UK-based initiative Inscribe Writer Development Programme has curated a new anthology published by Peepal Tree Press. Filigree: Contemporary Black British Poetry, edited by Nii Aykwei Parkes and with a preface by Dorothy Wang, collects compelling work from established Black British poets as well as by a wide array of young Black poets on the British literary scene, including members of The Complete Works, the Octavia collective, Barbican Young Poets, Young Poet Laureates of London, and poets nurtured and supported by the Inscribe Writer Development Programme. Among them are Nick Makoha and Momtaza Mehri, both of whom have won the Brunel Prize and have been shortlisted for the Brittle Paper Award for Poetry. Others include Tolu Agbelusi, Sui Anukka, Raymond Antrobus, Lynne E Blackwood, Siddhartha Bose (Sid), and Victoria Bulley.
The 127-page anthology launches on 23 November 2018 at King’s College, London.
Funded by ACE, Inscribe was created in 2004 by its Publications Manager Kadija George Sesay. By 2008, with the joining of Programmes Manager Dorothea Smartt, it had become a national “project to develop specific writers of African and Asian descent in Yorkshire.” Rooted in Peepal Tree Press’s practice of editorial development, an essential aspect of Inscribe is to publish emerging and new writers. Their previous anthology, RED (2010), was described by Michael Rosen as “a major contribution to the diverse cultures of blackness.”
In an email to Brittle Paper from intern Bethany Moore, the Inscribe team explained that Filigree: Contemporary Black British Poetry “contains work that plays with the possibilities that the word [‘filigree’] suggests.”
Filigree typically refers to the finer elements of craftwork, the parts that are subtle. Writers were invited to contemplate the “unspoken essential” and “intangible tangible.” Award-winning poet Hannah Lowe, author of Chick and Chan, describes what came in response as “testimonies and remembrances. . . poems of resistance and bombast, and hymns of love of all kinds.”
In the anthology’s preface, Dorothy Wang writes: “Most (white) poets and poetry scholars assume, consciously or not, that the only poetic interiority that matters is a white interiority. Thus, the endless poems by white poets with every emotion and quotidian observation presented to the reader as if they were profound and universal truths.” Filigree defies this assumption, forces its readers to challenge their ideas of poetic interiority, and celebrates the variety of poetry produced by these poets. Throughout the anthology’s journey, editor Nii Parkes says he has “revelled in the quirky turns of phrase and argument, the contemporary yet timeless imagery, the boldness of much of the work. At each turn I am more and more convinced of a future for British poets of colour embroidered with the finest of prizes and widespread critical recognition.”
Filigree editor Nii Ayikwei Parkes is an author, performance poet, and socio-cultural commentator. He is the author of the poetry chapbooks: eyes of a boy, lips of a man (1999), M is for Madrigal (2004), and Ballast (2009), an imagination of the slave trade by balloon. His novel Tail of the Blue Bird (Jonathan Cape, 2009) has been hailed by the Financial Times as “a beautifully written fable…grappling with urgent issues.” Parkes has led forums internationally and has sat on discussion panels for BBC Radio with Margaret Atwood. In 2007, he was awarded Ghana’s National ACRAG award for poetry and literary advocacy.
Dorothy Wang, who wrote the anthology’s preface, is Professor in the American Studies Program and Faculty Affiliate in the English Department at Williams College, Massachusetts. Her monograph Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry (Stanford University Press, 2013) received the Association for Asian American Studies’ award for best book of literary criticism in 2016, garnered honorable mention in the Poetry Foundation’s inaugural Pegasus Awards for Criticism in 2014, and was named among The New Yorker‘s “The Books We Loved in 2016.” The first national conference on race and creative writing in the United States, Thinking Its Presence (2014), was named after it. Wang, who has also published on Asian Australian literature, conceived of and co-founded the “Race and Poetry and Poetics in the UK” (RAPAPUK) research initiative.
Founded in 1985 and based in Leeds, Peepal Tree Press has been the home of the best in Caribbean and Black British fiction, poetry, literary criticism, memoirs and historical studies. In 2017, the independent publishing company won the Clarissa Luard Award for Independent Publishers, which recognises excellence and creativity in literary publishing. In 2009, it launched the Caribbean Modern Classics Series, which restores to print essential classic books from the 1950’s and 60’s.
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