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#Afterhours Blog 13 | 16-Jul-15



Today I finished the 12th poem of the #Afterhours project in which I rewrite my childhood through British poetry, by writing poems after/in response to poems published between 1984 and 2002, from when I was born to when I turned 18. 

The poem I chose for the next year, 1996, is called 'The Ecstasy of St Saviours Avenue' by Neil Rollinson. 1996 is the year I left Nigeria for England and my poem will be called 'The Ecstasy of Emery Hill Street', which is where I first lived. To make the writing more interesting and challenging, I've chosen to use the first two words of each line from his poem as the first two words of each line of mine, thus my poem begins:

Tonight the block of flats will be called home 
and sea men we flew over precious memory.
The windows are dark mirrors I lean against
to cool my throbbing head and a lingering fear
issues from where I thought myself fearless...

That last line may change! Now, part of the #Afterhours residency involves writing about the library and people who use the space, about #PoetryLibraryPeople. This is about Ron.

I met Ron here earlier this year and we become viciously fast friends. His encyclopaedic knowledge of poetry, his passion for the world of it and his unabashed love for The Poetry Library is so, so abundant I am vaguely threatened by it. This is not to talk of the books he has published, his reputation in American poetry, and his growing one in Britain's. He lives and lectures at NYU but is here for a couple of years. To interview him even informally like this, I feel like I gotta come correct, I have to ask a good question.

Inua: Ron, what is the last poem you read that made you want to stop writing?

Ron: Hmmmn... 'Frederick Douglass' by Robert Hayden.
Inua: Why?

Ron: The poem did everything that a poem needed doing...It is a sonnet that defies all the rules of the sonnet...It keeps the 14 line structure...roughly, the turning points...there are internal rhymes within it rather then end rhymes...but to goes beyond that... it does what my heart and head would want a poem to is mindful of the world, of poetry, of measured hope... it begins with 'When' which isn't a conditional, but FEELS like a conditional because of the subject matter... it is playing with itself... the poem specifies the when... that fourth line where it talks about the diastole and systole, measuring the pumping of blood, of freedom become innate, a feral instinctive thing... the poem conveys something as infinite as freedom using something as formulaic and conventional as a sonnet... it is proof that we can mutiny against the thing that still gives us shape... this poem inhabits its confines yet elbows and pushes out... it is the paradox of admiration in poetry: it makes you think 'I could never do that' yet want to pick up a pen and work again... I don't think I could write something that inhabits its form and context like this... if I ever do, I will never want to write again... yet I will.
I used to read that at rallies around Obama's campaign trail... it felt like we were reaching for something intangible and above us... we got it and then realised we hadn't... nowadays I think what can it mean to read a poem like this, built on the backs of men like Douglass... what does it mean for me to read this as the son of an immigrant? what does it mean to read this now as an American... ten years ago, if you had asked me this question, I would have said Prufrock or something by Edna St Vincent Millay... but this is what I keep coming to - "This man, this Douglass..."

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 to or tweet us @wetblackbough @InuaEllams

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