It’s The Queen Elizabeth Hall and every golden ticket is in the sweaty hands of an eager
audience member. Precious thing. There’s crowds outside hoping, praying, for tickets. The foyer stage is alight with young poets and rappers of London giving it their all. There’s a crackle in the air. The foyer show ends in applause and the people rise up and wend
their way into the QEH to the main event! In the sixties I guess they would call it a happening.
Back in the green room before the reading there is an air of stillness. Linton introduces me to Amiri whom I have always wanted to meet. The people in the Green Room are the readers. It’s the eye of the storm. The storm makers are Amiri Baraka who’s unscrewing a bottle of wine, my friend Lesegho Rampolokeng is stood by the water cooler pacing a little, The dreadlocked and grey bearded strinking figure stretched out and seated is Kendall, Jayne Cortez is catching up with Amina Baraka. And Linton is stood the perfect host overseeing procedures with pride. Ruth Borthwick the former literature officer
and the person who suggested this event to Linton whispers to me “have you got a camera”. I have a camera but I don’t take any pictures. This is a place where artists are
collecting themselves, just as the audience of hundreds are collecting outside. Linton originally chose twelve poets and then whittled it down to six. I wish them well and take my seat – and slightly regret that I didn’t take the picture. Amiri may never be in Britian again. In the year of The Abolition of The Slave Trade Act this is a striking reading. As Linton said on his album “It is no mystery. We’re making history”.
After Lintons introduction which I must get a copy of the first half kicks off with Amina
Baraka. Her rousing recital tore the mouth out of the those academicians who
relegate racism to a thing of the past. Lest We Forget is her message on Americas greatest war, that with itself. . She has the voice of the black angel and is followed by my South African Brother Lesego Rampolokeng who tore up the stage to an appreciative audience. Lesego is the closest performer to myself that I know. And maybe I am projecting but the stage can be as much a trap as a platform. Lesego hinted that he may have gone over time slightly. There was no such hint from Kendal who began with a
wonderful poem. He was the lesser experienced poet and once breathing fresh air
into the room with the softly spoken words of his excellent first poem seemed to suck it all out. The air started to disappear with a poem about a woman with a severed head speaking to us. His time allocation passed about then. However he continued to read poems going way over time leaving dxgf and continued with some “we are all one” poetry. The break was well needed but the event was over twenty minutes over time already –
and it started late..
And in the second half Jayne Cortez the lauded American Jazz poet says, “It is good to be here in the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. It will be even better to be here at a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the consequences of the slave trade”. It was the singular reference to the anniversary.
And if ever the night was encapsulated in one phrase (rather than a poem) it was thus. Then after Jayne Cortez lit us up withg her words it was time to burn some fire! Linton marched onto stage and took us through the past thirty years in his work. It was a lesson in contemporary history. Listening to his poems I heard for the first time, the utter emotion of Reggae fe dada and Reggae for May Ayim. The subject of the latter was a poet whom I
also knew from Germany. I toured with her in South Africa. What I didn’t know is that she was fostered as a child no doubt to a Germanic family. She was beautiful and very quiet, torn up and within her struggle. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and threw herself from the thirteenth floor of a tower block. Her name is May Ayim and I dedicated an anthology of Black British “The Fire People” to her. Linton was a highlight before the highlight. The event was now twenty minutes over time. And kendals over reach had an effect on a tired audience. Finally Amiri came on and let his humour and jazz poetry weave its spell around the audience.
There is a YURT on top of the festival Hall where all the writers go to eat good food and
drink good drink. But I am shattered and slip away enlivened by poetry. What will I remember most of all? I remember the prophetic poem Tings and Times read by Linton. It encapsulated everything about poetry and audience right now! A good event should remind you about who you are. It should open horizons to you and it should give you wings. I flew all the way home!