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.