My book, #Afterhours is subtitled anthology / diary / memoir / poems. The ‘diary’ element details the process of looking for, deconstructing and writing poems in response to those I found. The final entry reads: “If the project were to continue, the poem I’d write for 2003, when I turned 19, would involve a little pornography, for that is how I found a poetry community in London. One June night, watching an adult television programme, HBO’s Real Sex on Channel 5, I saw a woman reading a poem on a stage as another, completely nude, danced erotically to its rhythm. I lunged for the computer, Google-searched ‘Poetry London’ and the first event I found was called ‘Aroma Poetry’. I went along and there, met its host and organiser, Nii Ayikwei Parkes.
I have no doubt whatsoever that whatever it was I read was horrendous, but that act of acknowledgement (and perhaps kindness) from Nii changed my whole life. He’d go on to suggest poets to read, events to visit and he welcomed me into his poetry family, many of whom remain friends and unofficial mentors. They embraced the wondering, questioning, lost young man I was and showed him another way of being.”
Nii introduced me to Malika’s Kitchen which I became a member of. He published my first pamphlet and ‘Breadfruit’ by Malika herself, a book I designed. Before I actually met Malika and knew who she was, I had made a drawing of her based on a photo I found online. Her brother found and sent it to her; we were making connections before we connected. I think artistic longevity thrives on connections, communities and families built of those whose work we admire and latch onto regardless of their knowing.
I think of poetry families in two groups: primary and secondary. The primary are those I write, study or engage with, in other words, my contemporaries. I can rely on them for harsh criticism and honest opinions, to turn up to readings and events… friends I regularly share stages with, who are roughly of my generation, live in my city and operate in my circle. The secondary group are those whose work inhabits spaces my work does. They exist beyond space, time. Most I have never met – many have died – and should we meet to speak, I would not understand them… they are not all fluent in English. Sometimes, they are not poets at all, but visual artists, researchers, archivists, musicians, explorers. I read and rely on them to show the wider contexts in which my work sits. They lend weight and legitimacy to creative impulses, they say ‘we have been here before’ and when I am lost, help set me right. One way of finding that extended\secondary family, is to begin with the primary family and look for similar works. The internet helps. Early Saul Williams led me to read about Zen, which led to ‘Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance’ which on Amazon is usually bought with ‘Siddhartha’. That messiah complex which compelled the Matrix movies, also starring Keanu Reeves, led me to ‘Waking Life’ on the nature of reality, which is usually bought with ‘Slackers’, both by Richard Linklater.
What we find, when we create such links and families, are other ways of being, other ways our predecessors might have considered and dealt with our creative concerns. In that, we gain a multiplicity of vantage points, of angles and inroads into often hackneyed, yet addictive topics… and that can only create better, more inclusive and nuanced writing.
In #Afterhours, I found 19 poems by Iain Crichton Smith, Carol Ann Duffy, Michael Hofmann, Seamus Heaney, Jo Shapcott, Charles Boyle, Robert Crawford, Sarah Maguire, Simon Armitage, Moniza Alvi, W.N. Herbert, Elizabeth Bartlett, Neil Rollinson, Ruth Sharman, Ken Smith, Frieda Hughes, Douglas Dunn, Pascale Petit and Andrew Motion, and I responded by narratively, culturally and historically translating and transposing their poems — staying as close as possible to what they’d written, but resetting them in my childhood. The poems could only work if they were close enough to my particular Irish/Nigerian/English childhood, and that they do is proof that the writers engaged with the topics, challenges and concerns that governed my adolescent life. In them, I find solidarity, understanding, safe spaces, kinship and in that, family.
#Afterhours Anthology / Diary / Memoir / Poems
by Inua Ellams + Selected Poets
£9.99 from Nine Arches Press