Confessional POetry Course

(Speaking about Robert Lowell’s poetry) “Lowell removes the mask. His speaker is unequivocally himself, and it is hard not to think of Life Studies as a series of personal confidences, rather shameful, that one is honor-bound not to reveal.”

M. L. Rosenthal’s article “Poetry as Confession.”

I’m taking a four week confessional poetry course with midnight & indigo. Founded in 2018, midnight & indigo is a small publisher and literary journal that provides a space for Black women writers to share their narratives with the world.

Tw weeks in and I’m loving the course, Tell Me Something Real: How to Write Confessional Poetry. Not only is the tutor, Schyler Butler knowledgeable, and thorough providing great examples for poetry within this genre all from Black women, but the group of writers signed up for the course bring it every week with their insight and feelings around each poem we read and discuss.

And then we get to trial out what we’ve learnt through these close writings within our own writing, as the sessions finishes with time to write a first draft of a poem and then share it with the group. I’m enjoying what I’m coming up with after being inspired. Because in all honesty, from time I’ve been a confessional poet but have never smashed the term on it.

Confessional poetry in essence can be distilled to 4 main components.

  1. Be of an intimate subject matter.
  2. Use the first person.
  3. Be autobiographical or seen/ appear to be.
  4. Use skilled craftsmanship.

I’m working on a new body of work now. So still in the draft stage but I’ll share a poem from time here, as evidence of my appreciation and dance with this form of poetry.

White Women

Within my family, there are white women.
White women who married black men. I forget,
neglect the fact that their blood flows through mine.

Trace the past, a sea of faceless white is mine.
The black men forefront, a mist of women
behind. Their names, I don’t know or forget.

They are the enigma, shadows. Forget
the cleaning and cooking, their duty and mine,
they went against the grain, steadfast women.

In the corner of the frame, you white women
are not forgotten. Your spirit is mine.

Family Album, 2011

PAD/012 – what was once feared as an invasion is now embraced as progress

The Guardian, 26 November, 1981
The Brixton Disorders, 10-12 April, 1982, Lord Scarman

I wish I could see my dad before 

he was busted up by Britain

before the harsh grey invaded like a as cancer 

Sometimes I conjure him up as a child on his mother’s lap, 

held at a distance,  

this bastard outside child, rejected as soon as he could crawl run

running through the hills of Laventille, my 16 year old dad, 

I imagine his charms as he takes his first love

soon his yellow-palmed, mahogany-black hands

hold his first son on the veranda made for limin’

with upheaval to England, he tried to repeat  the begetting  siring 

5 daughters with two different wives

 one white, one mixed, who could pass

1972, The Harder They Come, and I’m the baby held close

 and my dad is already dying, 

flux and renewal for another 9 years then his wicket fell 

and I wasn’t in the room

to conjure you back.

Archive: a Country Journal of a Blackwoman

A Visual Journal Spread from The Country Journal of a Blackwoman (Northumberland), archive

Right now my practice is on display within The BALTIC: Centre for Contemporary Art.

As I was out of the country when the group exhibition, Hinterlands, launched on Friday 22 October, 2022, I managed to get into seeing it after such event the following week.

I really didn’t know what to expect as you visualise the end result, the culmination of months of hard work, dreaming and winging it. But to actually see it all come together in a white cube space is another thing.

I visited my archive last week, with my daughter, excited and nervous and unsure. I got to see The Country Journal of a Blackwoman(Northumberland) exhibited on level 3 of The BALTIC. I was shocked and surprised to see my work out of context within this space. It was an emotional as well as nerve wracking experience.

Because of my absence, I had to leave instructions about the installation as well as extensive notes and labels for each art piece. There are about 50 items if not more within this creative archive. It’s to be expected that things got lost or mislaid in translation. So my focus for this trip was to make sure everything was how I wanted it to be.

After some discussion and sending of correct audio files, everything is now complete and as I want it to be presented to the world.

I’m not sure how I feel that during the launch of the whole exhibition, that things were wrong or missing. But I do know that after seeing everything in terms of my contribution and making things right after my visit, I felt great relief and was able to enjoy the achievement. It was also weird to be there at the same time as seeing peel interacting with my work. I’m not sure I want to have many experiences like that as their reactions did affect my state of mind, pride and achievement. And it would be very unsetting, I feel, to be there and witness someone laughing and disrespecting my work. I think this is something I need to gain a thicker skin for. But right now, my skin is thin for a number of reasons, tat I might explore here in time.

I know I have to return now, to take in the rest of the group show as well as the rest of The BALTIC’s exhibitions for this season, as this is a strong presentation.

I’m honoured to be showing at the same time with them.

Of course more reflection and images to come around this achievement.

22 October 2022 – 30 April 2023, BALTIC: Centre for Contemporary

The Long Journey To Claiming Books

I was brought up to treat books as sacred. They were a source of knowledge. You get your education and you’d have choices in life. You’d move on in the world. Have a better life than your parents before you.

Books were the gateway into this Paradise.

Each week, we would walk into town from our maisonette, along the busy dual carriageway. Once in town, we’d go to the market, to the one book stall and pick out a book. They were the tradition fairy tales with pictures and text.

If not them, then Enid Blyton books. For some reason, I felt the importance of books and the connection of them to my dad. He’d read us bedtime stories and I’d just love to be in his presence then. As he was softer and loving. Different from the angry man he was at all other times.

For some reason, who knows what goes through a child’s mind, I took to doodling in one of these fairy tale books. I want to say it was Snow White, but I could wrong.

A whole heap of scribbles and doodles took over the pages of this book. Why use the book when I had plenty of blank white paper? As I said who knows what goes through a child’s mind.

I just know that my father found the book and shouted at me with rage. And beat me. I’d done something wrong. I’d ruined the book. I’d ruined my chances of getting on in the world. I’d gone against the unwritten rule( or was a spoken one?) around how to respect books.

Older now, I hunt for books. I buy my own books. I read then. Some I don’t. Some I keep or give away. And some I purposefully, consciously make the decision to repurpose. Reclaim them.

I tear out pages and I cut these up. I smear paint on the pages left in the book. I stick images in them, tape, stickers. And yes I write in them. I write out my hopes and fears. My desires and dreams. My memories and traumas.

I think I was brought up right. To treat books as sacred. But it’s what you do with those books that count, I think. And a book has multiple uses/ purposes. I think. Multiple ways and means of instilling knowledge and opportunities and freedom.

It’s been a long journey for me to get to this point of choices. But I claim them all.

Eyes Wide Open

Sometimes I use my journal space for a rant. For a deep and meaning conversation with myself. It’s the space I can go to and be totally me and know I won’t be judged.

My visual journaling space is a time and place I can come to make sense of things that are bothering me. Which have me thinking and sometimes hurting. But it means getting it out on the page, gets it out of circulating around my body, mind and soul and pulling me down and holding me back.

Within these pages which are a mix of paints and images and words, I make sense of the world on my own terms. There might be other people’s voices that invade this space, but for the majority of time my voice reigns supreme. There is no where else in this world where my voice holds such sway as it does within this visual journal practice.

I get to try out different voices, registers, ideas and know it’s safe to show up here in all my fucked up glory.

This has been so appreciated and welcomed in these last few weeks when I’ve been stepping out more into the physical world as well as into new, expansive virtual adventures.

Knowing that I can come home to the page, after each encounter, good and bad, gives me permission and confidence to show up out there more and more as my whole self.

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

I received a scholarship from Lighthouse Writers to complete a four week course Reading as a Writer – Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu. It’s taught by Angelique Steven who is another brilliant memoir writer.

I really hadn’t heard of the book before this course but I was drawn to it as what I’d read from The New York Times review was that Pilate Dead from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon is mentioned and her missing navel.

In Song of Solomon Pilate’s “cut off from her people early” left without a trace of her physical connection to her mother. Pilate spends her life adrift not making any real connections with other people and places rootless and unrooted. But the flips side of this is independence and freedom.

Nadia Owusu, through Afershocks, explores through her memoir her own rootlessness. What does it mean to be rooted? A daughter of an Armenian-American and a Ghanaian UN agency worker, Nadia is born into movement, travel diversity and trauma. She’s becomes fascinated with place because no place belonged to her.

Aftershocks takes it premise and structure from earthquakes, with shakes, rumbles foreshocks and upheaval affecting the narrative as it moves backwards and forwards in time. The present is marked by Nadia spending a week in a blue chair just rocking as she suffers a breakdown, after her whole world is devastated when she learns a different reason for her father’s death. A father she idolised since her mother abandoned her at the age of two and was fleeting in and out of her life since then.

I’m so enjoying reading this book as a reader but also as a writer as this means I’m carried along with the narrative, the shakes and rumbles along fault lines, at the same time as deconstructing it, exploring underneath the lines to find out how Nadia put this beauty together.

This is all helping me think about my own hybrid memoir and how this will be structured but also it’s giving me permission to put in stories and experiences that maybe I was shying away from before.

In the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, Nadia states, “I write towards truth, but my memory is prone to bouts of imaginations. Other’s remember events differently. I can only tell my version.” This so hit a chord with me. A disclaimer at the beginning to let the read know this is the truth, but how one individual feels it and it might be embellished a bit.

And then when someone in the course group mentioned how they find Nadia so narcissistic in her writing, only focusing on her thoughts and feelings. I was like ‘HELLO!” This is her memoir, her story to tell, because who else is going to tell it?

Angelique, the course tutor said, while writing a memoir you walk a fine line. The line between narcissism and humility. When you can create the balance between the two extremes then you have yourself a brilliant memoir.

I can only say I’m working on it. And that brings me joy to say that, I’m working on it.

I would recommending this book, Aftershocks, as it’s so well written and even though details an individual’s life experiences up to the age of 28, there are still universal themes and episodes within this text that will not only draw you in with wonder and awe, but will also get you wandering down your own path of memories and natural disasters to try understand your own nuanced neurosis and make-up and sense of self.

The Situation is Ruined

The bride stays calm in her three tiered dress.
Pretending not to notice the munchkins
slicing into the her bodice or the gingerbread man
chewing on her trailing lace.

With each full toothed grin, she hopes she dislodges
the sharp prongs of scorn cutting
into her skull from her tiara.
Hopes she flicks off the droplets
of bloods staining her veil.

With the dark cloud gathering
and the guests running for cover
she stays at the altar, mouthing her vows
to love, cherish and grieve the little girl lost
and wasted on marzipan and sugared icing.

Honouring My Wholeness

It’s nearly been a couple of weeks now since we, Olwen Wilson and myself, completed facilitating our online visual journaling retreat called Honouring Our Wholeness. For three sessions spread over six weeks, we created space for a self-care visual journaling retreat for women, feminine and non-binary people who are Black, Indigenous or a Person of Colour.

This was a unique and well-needed safe space for us to come together and just be. To let down our loads and know that we weren’t going to be judged but held. It was such a nourishing and nurturing space that without it, I feel a bit remiss. This space came along at the right time when I needed to take things slow and lean back into my visual journaling practice. What I need now is to remember what I learned from this experience and continue the journey; this healing journey I’ve been on for over six years now.

Six years ago, I started my visual journaling practice through a virtual course run by Lisa Sonora called Dreaming on Paper, at that point. It came into my life when I needed to explore my voice. When I needed time and space to get in touch, probably for the first time, with my true self. It provided me with an anchor when everything around me was disappearing, had been destroyed. Visual journaling kept me afloat, when I could have easily drown.

These are the things I need to remember when I do get a bit lost because of outside demands, or when I’m being far too critical on my own arse. Self-compassion. self-care and self-love are waiting for me when I open my journal and just play. Just try. Just turn up for me.

It was such an honour to be gather with these beautiful and generous people during Honouring Our Wholeness because that’s what we did for each other and ourselves, we showed up and offered ourselves compassion, care, grace and love.

All I can say now is MORE. I WANT MORE.