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Gabi Spiro gives her thoughts on Raise the Bar’s inaugural Outlook, a series of evenings of poetry and discussion aiming to raise the profile of minority voices. The first evening focused on women of colour, and saw some wonderful young poets perform their work.

Tuesday 2nd May saw Bristol host the first ever Outlook night for Raise the Bar at the 1532 Performing Arts Centre. Outlook aims to bring together those who have perhaps been overlooked, allowing the voices of marginalised poets to emerge from the city’s artistic community. The new series of spoken word poetry nights began with a focus on women of colour, welcoming four stunning poets, a charismatic host (the wonderful Malaika Kegode) and women of colour involved in journalism, as well as a discussion panel and Q&A.

it is reductive to homogenise and make all coloured female voices monolithic

Jazz Reavenall-Neute kicked off the evening, introducing her work as sub-editor of gal-dem, the online magazine dedicated to providing a platform for women of colour who are rarely represented in mainstream media. She explained her experience of the lack of diversity at University of Bristol—’It’s hella white, isn’t it?’—and the sense of sister-hood which she obtained from working on the magazine. Gal-dem has been an unprecedented success, working with contributors from over seventy countries, and has a global readership. With her tongue-in-cheek social criticisms, Reavenall-Neute aptly introduced the over-arching themes of the evening.

The first poet to perform, Anita Barton-Williams, is an emerging artist on the London poetry scene, appearing in Bristol for the first time. From Brixton, she is a Roundhouse Poetry Slam finalist and a member of the Roundhouse Poetry Collective 2015-2016. Her interest in Black British womanhood was moving and visibly resonated with the audience. The poems she performed range from recollective memories of childhood racism in ‘Zoe’ to black society’s disapproval of inter-racial dating, and the double standards expected of black sons and daughters. Barton-Williams has an inspiring stage presence and an emotive way with words—she was, personally, the most impressive poet of the evening.

Following Barton-Williams, Indigo Williams works full-time as a spoken word educator in a secondary school, and brings her experiences with race in the classroom into her poetry. She discussed mourning in ‘Sunflowers’ and the power of softness and vulnerability in ‘You are Strong’. Willams’ work has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Bespoken Word, Tedx Brixton, Glastonbury Festival and Cheltenham Literature Festival.

On the ensuing panel discussion, five women articulately considered the issues facing women of colour in the poetry world and in life more generally. Williams answered a question about the balance between tokenism and representation for coloured artists. The panel later discussed the impact of being a WoC on their personal experience and artwork, but how it is simultaneously reductive to homogenise and make all coloured female voices monolithic.

bringing poetry to a wider audience through spoken word and theatre to provoke thought and challenge the stereotypes that govern our media

The young poet, writer and sociology undergraduate Simran Randhawa, like Reavenall-Neute, discussed her experience of being coloured at a predominantly white university. She then read a number of short poems about childhood, her mother, name, a break-up, the Indian Partitian, and duel-nationality. Randhawa’s softly beautiful voice gained stature through her poetry, visibly empowering her on stage.

The final poet of the evening was Bristol raised Shagufta K Iqbal. Iqbal is interested in bringing poetry to a wider audience through spoken word and theatre to provoke thought and challenge the stereotypes that govern our media. She recites two poems for her daughter, one about empire, and one about gentrification. Her most powerful poem, ‘Jam for girls, girls get jam’, gives voice to women facing the immigrant journey and feminism within Islam. She skilfully balances passion and tenderness in her poems.

The evening was an undoubted success; both moving and inspiring. The accomplished women succeeded in their aim to vocalise a minority perspective and create a sense of solidarity within the audience. The next Outlook event will focus on the LGBT+ community, and is set to be just as brilliant as the first.


What were your thoughts on the issues raised at Outlook? Let us know in the comments below or on social media

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