel, sometimes, like making your life harder than it needs to be. I have heard this sentiment expressed as kindness: as if to say, just stop noticing exclusions and your burden will be eased. It is implied that by not struggling against something you will be rewarded by an increasing proximity to that thing. You might be included if only you just stop talking about exclusions. Sometimes the judgement is expressed less kindly: disapproval can be expressed in sideways glances, the sighs, the eyes rolling; stop struggling, adjust, except. And you can also feel this yourself: that by noticing certain things you are making it harder for yourself.

But the experiences we have are not just of being worn down; these experiences also give us resources. What we learn from these experiences might be how we survive these experiences" (Ahmed, 2017 p. 235).

Having read Living a Feminist Life I was enthusiastic about the Foyles event since that book had me making copious notes on yellow post-it notes so as to capture the many insightful theories and practicalities of living a feminist life. However, I must admit the actual conversation between Sara Ahmed and Sunny Singh was a bit flat in places as it lacked context and depth, which I think was due to the questions which arose quite randomly almost out of thin air, so a bit of a missed opportunity. Some of the questions could have been better framed. 

Sara Ahmed is the author of many works including The Cultural Politics of Emotion and Complaint!. Her work occupies the intersections of feminist, queer and race studies. She was Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, until 2016. She resigned from her post in protest at the failure to deal with the problem of sexual harassment.

Monday 30 May 2022

Art and Literature in Conversation with Irenosen Okojie — Whitechapel Gallery, London

Butterfly Fish Novel's Front Cover
On 10 February 2022, I went to an Art and Literature Conversation held at the Zilkha Auditorium at the Whitechapel Gallery, East London. This was both a discussion to celebrate the latest issue of leading arts and literature magazine The White Review and a conversation between editor Izabella Scott and Irenosen Okojie, author of the award-winning novel Butterfly Fish published in 2015 by Jacaranda Books

Photograph of Irenosen Okojie at Whitechapel Gallery
Irenosen Okojie is a Nigerian British author whose experimental works create vivid narratives that play with form and language. Her debut novel Butterfly Fish and short story collections Speak Gigantular and Nudibranch have won and been shortlisted for multiple awards. A fellow and Vice Chair of the Royal Society of Literature, Irenosen is the winner of the 2020 AKO Caine Prize for her story, Grace Jones. She was awarded an MBE for Services to Literature in 2021.

What attracted me to this event was the combination of art and literature — both fields of the arts that I am particularly passionate about on many levels. It was fascinating to hear of Irenosen's writing process for Butterfly Fish and how she weaved art and literature within fiction to tell a unique and innovative story. 

Photograph of Irenosen Okojie and Nicole Moore at Whitechapel Gallery
Myself and Irenosen Okojie at Whitechapel Gallery

I was keen to ask a question at the end, in fact I was one of the first to ask! My question was related to form, especially because Irenosen uses many different forms in her writing. I asked her how she negotiates those forms; do they conflict with each other? Irenosen responded by saying she brings in art to her writing even if it's a setting, e.g. museums which she often visits; places where inspiration is available even to write poetry. Her favourite art form is film. Conflict is not necessarily a negative and can be a way of balancing the forms.

Novel's Synopsis:

"After the sudden death of her mother, London photographer Joy struggles to pull the threads of her life back together, with the support of her kind but mysterious neighbour, Mrs Harris. Joy's fortune begins to change when she receives an unexpected inheritance from her mother: a huge sum of money, her grandfather's diary and a unique brass warrior's head from the ancient kingdom of Benin.

Joy's search for the origins of the head take us on a journey through time as dark family secrets come to light. Joy unearths the ties between her mother, grandfather, the wife of the king and the brass head's pivotal connection to them all.

A spiritual successor to the tales of Marquez, Butterfly Fish masterfully combines elements of traditional Nigerian story-telling and magical realism in a multigenerational tale of the legacy of inheritance." — Jacaranda Books Art Music Ltd.

Novel's Structure:

There are many aspects to Butterfly Fish that I like — the rhythm, texture, vivid imagery, richness of the writing style, and the beauty of the language: 

"I ran myself a bath longing for the peace the water held out for me. Lying there I watched an insect circle the light bulb on the ceiling and envied its frenetic flight. For years I'd been fed on incongruous things; smudges on windows washed away by rain, static from the TV, white lines just before traffic lights, wilting in shaky, paced train carriages. On the need to hold my loneliness, watch it change shape yet essentially stay the same. I felt woozy, faint. In the tepid water my grip on things slipped. The small, silvery, distressed figures I'd seen earlier in the kitchen offered their limbs to the dropped, bloody razor as the frantic black eyes of the dice spun." 

The short chapters work well too, amounting to a few pages and a few words, yet are packed full with storytelling that pays attention to detail that keeps you in suspense. 'Less is more' means that it is far less about the amount of words and far more about the depth of the novel and its intriguing form, multilayers, and pace of plot. Added to this is the actual physicality of the hardback copy of the book with its stunning front cover design. Presentation is key, especially as the book has a tactile feel about it.

Butterfly Fish is an extraordinary novel with a dual narrative set in contemporary London and eighteenth century Benin in Africa — thereby making use of Irenosen's West African heritage.  Reading this book was strangely satisfying as the writing possesses an elegant prose yet is quite humorous and playful, which keeps you grounded in reality yet you are able to savor the magical elements that do not feel out of place. Past and present are full of mystery and yet they quite skillfully and craftily make sense and work well together.

I was thankfully able to have a brief chat with Irenosen at the end of the event, where I made sure to get her to sign the hardback copy of her book.😊

Comments Welcome!

Thursday 3 March 2022

World Book Day 2022


Books by Nicole Moore

Today is World Book Day (WBD) which happens annually on the first Thursday of March. This year marks WBD's 25th anniversary. The theme this year is a message for all children: You are a reader!

Today, I am remembering and celebrating the books that I brought into fruition between 2005 and 2010, which were independently published collections of creative expressions by Black and mixed-race women:

*Brown Eyes, 2005
  Sexual Attraction Revealed, 2008

*Hair Power Skin Revolution, 2010

*Funded by an Arts Council England  Grants for the Arts Award 

These anthologies included poetry and personal essays from a diverse group of Black and mixed-race women — everyday women expressing themselves in their own unique style, without the white gaze. The writers offered empowering and creative ways of understanding and relating to a range of themes including gender, 'race', ethnicity, identity, hair, colorism, culture and heritage, with strong and reflective voices, some unheard; some previously published.

Full details are listed under 'Books' on the right of this blog.

In my childhood days, my reading was somewhat limited to books that I could read in my grandparents house — the Encyclopaedia Britannica a general knowledge book, which I would tackle occasionally; a few editions of my grandmother's Readers' Digest magazines (grown up stories that I would dive in and select something appealing) plus children's' novels that I loaned from my local library, which I really enjoyed visiting on Saturday mornings.  Then there were comics like Bunty a British comic for girls, which consisted of a collection of many small strips, the stories typically being three to five pages long. 

Thankfully, over the last twenty seven years I have widened my reading and with modern technology, I have a vast selection of books on my Kindle. I still have a yearning to  buy 'real' books and have a small collection that are of sentimental value mostly because they have been signed by the authors.

Happy World Book Day!

Comments welcome!

Sunday 20 February 2022

Akala in Conversation at the Southbank Centre

L: Akala; R: Mustafa the Poet / Photo: Abundant Art
On 6 February, hip-hop artist and author Akala appeared at the Southbank Centre to launch the paperback release of The Dark Lady. I had left it too late to actually obtain a ticket for the live event as tickets sold out fast, so the next best thing was to buy a live stream which turned out to be as good, although I would have preferred to be there in person, especially as Akala's entrance caused a riotous and rippling applause from the audience!

Akala was joined in conversation with Canadian poet and singer Mustafa who was such a breath of fresh air to watch. Mustafa's perspective and questions to Akala were so nuanced and thoughtfully prepared on the novel's content about 'race', identity, class and society, that I witnessed an unforgettable dialogue between the two of them. It was like watching a good film; I was hooked from beginning to end!

Akala - Photo: The Times
Akala's debut novel for teens and young adults, The Dark Lady is a magic realism book about a young, Black, orphan boy called Henry, an outsider, a thief, a fifteen-year-old invested with superpowers, living in the streets of Elizabethan London, who is haunted by dreams of the mysterious Dark Lady. Inspired by Shakespeare, the novel refers to Bard's Sonnets and attempts to paint a realistic picture of street life in Renaissance England. 

Akala - Photo: Ents 24
I mostly enjoyed hearing Akala discuss his writing process and how hard he found the task. Although Dark Lady is his debut novel, he had already written Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire, (2018) a Sunday Times Bestseller non-fiction book that I really enjoyed reading and would definitely recommend. 

There's levels to this thing ...

Mustafa: "What were the challenges of moving into fiction and attempting to maybe draw a thread between Natives and your novel. How do you explore without losing the essence or the clarity that you write with in Natives?"

Akala: "As anyone who has ever written a book will know, brother, my whole definition of what I thought was hard work has been altered by these last three years working on these two books, and you're confronted by the fact that you realise you're no way as near as smart or as important as you thought you were when you were twenty-five ... I think about how difficult it was for me to write these two books and then I think about War and Peace, or Toni Morrison, or James Baldwin ... there's levels to this thing ... as a writer you realise just how difficult it is to complete a book that is even readable, forget good. Anyone who completes a book that's readable deserves a medal. 

I read Stephen King's book On Writing and when he was talking about "I'm fifty books in and still when I read my first draft I think which kind of idiot wrote this foolishness?" And I was oh thank God, it's not just me. The first draft I sent to my publisher they could've legitimately slapped me. Part of this was feeling pressured to send in something; it wasn't really a draft, just a few words and there was that one scene that was "sick" and they was like we know you can do it as this scene is "bad". 

And so I think the technical craft of learning to write a novel is like being the director, the actor, the editor, and the scriptwriter all in one. You've got to decide where the camera is positioned, you've got to decide when to cut from scene to scene, you've got to decide what angle the person sees the film from, you've got to inhabit the emotional universe of each of your characters to get the best out of them like a director does, you've also got to act and be the characters ... man, it's hard brother. And you finish it, and it's not even satisfying when you finish! 

Being a musician I spent the whole of last year driving around bumping these mixes and enjoying listening to my music. I don't think I've ever got that level of joy from my own books. You finish writing them and it's like a gaping wound in your soul. You ask yourself what am I going to do with the rest of my life. You feel distraught; there's this weird kind of melancholy. 

The process of research is wonderful, reading books, making notes — wonderful! Then you get down to writing — awful! Unbelievably hard, like training for the Olympics and then you come 75th! So I think authors are a bit pseudo-masochistic. 

Don't get me wrong, I still appreciated both of the processes. There is a very different creative headspace to writing a novel and writing a nonfiction book. I personally feel like I'm naturally better at nonfiction but that may just be because Natives was longer ago and so the distance of it being five years ago in 2017 makes me feel like the process was easier than it was at the time, because at the time I don't think I felt like that, whereas brother, I'll be honest, the novel was hard! 

I'm not going to sit here and pretend to you ... I think I did nine drafts of 80,000 words, that's work ... and I think it's a very good book, I'm very proud of it but it's not Toni Morrison and I'm not going to delude myself and think it is ... maybe one day in twenty more years I might get there. Writing a good novel is a huge achievement but there's levels to this thing."

I totally understand how Akala felt ... when I independently published my first anthology Brown Eyes, it felt as if I had given birth and then put my baby up for adoption! Very similar to the 'gaping wound in your soul'.

Tickets are available for the Akala in conversation livestream to watch online until 6 March - price £8.50. It's a must watch!!

Sunday 19 December 2021

On bell hooks

Photo: Joyce Dopkeen / The New York Times / Redux

When I heard the sad news of African American author, professor, feminist and social activist bell hooks' passing on 15 December 2021, aged 69, I was completely taken by surprise. I couldn't believe it. I'm only one year younger but it wasn't that. I really liked her ... still do. This is such a great loss. I was, and still will, remain one of her admirers.

My knowledge of bell hooks started in the 1990s when I was studying two Birkbeck College, University of London courses: Black Women's Writing and Motherland to 'Motherland': Black Women's History. I read bell hooks' amazing work, in particular her critical thinking on imperialist, capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchy. I continue to read and reference her in my current studies: Culture Diaspora Ethnicity MA at Birkbeck College.  

Image Source: Radical Reads

bell hooks was the author of 40 books, whose topics covered race, feminism, capitalism, and intersectionality. By the way, bell hooks was discussing intersectionality and writing about the subject long before the term was even conceived or coined by Kimberle Crenshaw. 

Here is a selection of favourite books from my bell hooks' collection, which I'm going to re-read and can definitely recommend:

  • Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism (1981)
  • Talking Back: Thinking feminist, thinking Black. Between the Lines (1989)
  • Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992)
  • Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work (1999)
  • Where We Stand: Class Matters (2000)

Image Source: bell hooks institute

I've watched bell hooks deliver cutting edge talks many times from a distance in the comfort of my own home. On one unforgettable occasion, I actually met her face-to-face, at Hackney Town Hall, East London, during one of the numerous 1997 European Year Against Racism events, where I had the privilege of being photographed with her. I'm saddened that I cannot locate that picture.

bell hooks was one of those black female academics who transcended many disciplines to speak her mind both personally and politically. Sometimes she was misunderstood and this led to her being verbally attacked while she challenged the status quo. I'll remember bell hooks most of all for speaking her mind — talking back — I'm going to miss her.

Anthony Joseph in Conversation at the London Buddhist Centre

This time last week I was still reflecting on Anthony Joseph who read from his T S Eliot award winning collection of poetry Sonnets for Albe...