Hit poet encourages writers to ‘bring who they are to the field’

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The Subway

A writer who was impressed when he saw his poem featured on London tube carriages has encouraged budding poets to ‘not try to fit in with everyone’, but to bring ‘who you are’ onto field.

For Black History Month, which falls in October in the UK, TfL has teamed up with Arts Council England and the British Council to highlight the work of black poets through its popular series Poems on the Underground, which includes Nobel laureates, poet laureates and performance artists.

All of the poems are presented in a leaflet and can be downloaded from the TfL website, and one contributor even featured his poem on the London Tubes in August 2020.

Writer and poet Roger Robinson, who lives in the East Midlands, told the PA News Agency that his poem – ‘And if I speak of paradise’, which comes from his book A Portable Paradise – was inspired of what was happening in the UK at the time, including “Covid, nurses, people under pressure, immigrants”.

White background with black writing
Poem by Roger Robinson (Poems on the Underground)

He said he wanted the poem to have a “multiplicity of readings”.

“A lot of people say, you’re talking about a Bible, you’re talking about a Koran, you’re talking about a newspaper, you’re talking about my grandmother,” the 55-year-old said.

“There are a lot of little hooks where people can fit into it and it can morph and become separate things – you talk about Covid, you talk about nurses, you talk about police abuse, you talk about women.

“It was a way of opening up and it was a lesson for me – sometimes not to be too prescriptive and let it be.”

man wearing glasses
Roger Robinson (Nicola Griffiths)

He added that when he discovered his poem was on top of a TfL tube car, “I was like wow, OK.

“It was a total surprise to me – people were texting me saying they saw him on the subway and I was like, ‘What?’ he said.

“But it’s a good thing, so I can’t complain.”

The award-winning writer, who won the prestigious TS Eliot Award in 2019 for A Portable Paradise, said that although he didn’t initially think of poetry as a career, he always loved writing and was always ” able to connect with people through writing”.

“And some people kept cheering me on – one of them was Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo.

“Over 26 years ago she ran something called ‘Spread the Word’ and she let me do the workshops for free because she thought I had talent, and we’ve been friends ever since.”

He added that he is “happy that there are a lot of young black people who take up poetry because I get praise and because I have a particular appearance”.

“I could look like their uncle, or I could look like their father or grandfather.”

He said budding poets should “write the poem that only you can write”.

“Everything else in the world has already been done. The only new thing is who you are and how you can use it.

“But don’t try to adapt to what everyone else writes – do as you do, but also read a lot to learn how to turn your stories into crafts.

“And don’t just read things related to your culture, read outside your culture – read Japanese poets, German poets and learn the art of it and bring it to your stories and your culture.”

Sinead Russell, Literature Director at the British Council, said: ‘Since 1986 we have supported Poems on the Underground to celebrate great poetry and provide readers with an opportunity to pause and reflect on how we understand each other. in an ever-changing world. .

“We are thrilled to support this powerful collection of poems by black poets to celebrate Black History Month. We believe it is increasingly important to spotlight these poets to help their work reach an even wider audience.

Poems for tube display were selected by Poems on the Underground, and Mr. Robinson’s poem continues to be available as a poster on the Poems on the Underground website, as well as in the Flyer of the Month of Black History: https://poemsontheunderground.org/

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