librarian

Poetry Library news

#Afterhours Blog 2: After Tom Leonard's Unrelated Incidents | 07-Nov-14

05/11/14

Day #2.

Today is the second day of the year long #Afterhours project and I am excited and nervous at the task ahead: to rewrite my childhood through British poetry, by writing poems after/in response to poems published between the years 1984 and 2002, from when I was born to when I turned 18.

The first poem of #Afterhours will be written 'after' Tom Leonard's Unrelated Incidents, which contains a well known section called 'Six O'clock News'. The poem deals with the differences (and implications of the difference) between Reported Pronunciation and Glaswegians pronunciation.

There are seven sections to his poem:

The 1st which starts "its thi lang / wij a thi / guhtr"... (It's the language of the gutter) is about the Glaswegian voice & the English Language. One is for humour, Tom says, the other for intellect. 

The 2nd which starts "ifyi stull / huvny / wurkt oot"... (If you still haven't worked out) is about symbolism, meaning and language. Tom says that it doesn't really matter, as long as you understand what is intended. 

The 3rd which starts "this is thi / six a clock / news"... is also about language, where the news reader explains why he chooses to speak in RP rather than the Glaswegian way, (though the whole section, in the voice of the newsreader, is written the Glaswegian way).

The 4th which starts "sittn guzz / lin a can / a newcastle / brown..." (Sitting, guzzling a can of newcastle brown) is about listening to Nielsen's third symphony, and suddenly being distracted by a beautifully-scored goal. It engages class, aesthetics and sports.

The 5th which starts "at thi grand / theological / tennis match..." is about two friends watching a game. One reads into it religion and theology, the other just sees a game. At the end, they sit as rain begins falling.

The 6th which starts "its aw thi / fault a / thi unions..." (It's all the fault of the unions) is about employment, money, etc and at the very end, points to class where it turns out the speakers are playing golf.

The 7th which starts "despite / thi fact / thit he belonged..." sums up the poem. Tom says despite the fact of all that has come before, of a long history of poverty, violence and people in positions of power saying his culture is a sign of inferiority... 'it wasn't such a bad day to be alive'.

To write my own version, I'll need to find parallels. Working backwards:

7th: Coming from Nigeria, a British ex-colony, section 7 resonates strongly with me and I can easily place my parents in this context; looking at their son, thinking despite our history it is not a bad time to be born. 

6th: Political Unrest, there was a coup the previous year, 1893. My father knew the local representative and such a conversation, on whose fault it was occurred often.

5th: A conversation between my parents, perhaps watching a game and choosing to put aside their religious differences.

4th: Father sitting, listening to George Benson as he used to back then, sipping Nigerian Guinness, watching village wrestlers.

3rd: Mother watching the six o'clock news, a newscaster explaining why it is read in English instead of any indigenous Nigerian language.

2nd: Mother warning my father about the perils of naming me incorrectly, or perils of naming me after himself (which he did)

1st: My father refusing to speak yoruba (the language my parents knew in common other than English and Pidgin English).


Language.

The poem deals with language and the obvious parallel to the Glaswegian 'Inglish' in which it is written, is Nigerian Pidgin English. It is as rich and alive as Glasgow's and would be fun to write. However, whereas Glasgow's is phonetic and makes "English" sense when read out loud, there are contractions within Pidgin English that require a dictionary. For instance, the Pidgin greeting, 'Wetin Dey?' as a straight English translation would be 'What is there?' but actually means 'How are you?' Another phrase, 'I sabi am' means 'I know how to do it'... 

If I were to write the poem in Pidgin, its natural audience would almost exclusively be West Africans and as I am not writing for them exclusively, who am I writing for?

This is one issue writers from other cultures constantly face. Before writing, we ask ourselves which language we should write in or can what we want to write exist in the English language? What is gained or lost? Who benefits from such writing? Toni Morrison, the American novelist has spoken extensively about what she calls the 'White Gaze' which, she posits, is a phenomenon that occurs when writers of colour put white audiences at the centre of their writing, and to create space for their understanding, write broadly, losing nuance and cultural specificity as they go. 

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, the celebrated Kenyan writer suggests to write in English is to strip ourselves of our African identity and actively enrich the metaphysical [English] empire, and in doing so, we put the 'West' Gaze at the heart of our narratives. So, is writing in English doing myself and the potential of the poem (and the entire project?) a disservice? Am I putting the West and the poetry markets here at heart of my narrative?

Perhaps. But I left Nigeria when I was 12, (I never learnt to speak Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo or any of the 400 Nigerian languages) and my culture is that of an English-speaking immigrant. To write the poem in English then, is to write in the only language that I know and in doing so, I am writing to MY audience.

So, English it is. Thus, I begin the poem:

Yoruba is 
the language
of the gutter.
But I don't
speak Hausa
....


Read more about the #Afterhours project here

#Afterhours needs your help in suggesting poems for Inua to rewrite, published between 1984 and 2002. You can suggest entire collections for Inua to browse or specific poems from these years. Why not set Inua the challenge of rewriting your favourite poem from this period?  Take a look through your books and magzines at home, search online or access the library's holdings for each year through searching online here

Send your suggestions for Inua toinfo@poetrylibrary.org.uk or tweet us@wetblackbough @InuaEllams


:: Back to Poetry Library News ::

Back to top Register for newsletter
Bookmark This Page