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18th November, 2022

Taking the Mic


Event Details

18th November, 2022
8:30 - 20:30
The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Eton Avenue

A free one day conference celebrating Black British poetry in performance, hosted by Poetry Off the Page, Goldsmiths and The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

Black British* poets have long pushed the aesthetic and sonic boundaries of performance in spoken word, creating a compelling public voice for poetry. The legacy of this work both on and off the page follows diasporic routes in and out of Britain from Una Marson to James Berry, from the Caribbean Artists Movement to Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, John Agard, and Roger Robinson through to the twenty-first century poets Patience Agbabi, Jay Bernard, Anthony Joseph, Raymond Antrobus, Warsan Shire, and Caleb Femi to name a few. While fashioning electrifying performance personae, Black British spoken-word poets have equally claimed, redefined, or rejected the term ‘performance’.

To what degree does Black British spoken word poetry offer an ongoing ‘avant-garde’? From the Black People’s Day of Action to #BLM, to decolonising the curriculum, spoken word poetry plays significant roles in Black activism; bears witness to contested and forgotten histories; and imagines new futures, communities, and belongings.

To rhyme, rap, or speak of poetry performance, its lyrical forms, beats, and bars is also to invoke the voices of Black British poets and collectives across Britain’s geographical breadth. From Grace Nichols’s meditations on the English countryside, to the Mancunian Blackscribe Black feminist poetry collective; Khadijah Ibrahiim’s poetic histories of Chapeltown and Harehills, and Benjamin Zephaniah’s accounts of Brummagem; to Eric Ngalle Charles’s negotiations with his adopted ‘home’ in Wales to Jackie Kay as Scotland’s Makar; or Caleb Femi’s testimony to North Peckham— these locales, regions, and their nations reveal the multiple heritages of Black British spoken word poetry’s performance communities.

This landmark one-day conference invites participants to ‘take the mic’ and explore Black British poetry in performance, tracing its aesthetics, activisms, and auralities. We will hear keynote addresses from Jay Bernard, the 2018 Ted Hughes award and 2020 Young Writer of the Year award winner (in person), and Carolyn Cooper, Professor Emerita of the University of West Indies, Mona, Jamaica (online).

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