My interview with poet Malika Booker in Starmag today.
I find the lady and the story of how she set up Malika's Kitchen truly inspirational: I hope that the things she says in the article finds resonance with young writers and the not-sure -how-to-get-starteds.
Before talking to Malika I had never really considered that poetry might have politics. Well if it does, I nominated her ... Leader of the Opposition!
Her story demonstrates how writers can take matters into their own hands, form a cooperative, work at the craft together, and use spoken word events to get their poetry out. At a time when readership for poetry books is declining, she shows that it poetry doesn't belong just to an ivory-towered academic elite, or to the printed page, and can win large and enthusiastic audiences.
Her emphasis is on poetry as communication, not the clever clever obscurification which many poets go in for (an unfortunate by-product of print, she believes). Poetry was oral long before it was published, and she sees spoken word performance as poetry being returned to its roots.
She emphasises the importance of craft, the need to become better at what you do, and constantly work at your art. She's humble enough to say that everything she's done up to now has been like being in school, learning, and that it's only now that she feel she's found her voice and is ready to publish. (This despite critical acclaim of her work.)
The need for writers to collaborate, share and learn from each other comes through everything she says.
She acknowledges too her influences and her mentor. (I couldn't resist snapping this shot of Malika's hands when she showed me the books by Sharon Olds and Kwame Dawes she carries everywhere.) Poetry - no art - can exist in a vacuum.
But what inspires me most about Malika is the way she generously shares her craft with others - the poets she nurtures through The Kitchen in London, her work with inner city children and in her work overseas with British Council. I'm sure she's sown the seeds of something much bigger in Malaysia. And come to think about it, this manifesto I've drawn up for her also seems to nicely fit the politics of Project OMG! (Bless them, and may they go from strength to strength.)
Oh ... and I also love her very individual sense of style. Those bangles! That lovely beaded ring! The coloured threads woven into her hair! I've never been a fan of piercings here and there but I feel like rushing out and getting a couple of tiny diamond studs stuck in my face. (Good job I've spent all my money on books, hey?)
With a word limit of 800 words for the Starmag piece, tough choices had to be made about what to include and what to leave out. I wanted to give as much space as possible to Malika's words. I wanted her voice to come through. But I'm sad I didn't have room to talk about some of her projects in more detail. Maybe in a later post?
You might also like to read Sharanya's account of Malika's workshop.
Malika at No Black Tie (23/11/06)
Malika's Poets at the Food Foundry (25/11/06)