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MOVING VOICES: BLACK PERFORMANCE POETRY

In this book twelve poets have been interviewed about their childhood and school experiences, how they became poets and who influenced them, how they write and where they have performed, their favourite poets and poems, what they write about and their advice to budding poets.

The poets include those born in the Caribbean - James Berry, Valerie Bloom, Cuban Redd, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze and John Lyons; and those born in England - Adisa, Patience Agbabi, Michael Groce, Cynthia Hamilton, Asher Hoyles, Levi Tafari and Benjamin Zephaniah.

· What is black performance poetry?

· What does it sound like?

· How does it stem from African and Caribbean culture?

· What is the oral tradition?

· How is it related to the literary tradition?

· Who are Louise Bennett and Mikey Smith?

A detailed introduction addresses these questions and many more. There is also a full bibliography of poetry and relevant references.

The accompanying free CD records the poets performing some of their favourite poems, and these poems are also printed in the book.

Asher Hoyles is a performance poet. She writes in a variety of styles based on her experience as an African Caribbean, growing up in Chapeltown, Leeds, and moving to London at the age of sixteen. She has performed in schools and colleges, libraries, community centres and prisons. Other venues include Hay-on-Wye, Chat’s Palace, Kentish Town Women’s Centre, Union Chapel, Glastonbury Festival and the ICA. Her poems have also appeared on many London buses. Asher works as an additional support tutor at NewVic Sixth Form College in Newham. She has an interest in special needs and has recently completed a postgraduate certificate in dyslexia at University College London.

Martin Hoyles is a senior lecturer in Communication Studies at the University of East London. Previously he taught English for ten years in Newham secondary schools. He has edited The Politics of Literacy (1977), Changing Childhood (1979), and More Valuable Than Gold by Striking Miners’ Children (1985). In 1989 he wrote The Politics of Childhood and he has written a number of books on gardening: The Story of Gardening (1991), Gardeners Delight (1994), Bread and Roses (1995) and The Gardener’s Perpetual Almanack (1997). Recently he has had several essays published in the international Encyclopedia of Gardens: History and Design (2002).

Together Asher and Martin wrote Remember Me: Achievements of Mixed Race People, Past and Present (1999). They have a daughter called Rosa, born in Ipswich in 1995.

 

What the papers say...


" 'Moving Voices' has won me over. The introduction is a gift for teachers, remarkably clear and readable. And the selection of poets is unusually free from vanity or clique. The introductions to each poet, too, are an example of exactly what to do. Perhaps it is the emphasis on the craft of performance poetry, the history behind it, the skills and reading required to perfect it, that sets this publication apart. This is the first book about performance poetry that I haven't been glad to close as quietly as an exit door and slip out the back for a drink." Times Educational Supplement (TES) 4 October 2002

"If you like words, if you like voices, if you like honesty, and you don't mind the three of them all at once, then you will like this book. 'Moving Voices: Black Performance Poetry' is an amalgamation of some of Britain's premier black performance poets doing what they do best: speaking. It provides a nice blend by going into each poet's biography while, in between, including their poems, so that it provides a snap-shot of their lives. You are told what happened, and then shown. The biographical sections are also great for providing insight into the poets and really finding out how they got started, where they get their inspiration to write and what is going through their heads onstage. It also provides a useful account of the history of performance poetry (which goes back nearly 5,000 years) and chronicles its increasing effect in African culture, where story tellers are paramount." The Voice 16 December 2002

"The authors of the magnificently illuminating 'Moving Voices' not only provide us with a feast of performance poetry, but give us a very necessary historical insight into its origins.
As you will probably learn form 'Moving Voices', there is also a deeply committed side to performance poetry. The poets sing not only of pleasure but also of pain. They entertain but also inform, enlighten and try to persuade an unjust world to change its ways, so that our children can inherit a truly liberated multicultural society. This book deserves to be included in the school curriculum.
'Moving Voices' fills a very necessary gap - it's educative, informative and above all aesthetically dazzling. Read it simply for pleasure, or read it to be informed better of the human condition - whichever way, you will be deeply moved. 'Moving Voices' comes with a well-produced disc." Robert Govender, Weekly Post, 22 November 2002

"Moving Voices contains an outstanding collection of performance poetry. Thanks to the inclusion of the CD, we can hear the textures and nuances in the pronunciation which we might miss if we are not familiar with the particular dialect. The reader can hear the special effects in the delivery at the same time as seeing the way the words look on the page, thus enhancing comprehension, enjoyment and intellectual stimulation from the work. These poems are not read in the pompous voice of an actor declaiming poetically. They are read in the language of the streets, but they present ideas and thoughts that will bring meaning and organisation to the experiences of young people living in the strange new world of multi-cultural urban life. This would be an ideal book to include in the school curriculum. It would bring poetry to a generation of urban youth who encounter this language every day but see no relation of their language with that of their educated teachers." New Era in Education, Volume 83, Number 3, December 2002

"'Moving Voices is a landmark poetry collection. It contains a detailed introduction to Black performance pooetry and features the work of many leading performance poets." Calabash, issue 19, spring/summer 2003

'The book manages to successfully bridge the gap between performance poetry and written verse by including a clear overview of the history of oral traditions, from Ancient Greece and Africa to contemporary Britain as well as a CD of the poems by the poets themselves. It is suitable for adults and children of secondary age in particular but as the CD is included anyone can sit back and enjoy!' Darren Chetty, People in Harmony Newsletter, Issue 33, April 2003

"'Moving Voices' is a most impressive work in a very important genre." Dr Ken Boston, Chief Executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

'If you like more rhythmic poetry than usual, this is for you. It has a beat to it right through it. I listen to it every night because the beat lulls me to sleep. It has given me my love for more flowing and rhythmical Poetry & I would love to meet some of the poets on it. I'm starting to read the book (which I am struggling to understand). It gives me a sense of the rhythm of my roots, especially the poem Get Up, Stand Up . My favourite one is I Have A Scheme . My understanding is that this was made to show the music and poetry of Black and mixed race origin. Anyway it's a must hear CD!!!!' Tony Wood (ten-year-old son of Maxine Miller)

 

Current issues...

IS THE OCR RACIST?
A Cautionary Tale

Imagine our delight when the OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA) Examining Board expressed an interest in putting the poetry in our book, Moving Voices: Black Performance Poetry (Hansib 2002), on their GCSE English Literature syllabus. After six months of discussions they agreed to 'endorse' the book as part of their 'Opening Minds to Different Cultures' rationale and we set to work selecting the first 16 poems to be an option on their GCSE syllabus from September 2003.

The final meeting to agree the poems was due to take place in Cambridge on 12 February 2003. A few days before, they rang up to say that they were no longer prepared to include this poetry. They had consulted six English teachers (all white) and along with the senior examiners (all white), they had concluded that the poems were not acceptable. When we asked if any black teachers had been consulted, there was a silence and then the answer came, 'No.'

In particular they objected to a poem about menstruation - 'it would be difficult to teach it in a mixed class'. When I (Martin) said I had been an English teacher in east London secondary schools for ten years and that such issues were regularly dealt with in the English classroom, the reply came: 'I have never been a teacher, but I have been a journalist, and just think what the Sun would make of it when they found out.' Even if this poem were left out, they were still not prepared to go ahead with the other poetry.

So there we have it. An 'Opening Minds to Other Cultures' initiative has been judged by an all white jury and found wanting, and the GCSE English syllabus for our children has been determined by the possible reaction of a tabloid newspaper!

Breaking through is hard to do!

Timetable of Events

18 July 2002
We are invited to an OCR English Action Group meeting to discuss their interest in work 'reflecting multicultural Britain'.

1 August
They say: 'we are very keen to meet with you to discuss your work - we are definitely looking to promote literary cultural diversity as part of our Opening Minds rationale for the new GCSEs in English and English Literature'. We are invited to a meeting in Birmingham on 19 September.

5 August
They write: 'Great news that you may well be able to attend our meeting; we're like kids waiting for Christmas - very excited!'

20 September
After Martin attended the meeting: 'It was good to meet you yesterday - and to be introduced to Moving Voices, which we were all very impressed with and excited by.'
They suggest endorsing the book, after it is seen by a consultant, as a set text for GCSE English Literature. Two clean texts for the exams would then be printed, each with 16 poems. The book would be promoted on their web-site and they 'would be keen to run conferences/workshops relating to Moving Voices and the teaching of Different Cultures open to teachers/students/others with an interest'.

22 October
After sending them reviews of the book, they write: 'Excellent reviews. I managed to access your web-site: very impressive poets section, plus audio.'

3 December
We receive the report of the senior examiner who says 'arising from several hours of reading and listening to the poems' that 'Moving Voices would be a valuable addition' to the OCR's GCSE texts and suggests 'possible pairings' of the poems. Some will be difficult to include 'on the grounds of length', but it would be 'possible to overcome such difficulties'.
He concludes: 'Moving Voices offers an interesting alternative to OCR's present texts. It includes poems with strong rhythms dealing with contemporary issues, and should have an appeal to candidates unlikely to be attracted by "traditional" poetry. I suspect that, if adopted, it might best be used in English (1900) where study of poems, rather than comparison of poems, is required; and where it would provide a powerful stimulus to Speaking and Listening activities.'

10 December
We are told that the endorsement has been 'agreed at the last English Action Group meeting' and they set out their reasons for 'wanting it in English Literature', rather than English: 'A further reason for wanting it in Literature is so that we can say we are actively encouraging a multicultural education, rather than just responding to a QCA directive for Different Cultures in English. This latter point is, for me, particularly important because we are being pro-active rather than re-active and sits well with our Opening Minds ethos.'

11 December
'The timeframe we are hoping to work to for this revised Moving Voices text is to set it for examination from June 2005. This means that it would be available for teaching from September 2003.'

20 January
After we suggested that we would divide the poems into 2 volumes of eight pairs of poems in each (for setting exam questions asking students to compare two poems), we are told: 'I look forward to seeing how you have gone about dividing up the poems into two sets - rather you than me!'

22 January
The Principal Examiner is brought in to comment on the selection: 'I think the revised 16-poem collection will work for the life of a poetry text (3 years?).' He suggests 13 poems, permitting 'questions on a range of topics: race/culture, women, humour and poetry itself', adding: 'Yes, I know there are less than 16 here, but the others are up to you!'

23 January
The original consultant examiner writes: 'There's some overlap between Asher and Martin's suggestions and Lionel's that should prove most helpful. Asher and Martin's choice of poems that are linked, and their comments on their common ties are also very helpful from a question-setting viewpoint.' He has an 'occasional reservation' about length, but says that 'this needn't be an obstacle'.

24 January
OCR say they need to discuss 'arrangements for publication'.

29 January
Discussing a date for a meeting to make the final decision on the poems, they write: 'As we need to move quite fast on this, I think the sooner the better - Wednesday February 12.'

8 February
Phone-call to say they are no longer interested in using the poetry for the GCSE syllabus (see above).

11 February
We ask the Principal Examiner why this has happened and he replies: 'No idea, sorry, it's news to me.'

11 February
Phone-call from OCR saying it's still off, but they are prepared to put the book on their web-site, link up with our web-site and offer us a fee! They promise to put all this in writing in an email the next day. (Incidentally, up to this point they had offered no money, even though we had sent them 10 copies of the book, worth £170, and they had not offered to pay any travelling expenses to Birmingham - not even a free lunch! They also expected us to pay the £150 fee for the consultant.)

12 February
Apologies that the letter has not been sent, but it has to be 'on official letterhead' so will be sent by post. It will be posted first class the next day.

18 February
The letter still has not arrived!

19 February
3-page letter arrives from Dr Paul Norgate, OCR Qualifications Manager - English, Arts and Performance Studies, confirming that they are not going ahead with the Moving Voices collection of poems, and stressing again that 'menstruation' is a matter 'unsuitable for the classroom'. The letter contains no word of apology, nor any explanation as to why the book was officially 'endorsed' and recommended by a senior examiner, principal examiner and the English Action Group.




Dear Dr Norgate

Thank you for your letter of 18 February. We are astonished, however, to discover that you have not addressed any of the key issues:

· Why did the OCR officially 'endorse' our book Moving Voices: Black Performance Poetry for their GCSE English Literature syllabus (10 Dec email - 'agreed at the last English Action Group meeting')?
· Why did the consultant say, 'arising from several hours of reading and listening to the poems' that 'Moving Voices would be a valuable addition to the OCR's GCSE texts' and suggest 'possible pairings'? (3 Dec email)
· Why did the Principal Examiner, brought in to comment on our selection of pairings, suggest 13 poems and then add: 'Yes, I know there are less than 16 here, but the others are up to you!'? (22 Jan email)
· Why did the original consultant say our suggestions 'should prove most helpful' and 'very helpful from a question-setting viewpoint'? (23 Jan email)
· Why did you say you needed to discuss 'arrangements for publication' of the clean text? (24 Jan email)
· Why were you keen to finalise the selection of poems: 'As we need to move quite fast on this, I think the sooner the better - Wednesday February 12.'? (29 Jan email)
· Why did you phone to call the whole project off, saying that 6 English teachers (all white) and the senior examiners (all white) had decided they could not include a poem about menstruation for fear of what the Sun newspaper might say? (8 Feb phone-call)
· Why were no black teachers consulted?
· When we consulted the Principal Examiner about this rejection, why did he say, 'No idea, sorry, it's news to me.'? (11 Feb email)
· When we were phoned on 11 Feb to be told that, even without the poem on menstruation, the project was still off, why were we offered a fee to put our book on your web-site (when up to this point we had not been offered a penny, despite giving you 10 copies of the book, worth £170, receiving no travel expenses for the trip to Birmingham, and being expected to pay £150 for the consultant's fee)?
· When you were asked to put the gist of the phone-calls in writing, why did that take 10 days?
· When you eventually wrote to us, why did your letter contain not one word of apology for leading us up the garden path for 6 months?

We would appreciate a proper answer to all these questions.

Yours sincerely
Asher & Martin Hoyles