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MLF Chapter & VerseMLF Chapter & Verse

The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: Malika Booker

Roma Havers reports from our event with poet Malika Booker at the International Anthony Burgess Centre

Despite the slightly delayed start due to unpredictable UK train services, there was an energy of excitement and good faith as the audience turned to see Malika Booker arrive. After a brief introduction from the Royal Literary Fund, who sponsored the event, Booker began by introducing the series of political poems commissioned by Manchester Literature Festival, written in couplets with a line from recent political speeches followed by a line of her own in response. The poems were varied, the most successful being her use of Theresa May’s Brexit speech in Florence alongside her comparison to her as a divorce, using the image of a ram goat butting her head. The images of Brexit as “like fence poles delodge” or “cliff-like dover a full stop in this sentence” were particularly powerful.

A self-proclaimed non-political poet, it became clear in the latter readings of her own work, from Pepper Seed, her most recent collection, that she is much more comfortable in the realm of human narratives driven by community and interpersonal experience. She read with a great deal of passion, I particularly enjoyed her piece ‘Nine Nights’, which imagined the narrative of Lazarus rising in a Caribbean setting. I also enjoyed her piece ‘My Mother’s Blue’, where she engaged the audience to repeat ‘Pain’ after every sentence, which used humour to discuss suffering and mothering into adulthood, which golden lines such as “I’ll soon be dead and gone then you’ll miss me – pain”.

At times Booker over-explicated the poems, often giving too much detail for the origin of the poem or indeed explaining too many points within it; I found the poems themselves did not really require this, aside from a couple of Caribbean references.

Finally, Booker answered some questions from the host John McAuliffe and the audience. She discussed further the practise of writing the political poems suggesting that she is “a poet that things have to percolate for,” which seemed to suggest that the commission hadn’t sat right for her, however also agreed that she found from the experience that “honest things [can be] much more evocative”.

She also wondered about the nature of poetry in politically troubling times when communities feel that language has failed them, and the problem of political leaders who are successful orators and persuasive succeeding irrespective of their politics. Overall, the evening was an enjoyable one, despite the late start, and Malika Booker was deeply engaging as a poet and performer, I only wish we could have heard more of her poetry in that time, and that she had trusted us to hear the writing as standing for itself. The first thing I thought about the next morning was the line “your left big toe is a blackening cherry” which shows the innovative use of language and community-driven narratives of her work that engaged me, more so than the commissioned work, which, though thorough, lacked the connection of her published texts, which Pepper Seed delivers.

Roma Havers is a student at the University of Manchester. This piece also appears on The Manchester Review.