British Jamaican poet, performer and educator Raymond Antrobus, “writer of colour to watch out for” (The Fader), will be performing work from his new poetry collection, The Perseverance at The Wardrobe Theatre next month. He spoke to Julie Fuster about his poetry, his new collection and working in d/Deaf education.
Why did you name your debut collection The Perseverance ?
I think that word links the entire journey of the book. It’s important to say that it ought to be read like a novel, first to last poem at least once, to really get the sense of it as a journey of perseverance.
Is poetry a therapeutic practice for you?
At this point in my career I wouldn’t say the poetry I publish is therapy for myself. I do journal a lot and I do write other things that are just for me as I think it’s important to keep some things private, so that’s my therapy space. As a teacher I encourage my students to write therapeutically. I mean, I was writing stories and poems as far back as I remember, and that was all private, and was, I think, mainly a coping mechanism, but again that’s talking about a different space than where The Perseverance came from with the craft of writing poetry being the priority here rather than merely an exercise in self-expression.
The Perseverance is also a journey into your d/Deaf experience. Is it a harangue to the hearing world?
In poetry I’m hoping to reach beyond my introversion and look in other directions while at the same time trying to practice compassion for myself and the world. In terms of what matters to me, it’s education. After spending 6 months in Blanche Nevile Deaf School and a few days in Oak Lodge Deaf School in London I recognised the challenges some of the students had, particularly the ones that were between the d/Deaf and hearing world. Some students told me they were teased by hearing kids and they made jokes about their sign language, disability is still such a taboo subject in the UK and it hurt to see how little had changed since I was a student in d/Deaf education.
For example, d/Deaf schools are closing and cuts are made nationally (the National Society for Deaf Children lost 4 million in government funding nation-wide this year) and knowing how much support I needed and received while at school and knowing how high illiteracy rates are in d/Deaf communities, I mean that stuff is appalling and I do wish more people knew and cared enough to act. One way would be to donate to the NDCS (http://www.ndcs.org.uk/).
What do you say to young people who write poetry and want to be published?
With younger students I just encourage them to write as a means to understand themselves and be curious about the world around them. I don’t bring ideas about commercial publishing into that space as that’s something entirely different. There’s a danger of giving them false hope and of them being exploited or being appropriated to fit a narrative that doesn’t serve them or their work, it’s a murky world. If you have to write you will. I do what I can to encourage young poets to claim that they themselves can be poets, even if they’re not published. If they want to pursue poetry as a career later they can, but that’s not really my intention but if that happens, then great!
What will you be performing at The Wardrobe Theatre?
I’ll be reading and speaking poems from The Perseverance, haven’t decided which ones yet. I haven’t met the other poets on the bill but I’m really looking forward to hearing them and being welcomed to the local Bristol poetry community. I learned a lot from performing poetry and from touring as well as curating poetry (I co-curated Chill Pill and Keats House Poets Forum for 8 years). As a Spoken Word poet my body is the “form” in the performance and on the page, without my voice and physical body, the shape on the page has to become the body, where even the white space is active the same way the silence in a live performance is active.
The Perseverance is published on October 1. For more information, visit www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk/index.php/2018/08/launch-of-the-perseverance/
Raymond will be performing work from The Perseverance at Blahblahblah at The Wardrobe Theatre on October 8, supported by Shruti Chauhan and Tom Denbigh. For more information, visit http://thewardrobetheatre.com/livetheatre/blahblahblah-perseverance/
Read more: Interview with Bristol poet, Rebecca Tantony