Dean Atta Review

Dean Atta’s ‘I’m Nobody’s Nigger’ (The Westbourne Press, 2013)

Since the book’s title poem went viral, Atta’s debut poetry collection has been much anticipated. Having been a regular feature among London’s poetry scene for many years, it was only a matter of time before he got the recognition he deserved, the recognition poets deserve in general, because it is an exciting time when poetry goes viral. But in my opinion, vival poetry doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should do. I opened the book to the sound of a drumroll. Immediately, I enjoyed the contradictions of language, the juxtaposition of words, and the simplicity that can be read into on so many levels.

Yes, viral poetry doesn’t happen enough, yet Atta’s example shows poetry at its best. It is honest, meaningful and has something important to say. In this poem lies a couplet containing raw commentary on a society where ‘stacking paper cos it’s greater than love it seems/call me ‘nigger’ cos you’re scared of what ‘brother’ means.’ Within this poem there is an undeniable power, and there are more moments than this which get your fingers clicking in appreciation.

As the review in Urban Times stated, the one criticism the collection falls prey to, is not getting the balance between ‘page’ and ‘stage’ quite right. That said, maybe the point is to simply get the word out; Atta’s reputation as a performer means that it would be ridiculous not allow his audience the privilege of reading his work. And like I said, the message he delivers is important. What’s more is that he does it in a way that is not so didactic as to make the reader feel preached upon, and in a way that makes him human; “in arrogance and creativity” he paints a picture of society’s troubles in ‘Fatherless Nation,’ with an awareness of his own shortcomings.

Another major highlight of the collection is ‘Key to the City,’ a modern love story featuring John and Melissa, which twists like a knife as you turn the last page of the poem. With many poems exploring sexuality, ‘More Than This’ stands out as one of the best, with great use of alliteration and carefully chosen words, from the first line ‘I knew, before we’d even spoken’ and the image of a night where ‘mouthfuls of beer dislodge illicit imagery,’ to the last line returning to the title.

‘My Love’ is a great example of where page and stage meet, as the rhymes are timed well and thoughtful, words are packed with meaning and the poems forces you to image Atta performing the piece. It mixes humour with sorrow, in images such as ‘It’s glass half empty/Amaretto on the rocks/A friendly drunk/makes love wearing socks.’ Lastly, the poem ‘Lost in Time’ stands out as it is so relatable; my own mind is vivid with memories of a childhood now past. Atta’s collection tells a story of contemporary society in a patchwork of poems about race, sexuality, culture, class, relationships and even poetry itself. What is so important about Atta’s poetry is that it now exists as what will be a relic of our time.

broken machines/hearts & magpies

Recent news. I went to see Every Rendition on a Broken Machine, performed live by the writer Ross Sutherland at Toynbee Studios, organised by Penned in the Margins aka Tom Chivers. I can only assume it will be on Channel 4 soon because this documentary needs airing. I loved it. It was not only interesting, but told with Sutherland’s natural humour. Being live, your eyes darted from him to the screen, but I liked to look at the screen, so that the sound was like a voice-over. The film was about internet poetry, so a a poet (and internet addict), I obviously found this engaging. However, I think even non-poets would like to watch it. I mean, it features Clarissa Explains it All. Come on!

Yesterday I had the first workshop for Word’s a Stage. It was great meeting the other poets – Selina Nwulu, Anthony Hett, Errol McGlashan. We are being mentored by Malika Booker, who my Mum has banged on about since I first started reading my poetry to audiences 6 years ago (when Booker was involved in the education department at Apples & Snakes, since my Mum works at a school). She has been fantastic so far and I’m looking forward to the next session, once I’ve done my “homepleasure” in developing my character for the piece I’ve written more and re-draft it.

After a long but inspiring day (10am-5pm) I met with my parents, had some Nando’s (of course) and went to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’d read the book some years ago and enjoyed it but couldn’t remember the plot (I’m terrible). We were going to see On the Road, but it had got bad reviews and there are so many films I want to see, we decided not to chance it. It ended up being a bonus that I couldn’t remember it, and although it broke me, it was truly awesome – and not in the slang-way, in the real way.

The quote ‘we accept the love we think we deserve’ is in itself genius, but turned into film, you felt like you were inside it. Needless to say, I cried throughout it. It wasn’t perfect; I didn’t understand it when the character of Sam said “I’m not bulimic, I’m bulim-ist” and this idea wasn’t explored any deeper. If the characters are going to laugh along to lines like that, I just think there should be more to it than that, especially with the current growth of pro-ana people (Say what?! Google it). Other than that moment, it was tragic and beautiful and so moving. It just made you feel so vulnerable afterwards.

Anyway, read the book too. I feel like I need to read it again now.

The last thing I want to write about is the last issue of Poetry Review. Tom Philips’ work was shown on the cover, which I liked as both poetry and visual art. While we’re on that subject, submit to Poetry & Paint. I enjoyed Chrissy Williams’ piece ‘From Page to Stage’ as it’s on my wavelength. I also loved reading Katy Evans-Bush write about Adventures in Form, and On Poetry because I had actually read both books! And now for some quick summaries on why I liked certain poets:

Chris McCabe: the first poet in the collection that caught my attention, with a beautiful use of language and caesuras.

Michael Hofmann: I liked the juxtaposition of items in a broken list, from the idea of bar-coding people to the familiarity of the use of ‘maiden name’ and the general ‘GSOH’.

C.J. Driver: The use of rhythm and the subtleties of language gives it a musicality, and an ephemeral quality.

Carrie Etter: Raw emotion is sculptured into metaphor, with wonders such as “I wanted to sprinkle a little /into flour, egg and cocoa/and feed the cake of you to everyone.”

Karen McCarthy Woolf: I loved the uniqueness of this piece, with descriptions like modern relic, and it’s mixture of humour and tragedy.

Edward Mackay: Although I couldn’t relate to this poem, I admired the way it was crafted into the shape of Wales.

Declan Ryan: There was a tonal quality to the first stanza with which I couldn’t identify, but I enjoyed gems such as “This isn’t an answer or a letter -/it’s only a cup of coffee after lunch”. This is when the poem took off, for me, and I liked the use of simile and metaphor, contrasted with simple dialogue.

Robert Stein: I liked the voice of this poem, and the funny phrases such as “Before falling in love with you…” in its desire to make love logical.

Naomi Foyle: This is probably my favourite poem of this collection. I loved every part of it and would love to read more.

Hannah Lowe: I liked that I could relate to the environment of the dance class, and twist of the final line: “he’s the cab my mother sends for me.”

Amy Acre: This is my joint favourite poem. I know Acre from her live performances, and it was a joy to find this poem included. Really clever and well-written, and lines such as “gathering strength like the hems of skirts. You are a continent.”

xxx

Hey, Buddy

So, it’s been an eventful week for me. Since handing in my MA coursework and having my last day of work at Sainsbury’s last Sunday, I have started my new job as an English Mentor at a secondary school in Bethnal Green.

It’s been such an overwhelming experience so far but most of the staff are friendly and the students seem okay, though I won’t start teaching them for a week or so more. My role is a fairly new initiative to improve literacy and GCSE grades, so I’m basically like a tutor for C/D borderline students. Time goes a lot quicker than working at Sainsbury’s and even though I’ve mostly been doing admin stuff, it’s been great to get used to just being there. My week is now over and I’m off to visit my friend Hannah, who has moved to York.

I’ve been glad to have had quite a busy week after school as well! I’ve had a few trips to the post office for eBay, where I’m still selling lots of things at great prices! Other than that, on Tuesday, I went to see my course-mate Lydia Martin’s photography exhibition at Spitalfields. It was called Another Voice That Speaks and was really interesting, so I nabbed some free postcards! I may even use them for inspiration for students to work from, as I think my job is pretty independent – I even have to make my own time table!

Photography and Exhibition: Lydia Martin, Another Voice That Speaks

On Wednesday I sat in the gardens next to the Museum of Childhood (which I really need to check out!) and finished the Year 7’s text ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ in the sunshine. I thought it was a great book and would like to watch the film. I went to Nando’s and really enjoyed it. I thought I had a bit of time so I had a mini dessert, and I must say, I really recommend the custard tart, yum! I then went along to The Gallery Cafe for some spoken word.

I went on my own, but got to meet Sophia Blackwell, who was lovely. I found out that not only is she an amazing poet, but she works at Bloomsbury Publishing! It got my thinking about my career path and that maybe I’d like to get back on that track at some point, since doing an internship during uni at Penned in the Margins.

Deanna Rodger started off as the support for the event, ran by Apples & Snakes. I think I recognised some poems, but I hadn’t seen her in… it must be years. I was pretty surprised when she said she had been doing this for about 6 years, as that means she started out at the same time as me! I need to up my game! I really enjoyed her set and thought the whole even had a great range of poets. I love her rawness and emotional expression. I know she has connections with the theatre, and I have seen a lot of people over-act poetry, but Deanna makes none of those mistakes and is so natural and holds a lot of truth in the words she delivers.

The next was Ronnie McGrath, who I’d never seen before. I loved the way he transported me to the ’60s, the way he played with sound and the strength of meaning. I hadn’t seen anything quite like it, and I also thought it was cool that he read from the page, because it just shows you that you can still give an amazing performance without knowing it all off by heart!!

The headliner was Buddy Wakefield. I had only just heard of him and listened to some recordings on Spotify and since he was performing near my new work, I thought it would be unmissable. And it was. I’m so glad I went. His performance had both strength and vulnerability. Tragedy and comedy. Ramblings and retelling. And glitter. Plus, an ad-lib finale with a beatboxer from the crowd, and McGrath on vocals. There was a reference to giving a pencil to a man in prison, and him putting it in his pocket. Some people laughed and I just didn’t get it, so that’s been niggling me because I feel a bit stupid! There was just so much in the performance, and yeah, it was ‘heavy’ but I like that. I wished others could have experienced it. I wish I could fill up a bottle of it and send it over seas to share it. I wish the recordings were enough. But they’re not. So, if you ever get the opportunity again, go see him! And it only cost £4!

He hadn’t toured in a while, and it was all rather emotional. It felt so good to be there. So, fantastic things like this happening provide yet another reason to live in Bethnal Green, or round abouts that area. Sorry, Worcester Park, you are not culturally stimulating and I don’t know if you ever will be.

xxx

Poetry in Music: Part 1

A poem and a song are not one and the same, but I believe you can find poetry in music. I’m starting with a poet I’m seeing on Wednesday but I will be focusing on music, and in particular songs to do with relationships. I’ll be picking out key lyrics that have spoken to me recently. I’m not going to explain their personal significant to myself, but hope you enjoy the poetry of the lyrics.

Buddy Wakefield

Giant Saint Everything

“I should have told you before talking in terms of forever that any given day wears me out, works me sour; that there are nights when the sky is so clear, I stand obnoxious underneath it, begging for stars to shoot me just so I can feel at home”

Emmy the Great

24

“Man on the screen he has done more in a minute
Than you have achieved in your whole entire life
When you finally realise i was the best thing you had in it
We’ll be closing up your eyelids on the bed on which you die”

Bright eyes & Neva Dinova

I Know You

“We made quite a pair in the morning
We both tend to traffic in dreams
Seeing it now from the outside
You kept all your dark ones for me”

Scroobius Pip

Broken promise

“From anyone who ever let you down and went missing
Lovers, parents, best friends, and siblings
Sometimes life conspires to make liars of good men”

Noah and the Whale

First Day of Spring

“But I’ll come back to you in a year or so
And I’ll rebuild, be ready to become
Oh the person, you believed in
Oh the person, that you used to love”

Destiny’s Child

Emotion

“But if you don’t come back
Come home to me, darling
Dont you know there’s nobody left in this world
to hold me tight”

Mumford and Sons

Little Lion Man

“Take all the courage you have left
Wasted on fixing all the problems
That you made in your own head

But it was not your fault but mine
And it was your heart on the line
I really fucked it up this time
Didn’t I, my dear?”

White Blank Page

“But tell me now, where was my fault
In loving you with my whole heart”

Slow Club

Giving up on Love

“We’ve been over and over,
this thing we call love.
And I’ve been thinking about what my friends would say,
if I were to give it up.

Cause I’ve been tired and hopeful (I’ve been hurting inside)
For far too long now (too long now).
So I’m giving it up, giving up, giving up on love.
Giving up on love.”

Carmina’s Poetry Tease: The Film

To Endings and New Beginnings

On Wednesday 22nd August I organised my first solo poetry event called ‘Carmina’s Poetry Tease’. Featuring alongside me were Catherine Woodward (the emerging artist) and Rosy Carrick (the inspirational professional). It all managed to run rather smoothly and I was very pleased with how it turned out.

I had been building up my nerves all day, waiting in Craft Central with just a couple of people wanting to look in (to be fair the chairs were all laid out expectantly). I was there from about 10am, so by the time people started arriving, just before 7pm, it was all a bit surreal. The room ended up being packed out, with around 30 people, the 26 chairs ran out and people were forced to stand.

This was great but I felt incredibly overwhelmed by it all, and probably said ‘thank you’ a tad too much. Other than inevitably talking too fast when on stage (a small white ‘soapbox’) everything when just as I had imagined. It looked just how I had visualised (the power of the mind, eh?)
So, all in all, it was a great evening. I am currently uploading the video recording onto YouTube and will post that in a separate update.

As you can see from the pictures, there was a strong visual element to the event as well. I managed to sell a few things and get a bit of money from that and possibly by some donations as well. I obviously made a loss but I wanted to do this event as a kind of celebration for completing my poetry collection (the print of which has come in the post and I love it, need a publisher!)

Like I said at the event, I was once told by a history teacher at secondary school that I would never be the ‘life and soul’ of the party. Well, this was my party, and I hoped the audience could find both life and soul during their time there.

I wanted to showcase my work, but also present a poet who inspires me, as well as someone to represent the future of poetry as an example of those who are just starting out, like myself.

Another important aspect of the event was my desire to pay the artists, in order to show that I value their work. I’ve now launched a project called ‘Poetry & Paint’ where I hope to do more of the same on a much larger scale. I will need quite a bit of funding in order to do this, and most of the money would be going directly to artists that get involved; again these would be a mix of both new-comers and established artists. I have started up a funding page at We Fund to raise money.

xxx



News

Towards the end of May I did a spoken word set at headCRASH Cabaret and tried out some new material. Some of this is currently being edited and any feedback would be greatly appreciated as I am working towards a first collection.

In other news, there’s going to be a change of features for my event Carmina’s Poetry Tease as sadly Hannah Jane Walker has been forced to pull out. I’m currently emailing madly to try to find a suitable replacement. There’s so many people I would love to perform at the event but I’m also wanting to keep in mind the kind of event this is and the ethos of it. I’ve emailed a couple of people that are so famous it’s unlikely I’ll get them but it’s worth a shot. There are so many amazing poets but I don’t want to barrage everyone with messages just yet so I am nervously awaiting a handful of responses to see if anyone is able to do it yet! I really want to sort it out – ideally before Latitude as it would be a great time to try to talk to people about it, and potentially discuss it further with the poet that accepts the offer!

If any poets out there think they may be able to step in and think they are aligned with the ethos of the event, I’m looking for… ideally female poets, poets that bridge the gap between the page and the stage, poets that exist as established names in the scene, poets willing to share old material with some newer poems, and poets that value the arts. Just contact me via email at carminamasoliver@hotmail.com.

On Tuesday 10th July (this coming Tuesday!) I will be headlining at Words, Words, Words as part of Kingston’s International Youth Arts Festival. I still have some free guest-list tickets if anyone would like to contact me about them. Otherwise, it’s only £5 and there’s an array of talented people joining the line-up – all under 25 years of age!

xxx