BRITISH BLACK HISTORY THROUGH POETRY

A curated collection of poetry from Black British poets in celebration of Black History Month in the UK.



Barefoot Body is committed to inclusivity, and part of that commitment lies in amplifying melanated voices.


October is Black History Month in the UK, and we wanted to use the opportunity to showcase Black voices. As we often turn to poetry in our trainings to explore yoga and movement teachings, we've opted to trace Black history through the lens of poetry. So here's a curated collection of poetry from a handful of talented Black British poets.


We'd also like to signpost some great resources over on www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk that we invite you to explore.


JOHN AGARD


“Checking Out Me History” is penned by the amazing poet, spoken word performer, John Agard.


Born in Guyana 1949 in South America, moving to England in the seventies after an early career in journalism, his work is infused with storytelling and calypso rhythms and cadences.


Listen to the recording here.


Checking Out Me History


Dem tell me Dem tell me Wha dem want to tell me Bandage up me eye with me own history Blind me to my own identity

Dem tell me bout 1066 and all dat dem tell me bout Dick Whittington and he cat But Touissant L’Ouverture no dem never tell me bout dat

Toussaint a slave with vision lick back Napoleon battalion and first Black Republic born Toussaint de thorn to de French Toussaint de beacon of de Haitian Revolution

Dem tell me bout de man who discover de balloon and de cow who jump over de moon Dem tell me bout de dish run away with de spoon but dem never tell me bout Nanny de maroon

Nanny see-far woman of mountain dream fire-woman struggle hopeful stream to freedom river

Dem tell me bout Lord Nelson and Waterloo but dem never tell me bout Shaka de great Zulu Dem tell me bout Columbus and 1492 but what happen to de Caribs and de Arawaks too

Dem tell me bout Florence Nightingale and she lamp and how Robin Hood used to camp Dem tell me bout ole King Cole was a merry ole soul but dem never tell me bout Mary Seacole

From Jamaica she travel far to the Crimean War she volunteer to go and even when de British said no she still brave the Russian snow a healing star among the wounded a yellow sunrise to the dying

Dem tell me Dem tell me wha dem want to tell me But now I checking out me own history I carving out me identity


(left to right: Queen Nanny of the Maroons, Toussaint Louverture, Mary Seacole)




MALIKA BOOKER



London poet, writer, performer, Malika Booker, was born to Guyanese and Grenadian parents and grew up in Guyana, returning to the UK aged 13.


Trials and Tribulations is one of two pieces of work commissioned to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush and inspired by stories from Brent’s Caribbean community.



Trials and Tribulations. The stone which the builders refused… Psalm 118:22


Saturday night Aunty Cutie parts, then slides that hot

comb, scorching ear tips, lacing the room with the

sizzle of singed hair and scent of coconut oil, then

tightens pink curlers into rigid regiments. Corrie

presses her half-slip and pretty frock, then rests them

to cool, like her head on that pillow. Sunday morning

Aunty Cutie anoints Vaseline into her skin. Winston

polishes black shoes, bows his head to breathe slick

shine for Sunday worship. Cutie zips up her blue frock

stitched by May’s dressmaker from pretty pattern,

checks her hairnet and hat is fixed just right. Winston

presses sharp trousers seams then straightens his tie.

Aunty Cutie pulls on the little heel shoe, and white

gloves. Corrie counts out her collection money. But

this country is a heavy weight. And when ambushed by

white priests at church doors, your kind not welcome

here, is a heavy stone, your kind not welcome here is a

heavy stone your kind not welcome here is a heavy

stone dashed into an empty pail. Yet look how dignity

starch you back as they kick you teeth out of your

mouth.


Each Rose will find its bloom


The stone which the builders refused

was become the head stone of the corner Psalm 118:22


Black roses stretched to their own sun

to worship to worship


seeds planted in pots in living rooms

to worship to worship


till they began to blossom and bloom

in song in song


and they started to shiver and sway

in song in song


till their heads bent and bowed

in prayer in prayer


and the sunshine healed bruised petals

in prayer in prayer


their splendour and grace

in worship in worship


reaped bountiful grace

in song in song





BEN OKRI



Nigerian writer and poet, Ben Okri, wrote this poem in 2017 to raise funds for relatives and victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, and for survivors.



Grenfell Tower