In September 2020, Inua Ellams returned to the Barbican with an online Poetry + Film / Hack following a previous screening in our Pit Theatre in 2019, curating a host of established poets who tour nationally and internationally, their collective experience ranging from storytelling and theatre to radio and television. They include the passionate voices of Barbican Young Poets alumni, with Michelle Tiwo co-curating the event.
Threads by Amy Key
Friend, I want to hear you call my name
from an adjoining room, to hold
in my hand something that you’ve passed
to me: a cup, a coin, an amulet. These days hopes
are miniaturised. You bake two loaves of bread
and leave one on my doorstep. I reply with roses.
I have a dream in which I am a grey mouse
and you are a fly. The fly carries me as easy
as wanting. The dream clothed me in a mist
of your presence, a protection to take into the day.
You leave me a squash seedling,
a magazine you’ve read in the bath.
I take a bath too, tie my hair up with a band
long borrowed from you. The steam crinkles
the magazine’s pages, I continue what you started.
Hope met of near collaboration. At night I lie watching TV,
hysterical with cushions and my own company. I see myself
as a plant that’s outgrown the pot, my own arms around
my own legs, the bound-up roots of me. I’m not worried
that you will forget me, more that I’ll forget how it feels
to be seen by eyes that love me. When the seedling’s
true leaves come I will give it your name.
Spirited Away by Raheela Suleman
I'M ONLY HERE BECAUSE I RAN AWAY,
THE OUTSKIRTS OF PROFOUND,
TILT YOUR SHOULDER WHEN I AM DOWN,
I HAIL FROM A HOLLOW TOWN
WHAT DID THEY CALL YOU?
THE ONES WHO RAISED YOU?
WORD THROUGH THE LAST PROPHET I FOLLOW NOW
ONLY GOD OF THE SKIES AND THE ENDLESS OF BLUES
AND I'VE SEEN US BLUE
BLUE BEFORE SEE THROUGH
UNBIND THE SPIRIT AFFIXED TO THE SEA
MAKE YOUR MIND UP ABOUT ME
ARMS RAISED LIKE MASTS
THIS IS HOW I DRIFT BEYOND
THE UNREQUITED PAST
HOLDING THE BOOK IN MY RIGHT HAND
PONDERING ON THE VELOCITY OF THE QUICKSAND
THIS LAND IS ONE OF MANY WORLDS
BORDERLINE FROM BIRTH
IT'S BEEN A COUPLE SEASONS SINCE I ARRIVED IN THIS LAND
THE HYPNOTISTS WATCH SWUNG TO A HALT
LUCIDITY HELD HER HANDS OUT
SAID "HERE'S A WAY BACK HOME
IN THE WAYS OF THE WIND
THROUGH THE VOICE OF THE UNKNOWN"
IT'S THE SPELL THAT NEVER BROKE
SWAMP BOTTOM NO FACE I RECOGNISE
WATERED YOU IN THE FLOWERBED
THE GROUND IS A PORTAL
IT WAS YOU THAT NEVER WOKE
THE SOUL ROSE INSTEAD
AIR THICK WITH GRIEF
IF I RECOGNISE THE FRAGRANCE
IT'S UP TO ME TO BE PATIENT
BUT WHAT DID I REALLY EXPECT AFTER ALL THAT RAIN
I OFTEN WONDER
WHERE YOU RUN OFF TO IN YOUR WORLD
I OFTEN THINK
I THINK OFTEN
I'LL GET TO THAT TOWN
IF IT'S THE LAST THING I DO
IN THE MOURNING ME AND MY MAKER WE CALLED A TRUCE
DRAWERS IN THE MORGUE
NOT THAT ONE
AND NOT THAT ONE
AND NOT THAT ONE.
Unbelonging by Zaffar Kunial
Meet me at the bridge. I’ll take you to your parents.
– from English version of Spirited Away film
I. Portal Land
press on and lean into it – where the line
stops, foxgloves facing two ways, cold air
past the proverbial wardrobe – portals unlitter
the place. A ball you were chasing as it climbs
under a grey cloud can vanish and unland
leaving you more entire, entirely elsewhere
like a photo against a painted background.
What else? It’s ma, it’s Japanese emptiness,
it’s time, absence in a clap. Between continents
a kingfisher cuts a blue gap. It’s white moths.
A snowflake that disappears. The dark missing
step in a stair. A line in a film that goes
on beyond your watch. A hedge blinking.
Meet me at the bridge. I’ll take you to your parents
II. The Bridge
No Face can tell
No Face knows you don’t belong
in this world you’ve entered and are still
No Face turns to follow yours
No Face can tell
through empty hungry eyes
a hunger that is eternal
holding your breath you cross
and No Face can tell
No Face can tell
Thought Experiment by Andy Craven-Griffiths
The lecturer asks if we’d choose to be pigs
given our troughs never emptied?
Wouldn’t that make us all happy?
Some posh dude says no way, cause who’d give up
Culture and Science and Art?
The cerebral cortex gives us reason.
But my limbic system has tugged at decision strings
since my first milk chocolate hobnob
took my toddler brain hostage
with silent explosions of sugar. The electrical pleasure
so bright it scorched neurons. Unable to think,
I just widened my eyes ‘til the light could stream out.
And I was left with grey matter.
So I know that face down in a trough, or strapped in
to a cocaine nosebag, or playing twenty-two hours
or Red Dead Redemption, the reward centres
never get bored. At least, I’ve never thought
Hmmm, that orgasm dragged on a bit.
Glad it’s stopped now.
Then again, if the trough never empties
there’s no break from the stimulation,
so the flavours might fade
until you can’t tell champagne from piss.
Chewing beige steak and playdough lasagne,
your hunger expanding the faster you funnel in
more stuff, more volume, more matter.
‘Til you’re gobbling gold chains
and crunching through smart phones
as you morph into nothing
but a big gaping gullet, a futureless tube
that knows only to swallow, swallow, swallow.
A girl in a red beret calls me a pessimist.
She says that, logically, we must choose first,
before going full piggy brain, while our neocortices
still have the bandwidth for reason.
While we can imagine strange ideas
like letting the Pied Piper’s music draw dance steps
from feet that don’t then need to follow. Because,
if you know enough, who’d choose to know less?
To narrow the God in you, to reduce
other people to biscuit procurement machines,
or to warm bodies only and not also chess partners,
joke sharers, architects of the thin bridges
between separate brains, debaters
of the odd thought experiment?
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