Poet of Honour: Raymond Antrobus

Poet of Honour, an accolade by Ars Notoria and Word Masala Foundation, celebrates our best contemporary poets we should have read by now. They are iconic and a major inspiration.

I love the intensity of drama and a labyrinth of meanings in Ted Hughes. Still, when Raymond Antrobus got up at the Edexcel conference launching their diversity curriculum and pictured Hughes visiting a classroom displaying an insensitive response to deaf students, I comprehended Raymond: deaf at birth and not diagnosed until he was seven, how acute his hurt must have been growing up with the deafness! Most of us take the unison of sound and language as default; refine it as poets. But to be born with their disconnection and struggle to reconstruct their lost bond, afterwards to be one of the most revered poets of our time, is the most challenging journey this poet has taken! No wonder, as he says, his poems are an ‘investigation of missing sounds’. Not to forget that he also investigates meaning; after all, how can any poem ignore that leap! Perhaps Raymond also stuns us with a unique sound he hears of these words. In him, a sense of displacement is not only stemming from his heritage of British mother and Jamaican father, or being an odd one out in a classroom, but also from this dual with language and sounds.

Poetry is not a construct; the best ones are always lively with their lyrical/sound intricacies. Its meaning, its soul and the universe it brings together can anchor the disintegrating forces. The sound of ‘Dat’ in the poem here reminds us of the skin, culture, and the identity for ‘stop and search’ and implores us to enjoy the joy in saying ‘dat’ rather than getting diminished in the ‘person of colour’ games! Strong accents are something I can identify with. Raymond conquers his speech as an award-winning performer. With Ted Hughes (ironically in the context given above) Award, Rathbones Folio Prize, Somerset Maugham Award, and Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award, the Year 2019 can be emphatically coined as the Raymond Antrobus year! Unfortunately, as love always wins, we are losing this great British poet to jazz in New Orleans. So, just as he packs up his bags for the RAxit, let us have a great hurrah with him here at Ars Notoria as we celebrate him with Poet of Honour. Thanks to Picador for permission to allow us to reprint these poems.

-Yogesh Patel MBE

Poems by Raymond Antrobus

And That

photo of assorted food hanging on gray metal railings
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After seeing a childhood friend outside a chicken shop in Dalston

Chicken wings / and dat
Boss man / salt in them / and dat

Don’t assault man / give man a nap—
Kin / Big man / no steroid / and dat

Dark times / new street lights / and dat
How’s man? / I’m getting by / and dat

Still / boy dem / harass
Not beefin’ / Not tagged / man / still trapped

Cycle man / pedallin’ / and dat
On road / new pavements / levelled / and dat

Crackney changed / still / stay dwelling / and dat
Paradise moves / but I got to land grab

We E8 / East man / ain’t got to adapt
Our Kingdom / got no land to hand back

Man / chat breeze / chat
Trade winds / and dat

You out ends / got good job / legit / and dat?
Locked off man dem / stay plotting / and dat

Rah, Ray / Flower shorts? / You hipster / in dat
Man gone / Vegan? / No chicken wings / and dat

The Rebellious

people at library sitting down at tables
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hold what they can
in front of a supermarket

or police station
or voting booths. I am

kind to the man
sitting next to me

in C.L.R James Library, even if
his breathing disturbs me.

Can we graciously disagree?
I am tired of people

not knowing the volume
of their power. Who doesn’t

some silence at night?

The Acceptance

Oshun at Etsy

Dad’s house stands again, four years
after being demolished. I walk in.
He lies in bed, licks his rolling paper,
and when I ask Where have you been?
We buried you.
He says I know,

I know. I lean into his smoke, tell him
I went back to Jamaica. I met your brothers.
Losing you made me need them.
He says
something I don’t hear. What? Moving lips,
no sound. I shake my head. He frowns.

Disappears. I wake in the hotel room,
heart drumming. I get up slowly, the floor
is wet. I wade into the bathroom,
my father standing by the sink, all the taps
running. He laughs and takes

my hand, squeezes, his ring
digs into my flesh. I open my eyes again.
I’m by a river, a shimmering sheet
of green marble. Red ants crawl up
an oak tree’s flaking bark. My hands

are cold mud. I follow the tall grass
by the riverbank, the song, my deaf Orisha
of music, Oshun, in brass bracelets and earrings,
bathes my father in a white dress. I wave. Hey!
She keeps singing. The dress turns the river

gold and there’s my father surfacing.
He holds a white and green drum. I watch him
climb out the water, drip towards Oshun.
They embrace. My father beats his drum.
With shining hands, she signs: Welcome.

<strong>Raymond Antrobus</strong>
Raymond Antrobus

Raymond Antrobus was born in London to an English mother and Jamaican father. He’s a Cave Canem Fellow and the author of ‘The Perseverance’ (UK, Penned In The Margins / US, Tin House) and ‘All The Names Given’ (US, Tin House / UK, Picador) as well as children’s picture book ‘Can Bears Ski?’ (UK, Walker Books, US, Candlewick). He is the 2019 recipient of the Ted Hughes Award as well as the Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award, and became the first poet to be awarded the Rathbone Folio Prize. His first full-length collection, ‘The Perseverance’ was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and The Forward Prize. He divides his time between London and New Orleans.

To read poets honoured previously here is a roll call; please click on the name.

George Szirtes

Steven O’Brien

Nick Makoha

Fiona Sampson

Mimi Khalvati

Vijay Seshadri

Pascale Petit

Imtiaz Dharker

Vidyan Ravinthiran

Cyril Dabydeen

Tishani Doshi

Martina Evans

Sinéad Morrissey

Moniza Alvi

Ian Duhig

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