By Bamidele Madamidola, Theatre Critic
During lockdown, Danique Bailey founded 100 Black Voices, a project looking for poems about anything, of any length, to highlight the voices and creativity of Black poets in the form of an anthology. Submissions are open to anyone of African or Caribbean descent and must be over 18.
Danique was one of the top 100 commended in The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2018 for her poem ‘Tell me about plantain’. The poem is written with a confident and humorous voice that echoes Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise,’ with a focus on food (similar to the poems by Daljit Nagra which she was partly inspired by).
The poem explores the various ways of cooking plantain and also the lighthearted dispute surrounding the pronunciation of the food. Some argue it rhymes with ‘mountain,’ while others are adamant it rhymes with ‘complain’ – an issue almost as contentious as whether you’re Team Peeta or Team Gale. Outside debating its pronunciation (obviously it rhymes with ‘complain,’) Danique is also a First-Year student at the University of Bristol, studying English.
100BlackVoices is a project Danique only came up with last month. It’s an exciting project looking for Black writers to showcase ‘their thoughts and opinions on anything and everything,’ she tells me. It is aimed at Black writers, with any profits made going to support charities and social causes.
‘I feel like a lot of people write poetry, but they don’t consider themselves to be poets, even though they are writing poems. I just wanted to make sure that everyone that likes to write would be able to submit and be a part of it.’
Danique’s inspiration for creating 100BlackVoices stemmed from a mixture of wanting to provide a channel for creativity during lockdown and seeing a lack of diversity in publishing.
‘I wanted to create a book of poems where different voices and perspectives come together in one book, because I feel like everyone has a different way of writing, or opinions. With lockdown and everything going on, a lot of people, especially Black people – because of what’s been happening in America and the wider issue of institutional racism – have been feeling a lot more overwhelmed and being creative is a good way to channel that.’
A lot of people, especially Black people have been feeling a lot more overwhelmed, and being creative is a good way to channel that
Wondering why she specifically chose 100 voices she wanted to represent in the anthology, Danique gave me a pragmatic response.
‘It was a combination of “I couldn’t do too many otherwise the book would be too big” and “I want as many as possible to show a range of perspectives and the fact that the Black community isn't just one narrative or voice.” Everyone has different experiences.’
The conversation then shifted to Art and Poetry. I read an article she wrote in ÀLAFÍÀ which I found interesting, exploring whether Cubism was invented or stolen. As a result, I asked Danique about her thoughts on Picasso, Cubism and whether she thought there was a link between poetry and the erasure of Black people’s cultural contribution throughout history.
She tells me that ‘there were strong links to show that Picasso was influenced by African art. But this is not really known or emphasised.’
Picasso often denied being influenced by African art, despite collecting African art while creating Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Art historian Kobena Mercer is one of many who argue that this takes away from the recognition of the Makonde people and other minority artists who rarely receive any recognition for their art.
After viewing the abstract sculptures by the Makonde people of north Tanzania, you can see the African influence in Picasso’s work – with paintings that appear fragmented and abstracted with varying angles and geometric shapes.
I loved how Grace Nichols wrote from the perspective of Picasso’s painting, creating a reflection of what Nichols imagined to be Dora Maar’s mind
‘When I think about African art, I think about how Picasso stole the faces of these artistic carvings, without really acknowledging them,’ Danique says.
‘Picasso, I want my face back used to be my favourite poem. I loved how Grace Nichols wrote from the perspective of Picasso’s painting, creating a reflection of what Nichols imagined to be Dora Maar’s mind and her journey to self-reclamation.
‘But after doing my own research and discovering that Picasso’s cubist style was influenced by African art, now when I read the poem’s title Picasso, I want my face back, I think of the sculptures of the Makonde people of North Tanzania. It’s as if both the subject of the painting (Dora Maar) and the style of the painting (Cubism) feel like Picasso has stolen something from them.’
It seems that Black people’s artistic contributions are not the only thing limited in our knowledge but also in the way we think about wars.
Danique explains that ‘There were Black soldiers in WW2, not many people know that. That Black people served during the war, because it is not highlighted. More than 600,000 African men fought but were paid less and had menial roles. This is not really acknowledged. Some people wouldn’t associate Black people with the war efforts.’
Returning to the topic of poetry, Danique walks me through her literary career: from writing short stories from a young age on Movellas, to winning a poetry competition at age 13 and meeting fantasy author Leigh Bardugo, it seems Danique has always been writing. However, she tells me she merely discovered The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award by chance.
It was literally just a joke. I forgot about it, then a few months later I got an email saying it was a part of the Top 100 that were selected
‘It was free to enter. I thought, “let me just submit a poem.” I just did it for fun. I didn’t expect anything to happen really. The poem selected was a joke about how people from the Caribbean and people from Africa have this internal joke about how we pronounce plantain differently. It was literally just a joke. I forgot about it, then a few months later I got an email saying it was a part of the Top 100 that were selected.’
When I asked her if she could offer any tips for those looking to submit to 100 Black Voices, Danique tells me: ‘Think your own way, but have an understanding of what other people have done. Read a lot of poems in different genres, authors and styles so you have an idea of what's out there. And what you like, what you don’t like.’
Before I end the interview, I try to persuade Danique that the poem's subject does in fact rhyme with ‘complain’ but she remains playfully adamant and confident, like her speaker in the poem, that I’m ‘Wrong. Plantain rhymes with mountain.’
Featured: 100BlackVoices / Danique Bailey
Danique Bailey’s 100BlackVoices is an anthology looking for Black poets. No previous experience is required to submit a poem. Submissions should be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please see www.100blackvoices.com for more information. The deadline for entries is Friday, August 7, 2020. Danique can’t wait to read your poems!