I know very little about Black British culture, I like the reggae roots and when I’ve had my share of rum, I’ve been known to fall into a king step if the mood takes me. I had curried goat on my birthday when the Affro-Carribean takeaway was at the top of my street. Of the communities, the generational changes, the effect of white western influence on culture and the stories that hint at something deeper than just religion, to all these things I am an outsider.
Representing Peepal Tree Press – a publishing house that aims to bring the best of International writing from the Caribbean, its diaspora and the UK – were Desiree Reynolds, Sai Murray and Khadija Ibrahim, invited guests for March’s Head In A Book: free monthly literary event that showcases the work of writers and poets via reading events at Hull Library.
To begin, Sai Murray reads from his book Ad-liberation, the title alluding to his escape from the “dark arts” of the advertising world. Introducing the first poem he described his dramatic career change as a ‘spiritual awakening‘ whereas the rest of the world saw it as a ‘nervous breakdown‘.
A satire on ad speak, headlines, buzz words tumble from his mouth. I like the break from form, balancing the list poem against a neat phrase to sum up; battle between verse and ad-curse made manifest perhaps.
Desiree Reynolds read from her novel Seduce. She explains the setting: we are at the funeral of Seduce, but Seduce is also at the funeral, we hear friends, relatives and not-so-friends talking about the deceased. The thing I liked most about this reading were the distinct voices. The characters written in West-Indian patois came alive – even the dead ones. Desiree shares something of the theatre, found from this intriguing standpoint, to observe and pass judgement upon your own funeral.
Returning once more to Si and an excerpt from the Closure anthology Piss Pals is a drop by drop observation of conduct in the Gents. Men are obsessed with their pieces, whether using it for pleasure or necessity: every minute detail in this story made for uncomfortable listening.
Thankfully Desiree’s choice from Closure was less anatomical, more celestial. I really liked her old woman deity, wandering through the market unseen, forgotten by the modern world. Ideas fire in my head as Desiree reads, about the search for the what could be, triumphing over the permanence of what is and the echoes of what has gone before. Again there is the observing of behaviour, from just outside of the mortal realm: the hereafter being one and the same as living.
Khadija Ibrahim our third writer from the Peepal Tree Press visit, read from her debut collection Another Crossing. It’s a vivid exploration about growing up in Chapeltown, Leeds recently performed in a full show setting with music and dance at West Yorkshire Playhouse. She writes about the culture clash of Bowie posters and bags of kop kops, to Desmond Dekker on the sound system from the dances going on in the cellar. The world of the grownup, sitting right alongside her own world: Jamaican heritage, finding a place alongside the attractive, even rebellious, white influence outside her front door.
In a poem told through her grandfather’s eyes – she connects with the stories of the past, comments on Nelson Mandela’s visit to Leeds, learns about a creator who is more than just God and the church.
There’s an all too familiar character in the poem Chatty Chatty Mouth, woe be tide you if she comes inside your house. The description paints a picture of a busy community, a vibrant community, a community full of stories just waiting to be told. Desiree reads Everybody needs a White Husband from the collection Wife by Tiphanie Yanique We get to see her experience the poem for the first time, she breaks down in laughter and surprise at the last few lines, just as we do.
The Evangelical Church is the setting for a story that results in ripples of laughter from the audience. It features a showy pink hat, with two big feathers and a fancy bow, a dramatic sermon that concludes with a showdown between two women, where notions of propriety are soon forgotten. One woman intimates that the hat might well be of inferior quality and the comeback is just perfect. My favourite moment to be sure.
Khadija closes the reading with an excerpt that reveals memories between child and mother, taken from The Whale House by Sharon Millar, a collection of stories which feature on the longlist for 2016 OCM Bocas Caribbean Literature Prize.
For more information about the authors and titles mentioned see:
Details of next Head In a Book event:
Head in a Book would like to thank The Arts Council of England, The Library Service, The James Reckitt Library Trust and the City Arts Unit for their support