By Abdelaziz ElHammouchi
By Abdelaziz ElHammouchi
Meknes, When I saw a notice which says that a guest speaker is going to be invited to our campus, Moulay Ismail University in Meknes, to talk about “Rebels without Applause: Poetry and Performance,” my attention was steered to something totally different from what Corinne Fowler, a PhD Lecturer and specialist in Twentieth Century Postcolonial Literature, has actually talked about in her insightful presentation.
“Performance poetry” was a new topic added to my humble knowledge and so to my colleagues’. Initially, I did not hear any idea about the notion of Black British poetry, but after I was introduced to her enlightening speech, I got at least an idea of what performed poetry in Britain means to a very repressed minority- black writers. Fowler’s presentation tackled very interesting new points. What is interesting to mention about her is that she devoted her study in the UK so as to give the voice to those black voiceless poets.
Performance poetry is about a kind of poetry that is either recited or written as posts in the streets, decorated as beautiful images on pavements (landmark poetry) or as a big “billboard” on the wall of houses- not in the commercial sense. Though some poets might not see it as an interesting idea to write something in the street, the form that poets, like Lemn Sissay, SuAndi and Fred D’Aguiar, have given to their creative writings rendered them very strong political discourses that could emancipate black people from the exerted persecution of the white. In Britain, for especially those who live in London, people consider any type of literary writing which comes from black people as unimportant. It is so, because it is presumed that such writings represent only a “foreign” culture in the vulgar sense. Along history, black poets have been doomed to belong to a strange, eccentric and an odd social class that is seen from a very negative perspective; additionally, such a class generates only folkloric productions: print, or “page” poetry, as Fowler called it. On the other hand, multiple rights have been given to the whites over blacks. That is, productions in this concern were steered to sustain the white elite status quo, that is their social domination over the black working class. More importantly, in an anthropological sense, this belief has contributed in ‘categorizing’ cultures into “high” and “low”, in which domination, racism, ethnic cleansings and the like have been nourished.
In Manchester, however, black British poets have gone through various challenges struggling for their rights. In one of her speeches, Fowler said something that really grabbed my attention: “Give me a page and I will perform on it.” Such statement signifies that performing is more important than just jotting down things on papers. That is, performance poetry has been grasped as not only a realm of practicing certain oral poems but also as a ground on which blacks stand on to allow their voices to be heard all over their country. The majority of poems that have been written by black poets are steered towards breaking stereotypes, clichés (about that the north is a place of crimes and racism) and hearsays about that performed poetry has no value, and also that black people have to embrace the same rights and duties that the whites have. Such poets treated the notion of identity and belonging as a prerequisite component for a citizen to live and a major thematic issue in their artistic productions. Black poets have fought intellectually with whites to explain that they are not different, but rather to express that they are also British. Therefore, from the sense of Londoners, London and the north of British stand for cosmopolitan and suburban societies respectively.
Performed poetry is an art that entails technologies (not in the modern sense), and it is known for the presence of an audience and public popularity. Stones, pavements, trees and houses are media which embed a certain message in a decorative way that attract people’s attention- Lemn Sissay’s “Rain” is a case in point. This strengthens the idea that taking the form over content is a valuable strategy that gets the audience to react politically in different national and international arenas. Psychologically, Fowler asserted “I think, in an exaggerative way, what is special in performed poetry is that it is composed of specific rhymes that push the audience to internalize them unconsciously.”
Linguistically, blacks were humiliated because it was believed that such poets have learned a dialect they could employ in their literary productions. A dialect is a variety spoken by a minority of people within a larger community where people are formally addressed in a standard language. While white speak and write in a Standard English, blacks employ a variety derived from British English. Now, this premise is very debasing and it is almost a racist “crime,” I would say, that makes Black poets seem as second class citizens in their society. Fowler has shocked me, in fact, when she said that “up to the present moment no house of publication has released a performed poem,” this may go in parallel with the title of Ms. Fowler’s presentation, “Rebels without Applause.” If this signifies something, it will definitely mean that there are shameful, if not at all, corporations and sensitizing advertisements from the government that support these minorities so as to allow them to speak about their rights and not feel forced to be spoken for (As Gayatri Spivak claimed in her article The New Subaltern).
Avoiding such a phenomenon would be possible through sensitizing people of cultural differences. Adolf Hitler was totally wrong when he said the other is hell, because the ‘other’ is an important “ingredient” which constitutes the identity of a group of individuals. Thus, bridging cultural gaps usually leads to mutual understandings and tolerance, in which no one might feel humiliated. Eventually, though we are different as far as cultural, religious and social practices are concerned, we are still all human beings!
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed