Buying the Wind

I’m so pleased to be writing for this collaboration with the composer Sarah Angliss, a new work for voice, string quartet and live electronics. Through music and words, we’ll be exploring the UK’s deep connection with wind and tide – elemental forces that make up the UK’s defiantly porous border.  We’ll excavate partial archives, half-memories, extant folklore, combining music and poetry to conjure all that’s been carried to our shores.

A Persistent Myth: Buying the Wind

The title of this project refers to the ancient sailors’ superstition of throwing a coin into water to assuage the spirits and bring a fair wind – a ritual that’s persisted for centuries. Sarah was inspired by some notes in Edward Lovett’s Magic in Modern London (1925). In his book, the folklorist and city explorer records sailors in Billingsgate nailing coins to the mast to bring a good passage.  The former home of London’s fish market, Billingsgate was built on a Viking settlement. Lovett also writes about women on the East coast of Britain selling sailors ‘magical’ knotted string. The string could be untied, knot by knot, to vie for better sailing winds. Knotted string was also sold in Newfoundland, itself a Viking settlement. Arguably the ritual of ‘buying wind’ persists to this day, in disassociated form, every time we throw a coin into a fountain.

We are looking for other instances of ‘buying wind’ in books, poems folk tales or local folklore. If you know of an instance, we’d love to hear from you.

Homage to Italy

I don’t expect I’ll ever own a Ferrari, so the closest thing is a poem in Ferrari magazine. Possibly the strangest commission I’‘ve ever had. But I love Italy, and loved writing a homage. Thanks to all those who suggested Italian poems and poets, and friends from Scuola Holden, mentioned/pictured here(cringey interview warning!)

Ways into Memoir

I’ll be teaching an intensive weekend course on memoir, November 7th and 8th. We’ll look at lots of different forms, from ‘traditional’ memoir to experiments with poetry and visual story-telling. Life writing has evolved into such an exciting form of story-telling so I’m really pleased to be able to explore the genre in depth. Details here:


Upcoming workshops

Teaching a few workshops for the PBS over the next week – tomorrow (2/07) 11am – 12.30pm and Wed 8/02 11.30am – 12.30pm and this saturday a whole morning with Liz Berry 9.30am – 1pm.

Writing the Family

I *think* there might be a few more spaces open for this online workshop on Saturday 27th June 10.30 – 12.30…we’ll be looking at different strategies for writing about family, ancestry and heritage. Link below:


Paperwork: Memories of a Chinese-Jamaican father

When the Home Office announced they’d ‘lost’ the landing cards of Caribbean people arriving to Britain, I started to think about the importance of other documentary evidence of arrival and more importantly, decades of settlement – from the passenger lists held at the National Archives, to personal archives – letters, photographs, diaries. My essay ‘Paperwork’ reproduced here is from ‘Mother Country’, edited by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff.

Windrush Day: Memories of a Chinese-Jamaican father

Windrush Day 2020

I’ll be on BBC London News tonight, talking a bit about my dad, as a member of the Windrush Generation. I always think his story pluraslises the dominant story of the Windrush, because he sailed on the SS Ormonde, in 1947 – a year before the actual Windrush – and he was mixed heritage: Chinese / Black Jamaican, reminding us that the Caribbean diaspora included many different Caribbean ethnicities – Chinese, Indian, Syrian, Lebanese and more.

Here he is on the right of this photo, walking down a London street, sometime in the late 40s I’m guessing. This photo reminds me of John Agard’s poem ‘Uncle Mo Steps Out’, about the style this generation brought to post-war London:

‘Remember a time
in dem old England days
when I certain black gent
followed a satirical bent
to step out rootwise cute
in a Windrush zoot…’

(John Agard, 1998)

Cholmondeley Awards

I’m so happy to have won a 2020 Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors, along with Linda France, Alec Finlay, Rod Mengham and Bhanu Kapil. A shame we couldn’t celebrate in person, but my six year old, Rory, and I had fun attending an ‘awards ceremony’ in our kitchen one morning. Many many thanks to the Society of Authors and the judges.

“Caribbean Nights”

I’m delighted to be a part of this online exhibition, responding to the 1986 Caribbean Nights documentary featuring Linton Kwesi Johnson, Fred D’Aguiar and Derek Walcott. They debate all manner of things regarding Caribbean/Black British poetry, and four female writers, including myself, respond. They honestly don’t make TV like this anymore – you can watch the whole film plus our responses and read new commissioned poems from Jay Bernard and Anthony Joseph.


June Arvon course

Just a quick update to mention some tutoring I’m leading with Andrew McMillan for Arvon as part of their – Arvon at Home series. The course is full but you can be added to the waiting list just in case a place becomes free.

Mining Personal Histories
Monday June 15th – Friday June 19th 2020 (Online)

In this exciting online poetry writing week we will focus on the enjoyment of making new poems, both by mining personal histories and pushing our subject matter in new directions.

Welcoming and encouraging for both new and experienced poets, there will be opportunities for a whole group dynamic to emerge, alongside small group work and one to one feedback. Quiet personal time will also be encouraged.

We will share in advance a stimulating variety of accessible contemporary poems, and focusing on the vital elements of imagery and music, we will discover exciting ways to rethink our past and find new language to capture our contemporary moment.

More details here