Subject to Change: Anthology

Each month throughout 2018, we invited one of our Barbican Young Poets to write and perform a poem responding to our changing times, as part of The Art of Change season.

Directed by Suzanne Zhang

Directed by Suzanne Zhang




– Virgin Trains East Coast, January 2018

Picture the word, pendent from his lips,
a slow yellow drop, reeking of stolen nectar
and the winter hunger of the bees,

how its sweat-like sheen gives a look
of smoothness, and of sliding off.
Instead, like sexist, it’s a word that sticks,

suspended on the sour breath of the h,
the amorphous y like gum stretched
between pavement and shoe. See

how this bulb of so-called light
harbours shadow in its depths. Feel
the weight of it, the inevitable fall.

Now look instead to the hive,
where the hidden swarm nests,
and the golden comb lies rich

and interrupted. Watch
how the workers wake,
a shifting mass of wingbeats,

how we grow restless
in our rapid and furious hymn.
Hold your breath. Listen to us hum.

- Katie Hale

'What better way to interrogate a word than in a poem?'

Read our interview with Katie.


'I'm Rooting For Everybody Black'

I’m Rooting For Everybody Black1


Mostly that means I don’t want the black character to get dead off first. My hope is a poke at the
swaying Jenga tower. It doesn’t always fall, sometimes the black character get dead off second.

I’m rooting for everybody black

Mostly that means screaming when I see a black face. One you recognise is sweeter; a British one
is sweetest. Like the taste of my shout when I saw Michaela Coel on the USS Callister.

I’m rooting for everybody black

It looks like he’s singing and dancing, but this brother’s taking enormous chances 2. Kendrick
finishes. The audience rise to their feet applauding, white froth from every ocean gathered in
that room to clap.

Pastor came and preached the same sermon two years ago. Rockface hits water over and over
hoping at some point thy listen.

I’m rooting for everybody black

Mostly that means paying to see Black Panther more than once. So much black on a Hollywood
screen, I must soak my eyes in it. I would drown in black like a satellite floating in space.

I am hoping against sense that Hollywood is the same. I am done seeing blackberries drowned in

I’m rooting for everybody black

1 During an interview on the red carpet at the 2017 Emmys, Issa Rae (award winning actor, writer, director, producer and web series creator) was asked who’d be rooting for that night. She responded, ‘I’m rooting for everybody black. I am. Betting on black tonight’.

2 As part of Kendrick Lamar’s 2018 Grammy performance, Dave Chappelle (legendary comedian and actor) made some timely comments about what the great artist was doing. During his second interruption he said, 'Is this on cable, this CBS? ‘Cos it looks like he’s singing and dancing, but this brother’s taking enormous chances. Rumble, young man, rumble!”'

- Jeremiah 'Sugar J' Brown

'Sometimes I hear people talk and I see lines, stanzas, poems, so sometimes I listen in poetry now'

Read our interview with Jeremiah.


'Hunger Strike'

Hunger Strike

After Terrance Hayes’ Nuclear1

‘I know in my heart that none of us are truly free until we are all free.’
Opelo Kgari, detainee at Yarl’s Wood.

1918. A captive woman refuses to shrink
under a prison guard’s glare, rejects food, shrieks
that her body is restrung
as political daily but her voice is rejected. He tugs
at the corners of her clamp-mouth. Repeat. Reset.

Two hundred forcefuls. There’s
no need to detail how he did it, too much hurt
inflicted on women is repeated. Women of grit.
Women on strike.

Painting parliament in purple, white and green.
Prisoners who would not taste anything but Rights.


2018. A captive woman refuses to shrink
under a prison guard’s glare. The guns
pointed at temples are paper thin
with Home Office stamps. Human Rights are rugs
to be yanked from underfoot. Reset.

Repeat. An indeterminate sentence sinks
each day into dread. Night

-mares are airplane shadows. Twitter sneers,
I just don’t really see the point in their strike.

With spit the taste of shut
doors, Not when I’m eating my full plate of Rights.

1 The ‘gramof&s’ form devised by Terrance Hayes consists of 11 lines. The final word of each line is an anagram (of four letters or longer) of the title.

- Laurie Ogden

'Change starts with people using their voice – we then have to follow it through with action'

Read our interview with Laurie.


'Did You Pack Your Own Bags?'

Did You Pack Your Own Bags?

Thumbs are the guiltiest part of the body,
Guiltier than the brain
Guiltier than the heart.
Thumbs have brains, our palms have hearts,
So we vote with our thumbs, so we choose to hold hands.
I’m okay with you knowing things about me,
I’m not okay with how much you know.
I don’t know how much of me is actually online,
That’s as bad as not knowing who packed your bag for your flight.
Cyberweaponry sounds like it could be something nice
Like a flower that grows next to hyacinths
The perfect name for the cat of an oligarch.
The word data is an 8-bit bird stuttering across the sky.
My kids will read about privacy like I read about dinosaurs,
How they put the Mock in democracy,
Saw the pry in privacy.
There are myths we believe in to get us out of bed,
Like good things happening to good people, and practice making perfect,
The latest myth is that you can have a private and public life.
This world is obsessed with watching itself,
Even our sky finds a mirror in the ocean.
Whatever I’ve stored in the cloud will rain down on me eventually
So maybe shamelessness is the best thing to make this information war fair.
If you want to defeat propaganda take a proper gander,
We see straight through politicians, even though they aren’t transparent.
They all play the same tune and do the same dance,
In couples therapy they all blame each other, then remember how similar they are.
There is oil in the skin, rare spices in the mind,
We are theatres of war,
We were putting on a show for each other,
Unaware of the investor in the audience.
There are certain facts that are hard to hear
Like how I’d been laying traps for myself.
The unconscious aspects of life make the best art.
My thumbs were afraid to call themselves artists,
until their work was stolen,
Each like an expression of self
Used to fund lies
I left a trail of cookies everywhere,
The beast that hunted me became my friend,
Now we are both here, hungry

- Kareem Parkins-Brown

'I really appreciate having a space where I can say what I want without having to compromise for the easier thing to say'

Read our interview with Kareem




(After Rachel Long)

‘Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate
and measured. We know where every bullet landed’.
Consider the homesickness of a bullet, blundered
dust-blind into the distance of a skull. I don’t think I can go home.

The earth smiles crooked. The women of Beit Sahour are digging fingers
in the laughter of the soil. Tugging out fistfuls of broken teeth. Patiently
attempting something beautiful. Their arms, anchored in the evening light,
look gold. Like surviving the process of holiness.

River tweezered from the dumb skin of un-desert – say artery, say blue, say
anything blood-under-skin, unsundered. A city rolls off hot-white, spilt milk
into water. Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers. Walk into the river.
I know you were trying to be beautiful.

Home is a strange rumour of someone else’s skin.
I have seen maps where Jerusalem is pinned
onto the ventricles of christ, with doctor’s accuracy.
No one thinks a prophet anything besides a boy,
splayed open, limbs trussed, with the whole world
carved into his stomach.

I can’t go home. The moon half-sick of shrieking tumbles
from the blackest branches of the olive tree. Cradled
like a struck dove. We are always burying the moon
at the bottom of the garden in an unmarked box.
They think it looks barren, somehow full of secrets, from this distance,
like bone. They still think bone is barren somehow. Despite
the thousands of shot people who are living. Who are waking
in the dust. Crawling from the rubble newly precious, metal
jewelling their shoulders and their thighs.

I can’t go home. I know where the bullets went. Nothing was uncontrolled.
I keep them in a glass jar. Marry the man who can guess how many.
Your grandmother would have liked him. For his calmness
and his purposeful hands. It’s bad luck to name your children
for anyone except the headless men you once pulled
from the rubble. To keep their spirits near you. So they never call you
by your first name. So they run to you and say mother.
Say a birth stain or say wine mark on the sheets, hung damply from the
windows every morning like a small surrender. Weighted tooth-white
with little stones.

Ask where did you learn to run like that. Say I learned it
from my uncle, who pulled bodies from the rubble.
Every day he walks into the river like he’s practising. The river
isn’t thirsty. It remembers nothing. Doesn’t eat honey
with its fingers in the dog bark night when everybody
else is dreaming. The river isn’t dreaming. It’s running
to meet the ocean. My uncle doesn’t dream these days.
In the small hours, he eats pomegranates. By drowning
them in water bowls before he breaks them open. So
all the bitter pith rises to the surface, to be separated
from the sweet.

My cousins brush long hair from their foreheads. From their lines of sight.
Sometimes I say prayer and think prairie. The wolves are back, listening
to small fires sprung up in the night time. The highway drunk with flightless bees.
Through the windows, a vigilance of jewel-coloured insects fascinated
by the smell of breath. They are hungry, and angels also in the prairies,
moonstruck in the shadow of the wall. Barbed pink. Antiseptic eyed.
Breaking the necks of rabbits. If they build it, it must be beautiful.
They cannot go home. They say Zion and they mean it.

Somewhere in the shadow of the wall there are children
shaking oil drops from canisters on heaps of wood. Air-bellied.
Their names forgotten. Like we expect them to curl up
with the wolf cubs. And grow to build us cities on a wild hill.

The soldiers always come home. They shot seventeen people on a friday.
They shot two boys playing in the ocean. Sunk waist-deep impossibly
in blue. These days the fishermen stay out late. Boats bloating the horizon.
They trawl home netfuls of odd shoes instead of fish.

The soldiers are beckoning the shoreline.
The soldiers are rejoicing at the foot of the mountain.

My aunt imagines how they know where every bullet
landed. She has abandoned the necessity of miracles. Her god
the god of doorways. The god of beaming gentlemen, little certainties
and rotten fruit. Sometimes there are soldiers at the kitchen table,
still rejoicing. Summoning the old ghosts from the brickwork.
On the TV they shoot seventeen people. Afterwards she goes out
quietly to feed the horses. Who are always hungry and who have
no concept of counting. She shows me to bring spoonfuls of sugar
water to revive the bees. It’s good luck to heal the small
and stupid things. Outside her house, the burnt earth
glimmering with teaspoons.

Sometimes she tells me not to worry. That one summer
when bombs fell again they dragged garden chairs
onto the roof top to watch the rockets passing over head
like they were angels. Watched each of them fall out of sight.

Sometimes the children lay their weapons down. That
summer we read out the names of the dead. We starved
the horses blind. We mixed milk with honey, spilled it
everywhere. I don’t know what to tell you.

In the shadow of the wall there is a patch of iron-smelling earth,
which will not dry. Rust-coloured. I can’t go home.

- Eleanor Penny

'Some of the best poets around have a way of capturing cinematic leaps between moments of silence and stillness'

Read our interview with Eleanor.


'Bun Babylon!'

Bun Babylon!

You say: you want to celebrate the Commonwealth
you lack historical memory
we are subjects, animals to you,
less than – we see how you cherish your dogs.
You love to feed off a new sweet riddim, take a cruise to the place you asked us to leave
wipe your mouth of £3 coconut water
tell your friends about eating out of a chimmy at Turtle Bay in Brixton
how you got a sense of the Caribbean

Bun Babylon!

You say: you dispel any impression that your government is clamping down on Commonwealth citizens
Mum inhales clouds distraught
we watch Mr Braithwaite cry
they have always been British, born when Jamaica was still a colony
we watch
we watch
we watch
Mum was an eight year old told to dress in a grey skirt suit, on a chalkboard night
patent shoes like oil awaiting plantain
reflecting more ribbons than hair on her head
a black passport vomit vomit vomit all over the BOAC plane
Dad ran through the cashew trees
he had a home with his Grandma- that boy put down a piece of running
he had a home with his Grandma- that boy put down a piece of running
Dad ran through the cashew trees
a black passport vomit vomit vomit all over the BOAC plane
patent shoes like oil awaiting plantain
reflecting more ribbons than hair on her head
Mum was an eight year old told to dress in a grey skirt suit, on a chalkboard night
we watch
we watch
we watch
they have always been British, born when Jamaica was still a colony
we watch Mr Braithwaite cry
Mum inhales clouds distraught
You say: you dispel any impression that your government is clamping down on commonwealth citizens

You say: the United Kingdom has long standing deep ties, long standing relationships with their country
when Mum arrived in England she was taken to a house in Kensal Green,
Grandma did you recognise her?
When Dad arrived in England
Grandma did you recognise him?
Grandma put him in a bath scrubbed his skin with a scouring pad
You say: the United Kingdom has long standing deep ties

You say: you want to celebrate the connections particularly the Windrush generation helped to build the country
Grandma worked 14 hour shifts sewing your clothes,
before we worked on Ann Barton’s plantation
before we worked on Ann Williams’ plantation
this country is ours.
It would not exist without the sugar cane fields
where would it be without the 15% who left, who were sent for?
We know who drove your buses, we know who cleaned your houses
we know who nursed you back to health.
Mum spent her evenings
for the grass she learnt to plait hair on
for the goodbyes she never got to say.
Dad spent his time locked in a house in this land
the white children at school rested their noses in God’s lap whenever my parents spoke,
stripped the seasoning from their tongues until it was unwashed chicken
sprinkled with salt and pepper

Bun Babylon!

You say: you are genuinely sorry for any anxiety caused
Dad has black and burgundy passports
Mum has a burgundy passport up for renewal, no naturalisation papers
Mum is leaving home to go to Jamaica soon
Mum has started searching the house for her Patois in case she’s not allowed to come back
Dad has prostate and skin cancer

Bun Babylon!

Dad has prostate and skin cancer
Mum has started searching the house for her Patois in case she’s not allowed to come back
Mum is leaving home to go to Jamaica soon
Mum has a burgundy passport up for renewal, no naturalisation papers
Dad has black and burgundy passports
You say: A mistake has been made a mistake has been made a mistake has been made.
Mum kisses her teeth,
Dad drinks another glass of rum.

- Anita Barton-Williams

'To put it simply, poetry has kept me alive...'

Read our interview with Anita.




- Annie Hayter

'There is an intimacy in reading, inhabiting the space between the eye and the page'

Read our interview with Annie.




- Bella Cox

'Poems can become hugely revealing artefacts of a collective history'

Read our interview with Bella.


'White House Banter'

White House Banter

- Corey Peterson

'Poetry, in my eyes, is a raw and vulnerable spell of emotion and quest for understanding'

Read our interview with Corey.




he wants to learn
the taste of a bullet.
to shoot people down
with poetry
with the spoken word

to be careless
lift his chin
and leave massacres
in his wake

but he knows how it feels to be
on the receiving end of an insult

he carries cities in his ribcage
filled with the chalk outlines of his former selves

he wants to bulldoze the cities
peeking into the fleshy parts in his chest.

a friend tells him to consider the weight of a dream
or its absence of weight
and that eases the feeling in his chest
he discovers that his old selves are resting

he imagines his chest
opening out like the roof of a toy house

some lie in hospital beds
wish they could melt,
and sit,
like a patch of grass
or a puddle
in the middle
of a corridor
the smallest body
of water

the hospitalised selves sense someone,
or something
a shadow peeling itself from the polished floor
and watches
the nurses strut by
and hears one mutter
I think someone’s had an accident

and then he thinks about all that he has
and that eases the feeling in his chest
on those days he wants the sky to open up
and swallow him home.

- Leke Oso Alabi

'Poetry has provided me with a community...'

Read our interview with Leke.


'We’re chatting in the kitchen about our brains'

We’re chatting in the kitchen about our brains
'Mr Sayoc remained mostly silent during his appearance… He also reportedly had tears in his eyes during the hearing, where he was read the following charges: interstate transportation and illegal mailing of explosives'

I say I can’t focus enough to take in a paragraph
That I’ve been obsessed with my inability to sit
inside my atoms and it’s left me up at night
trying to split them, posting myself
letter bombs for breakfast, ears ringing
through each morning in biscuit crumb
blast perimeter. I say that I didn’t go to bed
and spoon her for the entire last year we were together.

He says all his thoughts slip off easily and compares his mind to
a clean conveyor belt constantly reviewing and renewing,
up close against a Prius engine in E flat, red paint flecks on the wall,
untied shoelaces, teeth spinach, eyes that ask 'How are you?' in
tandem with mouths and opaque eyes, paying bills and making deals
with the future.

He draws lost faces, draws me like
Quentin Blakes’ twits, pig nostrils,
black coffee splurging into slug lips,
no fly-zone eyes, fat fists
arranging the planets in size order
like disposable toys, nails digging into soil,
earing out rainforest clumps. The type
of cavernous that drills deep into the ground
to fill itself and can’t hear wings beating,
or the sound of big lids blinking-off sleep
in the next room, tired, waiting but hopeful.

- Gabriel Jones

'Poetry can zoom in and around and twist, and describe the things that relate us to each others in a very direct way'

Read our interview with Gabriel.


'them & us'

them & us

- Zahrah Sheikh

Read our interview with Zahrah.

Subject to Change was part of The Art of Change, a season exploring how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.

Visit our website to find out more about the Barbican Young Poets.