PMaking an anthology together is, as the American poet Katrina Vandenberg once said, like making a mixtape. It is an artifact filled with different resonances. Like the careful process of recording cassettes for each other in the time before the playlist, editing an anthology is intimate, a gesture towards the reader. And just as you never used to be able to put absolutely every single melody you felt like on tape, the same goes for anthologies. The beauty of the form lies in the suggestions it makes, the ways it invites further exploration. In More Fiya, the anthology of black British poets I have edited, a selection of poems stand together as a gesture to the wider and more expansive society to which these poets belong.
When I think again about the close reading and listening I did when I put this book together, I get struck by how sentences, how whole lines from poems, can stay with you. Sometimes I talked to someone and something they said sounded like a line I had read and that poem and conversation started dancing together in my head. Then the poems began to dance among themselves; the glittering signature ring in Dean Attas’ poem that chimes with the knife in a poem by Dzifa Benson; the fires burning in poems by Janette Ayachi and Momtaza Mehri; Inua Ellams’ reflection on the consequences of wounded masculinity and Kim Squirrell’s poem about the first moments when girlhood comes under men’s toxic gaze.
It felt important that there should be an anthology of this kind that opened the way for black British poets to express the wide range of their poetry. The last few years have shown us how far we still have to go to challenge anti-blackness. In publishing, some efforts are being made, but these have probably only lifted a narrow view of Blackness: a version that the market recognizes.
In frustration over this situation, I began to think it was time for a 1998 reissue of the anthology The Fire People, edited by Lemn Sissay. I first read it in my late teens when I was trying to navigate the overwhelming whiteness of studying to a degree in English literature. That book was a life raft, a shield, a speaker box on my shoulder. I contacted Canongate Publishing and asked if there were any plans to bring the book back. During that conversation, I suggested a new accompanying volume that picks up newer vibrations. more Fiya is this companion. It is an attempt to expand the range of poetic records and let poems in their various guises shape renewed possibilities for being in the world of Blackness. There is room for pity, as in Scalp by Keith Jarrett:
In decline since twenty-four, I think of all the thin-skinned prophets
with thinner hair, how I could have been president in other circumstances
And there is room for laughter, as in Catching Joke by Bridget Minamore, where the poet meditates on the various forms of harm that can strike black people in an anti-black society before ending with this gesture of survival:
I’m trying to make him laugh
Elsewhere, Safiya Kamaria dances Kinshasa figures as a form of revolutionary thinking-with-the-body; goes so far in one poem as leaving words aside entirely in favor of punctuation arranged in a sort of score.
The poems collected in More Fiya testify to the ingenuity and perseverance of black British poets and, by extension, the black British culture. In light of so many signs that the places we have been given home do not always love us back, we continue. We find in the letter republic a lasting and suitably spacious place to be.
Midnight in the Foreign Food Aisle by Warsan Shire
Dear uncle, everything you love is foreign
or are you a stranger to everything you love?
We are all animals and the body wants what
it will, believe me, I know. The blonde said
Come in, dear, take off your coat of what do
do you want to drink?
Love is not haram, but after years of fucking
women who are unable to pronounce your name,
you are all alone in the strange food,
next to turmeric and saffron,
remember your mother’s warm, dark hands,
lie down in front of the halal meat and pray in one
languages you have not used for years.
Of Howling Wolves by Inua Ellams
When the sister says her colleague’s husband came
banks / for his wife / and for the familiar in his warmth
eyes / opened the empty office at dusk / sky hanging
without question / brother yawns
When the sister describes this man / separates her /
braids sprayed against the floral wallpaper / quake
stems / her head pulsating / loosen the belt / it
brother is consumed / with an anger he has never known
When he tells his boys / they offer to visit / do it
man the kind of violence alleys are due to / one
tells of a mob at home / who caught the accused /
cut a thin hole in raw soil / forced execution /
until he bled
When the man is asked why / he says / he could not
help it / she led him on / he was drunk / dressed it
way she asked for it / no one had complained
before / and / this is what men do
When their fathers agreed / this was true / they were off
different eras / these new complaints also confused them /
the brother had nightmares / about men as wolves / theirs
jaws bloody / devours the world / he parties / among
As If by Rachel Long
I miss your hands on me, your mouth. earlier
I missed you in the honeycomb – we do not even have that
have shopped in yet but I would like to
be a point in the kitchen, open the highest
closet, put the things you like inside;
white bread, long-lasting cow’s milk. I even bought
instant coffee and failed to inform the cashier
that it was not for me, woman of refined taste.
Who am I kidding? I would buy you a sack of rice
and drag it back on my head. I do not even hate
admits this. I forgot what I once did
before I glowed in search of slippers.
If you do not like your feet touching the floor,
they no longer need it.