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).
What the papers say...
"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
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.
"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)
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
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:
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')?
We would appreciate a proper answer to all these questions.