Hannah Silva, known for her success as a poet both on page and on stage, delivered her research on ‘Repositioning Performance.’ It was filled with quotations, energy, and analysis of a Salena Godden performance. Immediately it linked to the ever-complex discussion about the page/stage divide, connecting to Malika Booker’s paper later, as well as the She Grrrowls Q&A, whereby BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) poetry is positioned as ‘performance’ or ‘spoken word.’
As a rebuttal to this, Silva noted quotations from various poets. Lemn Sissay asserting ‘”spoken word” is the newest way of describing the oldest and greatest art form on earth’ — in other words, poetry. Kayo Chingonyi also commented on the racialised aspect of the term, and the assumption that it means the writing isn’t as good. Hence why there may be a resistance now to be associated with performer labels. Nevertheless, Silva’s discussion proved that poetry that is performed is deserved of a critique in academia in the same way as that of solely the page.
Andrea Macrae built on this discussion, coming from the angle of a linguist, rather than a poetry practitioner. She questioned whether the gap between ‘page’ and ‘stage’ poetry was a kind of spectrum, rather than a case of being categorised in either one or the other. The analysis of Sarah Kay’s YouTube performance of ‘And Found’ provided a unique way of critiquing poetry that is performed in front of an audience. Whilst listening as someone who practices the same art form, it was a rather self-conscious process to hear about the considerations within the visual, auditory, and verbal — it was refreshing to see an insight from a different perspective.
poetry that is performed is deserved of a critique in academia in the same way as that of solely the page
Malika Booker’s paper was ‘Towards a Black British Poetic Aesthetic,’ with a study on Chingonyi, Jacob Sam-La Rose and Patience Agbabi. Agbabi’s work was cited as a ‘manifesto of identity’ made up of her experience being fostered by a white family, whilst also partly growing up with her biological family, touching on both gender and race. Sam-La Rose was also said to similarly connect to a wider political context to the personal, often articulating a male identity and issues of masculinity.
In work such as ‘Breaking Silence,’ sound is important and both poets utilise music through a connection with hip-hop. Chingonyi is then representative of a new generation, having grown up on jungle, grime, and garage music. Situated in an urban landscape, he was said to be specifically depicting a Black British experience, in all its multitude. Booker concluded that each poet could offer a whole paper.
I could not attend the second day, when it was revealed that we would suffer from a majority Conservative government for the next five years. No doubt there was more original and important work on this niche: the antidote of poetry.