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Ten : new poets by editors Bernadine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra (Bloodaxe Books in association with Spread the Word, 2010)

July 2011's Poetry Library Book Club had us looking at an anthology published last year by Bloodaxe in association with the literature development agency Spread the Word, "Ten : new poets".

Edited by Bernardine Evaristo & Daljit Nagra, "Ten" is the culmination of a mentoring initiative by literature development agency Spread the Word to support talented Black and Asian poets, which grew out of a report in 2006, "Free Verse", which revealed that only 1% of poetry books published in the UK are by black and Asian poets:

We were lucky enough to have one of the poets in the anthology Shazea Quraishi come along to our book club and talk to us about her experience of being mentored as part of the Complete Works project.  Shazea is a regular user of the Poetry Library and made use of our collection when choosing her mentor, the poet Stephen Knight.  Shazea also took us through the writing of one her own poems in the anthology "Tambulasena" (p75) which is part of a sequence called "The Courtesan's Reply", inspired by Manomohan Ghosh's translations from the Sanskrit of "The Caturbhani".  Shazea showed us a couple of early drafts and explained that an erotic poem of Neil Rollinson's had also been an influence on this particular poem.

The rest of the evening was spent looking closely at five other poems by five different poets from the anthology.  These are the poems along with some of the questions we used to lead our discussion:

Robinson, Roger - "The stand pipe" p64
Of the five poems by Roger Robinson here, the other four are focussed on characters, possibly from his childhood. Who is this one about?
There is a lot of cleaning going on in this poem. Why does the poet focus on this aspect, what is he telling us about how he sees the scene?
What does the poem have to say about community and outsider status, class and identity?

Rowyda Amin - "Insect studies" p37
This poem was inspired by a study of insects by Lafcadio Hearn.  It comes from a book called the "Kwaidan : Stories and Studies of Strange Things" which is a collection of Japanese ghost stories, followed by the "Insect studies", which are Lafcadio Hearn's own personal thoughts about the insect world.
Do you get a sense of the personality of the woman from what the tattooist says?  How do you think the tattooist feels about the woman?
What do you think has happened to the woman?  In his "Insect Studies" Lafcadio Hearn believed that butterflies are the personification of the human soul.  Does knowing that influence how you might interpret this final stanza?
Does this poem make you want to get a tattoo?

Seni Seneviratne - "Sitting for the mistress" p90
This poem was originally commissioned for the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. It is inspired by a painting in the National Gallery, of a child servant and of Louise de Keroualle, who was the Duchess of Portsmouth and mistress of Charles II in the late 17th century.
In the poem, there are frequent references to what is going on in the painting. If you read the poem before seeing the painting, do you think these were confusing or does the poem  stand on its own without seeing the painting that these references allude to?
The speaker struggles with the Blackbird inside her. What does the Blackbird signify?
The use of externalising metaphor in characterising emotional distress is common ? the green eyed monster, the black dog. People might find it more enabling to site the problem outside themselves, rather than being a depressed person, they are someone living with a black dog. It is not inherent in themselves.  Does poetry have something to offer people in the same way, helping them externalise and be able to examine their emotions?

Mir Mahfuz Ali - "Midnight, Dhaka, 25 March 1971" p47
This poem is about what is now known as the "Black Night of 25 March 1971" in which Pakistani forces began "Operation Searchlight" and attacked Dhaka University to suppress the independence demands of East Bengalis.  The University was seen as a centre for the development of Bengali independence and staff and students were massacred.
In contrast to Seni Seneviratne's poem, rather than imagining himself as someone in an image or painting, Ali is imagining that he is the instrument being used to create an image, in this case a camera taking a photograph.
Do you find the first line of this poem surprising?  What do you think of the use of the word "hardened"?
Is the poet really "a hardened camera"?  Do you get a sense of how he is feeling about what he is witnessing?
What do you make of the ending of this poem?

We concluded our discussion with some general questions about the anthology:
Have you been surprised by the variety of subject matter of the poems we've looked at and the different voices that the poets have adopted?
Did you find the comments by the poets' mentors helpful when reading the anthology?
Do you find yourself generally reading poetry by white British poets?  If so, has this anthology broadened your idea of what poetry you might read in the future?

Several of the "Ten" poets have already published pamphlets or books which can be found in the Poetry Library's collection and we look forward to adding more of their work to our collection in the coming years.  Here are some of their publications:

The Worshipful Company of Pomegranate Slicers / MCCARTHY, KAREN. -- London : Spread the Word, 2006.

A golden bowl : poems / ALI, MIR MAHFUZ. -- [London] : Exiled Writers Ink, 2008.

White narcissi / SAUL, DENISE. -- [London] : Flipped Eye Publishing, 2007.

Suckle / ROBINSON, ROGER. -- [London] : Waterways, an imprint of Flipped Eye Publishing, 2009.

Breadfruit / BOOKER, MALIKA. -- [London] : Flipped Eye, 2007.

Wild cinnamon and winter skin / SENEVIRATNE, SENI. -- Leeds : Peepal Tree Press, 2007.

The lost collection of an invisible man / MAKOHA, NICK. -- [London] : Flipped Eye Publishing, 2005

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