Tag Archives: poetry

Grandmother’s Hands

For Colored Girls London was a wonderful success and if you really want to know all the stories that surrounded its conception, production and performance just do a google search and you’ll find it all there ( can you believe, we can now be googled, so much for anonymity!). It’s been nigh on 6 months since I last posted, which means FAR too much has happened and it’d be awful for me to attempt to explain and write and describe and muse in retrospect. Moreover, where I once was able to write as a musing voice with no intended audience, since i’ve begun publishing my poetry and therefore having to put a name to my work, I now know I have (may have) an audience and moreover they know me – which changes the game entirely. However, for those who still once in a while pass through this former haven of my thoughts, I have a surprise in store for you in the New Year! (only a few days to go, stay excited).

In the meantime, one (amongst many wonderful things) that happened to me in November is I did a TEDx talk. Below is the link. I won’t say any more but do give it a watch, a listen, and if it touches you in a positive or challenging way, do share.

Wishing you seasons greetings. Till 2014

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#8 ~ What’s Your Back Story: Lady in Green

Naomi Maxwell" Lady in GreenNaomi Maxwell was a sure fire-hire when I first auditioned her in October last year. She had this drawl to her voice – melodically southern – and a saucy smile. When she was giving attitude she would wrinkle her nose up in a look of disgust, and to top it all, she already had a silver ring in her nose – it was like she was born ready. Slipping into the Lady in Green’s role for the Cambridge Production came naturally to the writer and blogger – it almost seemed like an enviable ‘effortlessness’. Moreover, her heart wrenching poem that culminates into the play’s apex was bound to garner her a standing ovation whether she put in 100% effort or not.

But I’m a director who wants more.  ‘For Colored Girls’ requires the actresses to be verbal painters. Poetry involves bringing words to life on the canvas that is your audience. You have to pop, sizzle, simmer and evoke all at the same time – and this production uses minimal props so all that ‘action’ is located in the voice.

Maxwell’s opening poem ‘No More Assistance’ is the story (or should we say letter) of a woman who is ‘endin’ this affair‘. She has been short-changed in every way possible, and is at last beginning to assert herself – and it’s about time too!

Yet, to remove ourselves from stereotypes and hashed out caricatures a ‘back story’ is always important.

Creating a back story requires you to return to the text and ask why? Within what was initially a rant, the Lady in Green declares:

‘I have left 7 packages on your doorstep, 40 poems, 2 plants and 3 hand-made notecards I left town so I could send you have been no help to me on my job/’.

It’s a line that is easily glossed over, I doubt whether people familiar with the play remember it. Yesterday it struck a chord with me and I questioned Maxwell – when did you (LiG) start writing poems?

Silence.

As a poet, I know that 40 in ‘8 months, two weeks and a day‘ is a lot of poems to be writing, let alone disseminating! What does that say about the character? Not only does she remember and count the days since she’s been with her man, but she’s educated, perhaps a romantic, she has a deep attachment to words.

As we began unpicking her lines the voice of Alysia Grace Williams, a Nurse in the local downtown Hospital emerged. She was caring by nature, shy but with a quiet confidence. She’d experienced emotional neglect when she was a child and that spiralled her into negative relationships with men who used, abused and confused her. She was barren, and the fates had it that she worked on a maternity ward. She yearned to be a mother, and her lousy-ass boyfriend Tyrone (inspired by Ma Badu herself) had only gone and gotten a young girl from the block pregnant. And that’s when the penny dropped.

‘But you are of no assistance’.

The break down above might seem simplistic – it is a simplified version of approximately 8 hours of character development that started yesterday afternoon. But when Maxwell chose the name, the very consonants where a reflection of the character. Ending the poem with a note and a plant pot, we discovered that ‘No Assistance’ is neither a monologue nor a rant, it’s the very letter Alysia writes to Tyrone to tell him that ‘I am ending this affair’. As Maxwell knows only too rightly, that very declaration took a lot of courage.

Watch this space to see how we develop this poem even more and breathe life into the story. Also, make sure you get your tickets, so you can see the final product on September 13th at Canada Water Culture Space.

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Tickets

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#4 ~ For Colored Girls: Dark Phrases

The first poem that opens FCG is entitled ‘Dark Phrases’. One of the last poems to be written, it begins as a lament, a lament for the (lost or stolen) womanhood of black women.

 

dark phrases of womanhood

of never gavin been a girl

half-notes scattered

without rhythm/no tune

distraught laughter fallin

over a black girls shoulder

As a director, an actress, and a former english student, before I can translate the above words into action and stage craft, I need to be conscious of both syntax and semantics. Shange’s style is characterised by its colloquialism.  It carries the ease of natural speech, and yet it has been altered and adulterated to incorporate a poetic rhythm, a lilt and melody. The most obvious conceit throughout the play is the use of colour. The first hint to the colour spectrum we get is a shade. Shadism is a problem within black culture and stems from the racial discrimination that has dogged non-white individuals for generations. It is a discrimination in which the darker you are the less attractive you are the less desirable, the less ‘good’ or wholesome. It feeds into the dichotomy of black : white, evil:good, that fuelled institutions and regimes such as the Slave Trade, Apartheid and pre-civil rights America.

‘dark phrases of womanhood’,  alludes to shadism and colour dichotomy, insinuating a pain, a darkness and danger that haunts the growth of a woman of colour. It generates the image  of an aborted or stolen childhood, a neglected or abused innocence which has created this coloured woman who has ‘never been a girl’.

When I set out to create my own production of this phenomenal and well-known piece, I had a deep urge and awareness to include music. Each of the poems are themselves scattered and infused with musical references. It isn’t just about speaking the word, song is presented as intrinsic to the liberation of the coloured woman. When her song, her lyrical voice is silenced, it is a sonic destruction of her physical, emotional, mental and spiritual being. It is the oppressive removal of a life. What is left is terror, anxiety and  a discordant life that has no melody, no tune, no future and no purpose or recognition.

Watch this space to see how we take these concepts and use music and light in our production.

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#2 ~ For Colored Girls London: Reading the Foreword

One of the most beautiful aspects of putting on ‘FCG’ again, is revisiting ‘old friends’. Old poems and known characters who spoke to me with aggression when I was a fresh 18-year-old, excitement when I was 19, and now, at 20, with a depth, a caution, a humanity.

The first time I approached the script  all the words were literal. The poems, ranging from the very brief but powerful ‘Abortion Cycle 1’, to the long, lyrical lament of ‘Sechita’, were so vibrant, so forceful in their barraging voices all seeking to take centre stage, that the idea of analysing and challenging my first impressions was absurd. Of course Sechita should be a lament, she’s a washed up dancer who is serenaded by chipped coins that are dashed through the air to bounce on her thighs, which aren’t lovingly creamed with coco butter, but stained with sweat, smoke and semen.

However, as I read Shange’s forward to the second edition of the ‘For Colored Girls […]’, I see that the Lady in Purple’s persona is much more than that. Sechita’s journey is not just the degradation of a woman, but of a nation, a history and a people. It tells the story of the demise of the black African, from inventors and rulers of the Ancient world, to the chattel that powered the Industrial Revolution of the West.

I see that the Lady in Orange’s exposure to ‘mambo, tango, meringue’, in the dance halls of America, is a journey of discovery. The same discovery of other black people, communities, cruelty, misogyny and adventure that the Lady in Brown experiences when she meets Toussaint ‘in de library’.

I see that, whoever wrote the tag line for Tyler Perry’s bedraggled attempt at transforming page to cinema, was right in one respect. It is one poem, one story, one woman, one life – but told through many voices. Like the colours that form a single rainbow, it is the journey of a people, of nations, of humanity, embodied in one unified story of fractured experiences.

I look forward to the days I shall spend scrutinising these poems, these voices, and women as I seek to join them into my own cloth, my own woven pattern of a history, of a woman, of a colourful identity.

Join the journey.

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#1 ~ For Colored Girls London

Image by Rosa Johan Uddoh

Image by Rosa Johan Uddoh

November 2012. 11pm. Cambridge. An audience of 50 people, predominantly made up of student journalists and hard-core late night theatre-goers sat in the Fitzpatrick Hall of Queen’s College and waited as an arpeggio in A minor played out to setting blue lights. My production of Ntozake Shange’s ‘For Colored Girls [who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf]’, had landed. Directing, co-producing and acting in the show had many challenges. Yet, when the four and five-star reviews rained in, and the seats filled up to maximum capacity, I could only smile and get ready for three more nights of incredible action as we made theatrical history.

The first time an all black all female cast had ever graced a Cambridge stage, the play follows the lives of seven women identified solely by the colour of their clothing. A combination of spoken word poetry, physical theatre, music and dance ‘For Colored Girls’ is an evocative social critique that gives a piercingly authentic look at urban life through the brash lens of beautifully unrefined poetry. Tackling experiences of rape, domestic violence, infidelity and sisterhood ‘For Colored Girls’  takes its characters and audience on a liberating journey to the end of their rainbows, all the while coloured by a saucy wink of humour and sass, powerful music, dance and that ephemeral attribute referred to as ‘soul’.

So, with all that underway and with people asking for more, I crazily got the idea to take the show to London, my home city. Why not go for gold? Sadly, though I am a creative at heart, a production requires more than just an artistic eye – it requires financing and budgeting. Teaming up with one of the actress, Ifeyinwa Frederick, we sat up till 4am one  night in March and planned this next step in the story – For Colored Girls…London.

For over 6 months we have been planning, contacting, hustling, designing, straining our eyes at computer screens, sending rapid fire emails, lamenting over Nokia 100 phones that don’t have MultiMedia Messaging, all to bring us to this point: the promotional Launch date of For Colored Girls London.

I know I’ve been quiet for a few months since ending the 365 blog, but today, i’d like to invite you to journey with me once again as I direct, act and co-produce in Ntozake Shange’s phenomenal piece of theatre. It’s going to be raw, bloody, exhilarating, exhausting and inspiring – but we’ve done it before.

So welcome to the Death of the Writer, the Death of the Director, Co-Producer and Actress and the Birth of…For Colored Girls London 2013.

Get Excited.

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#342 ~ So that’s what Love is…

3 bouquets of flowers: one of pink roses, another of yellow roses, a third of pink tulips. A one person teapot and matching tea set. Raspberry and Apple Herbal tea, tickets to an acoustic concert, a beautiful edition of Herbert’s poetry, a pair of shoes, stunning earrings, 4 chelsea buns, 2 cakes from Patisserie Valerie, an empowering book on faith and inheritance, a cooked breakfast and numerous cards with countless messages that I cannot quite fathom in their depths of love, admiration, kindness and hope. So that’s what love is? I don’t deserve it.

In a most honest manner, I thought I didn’t have friends at Uni. How could I? I didn’t have the time to invest in friendships as I did when I was in school, stuck with 180 students for 7 years of my life. Now free from that I entered University and believed I couldn’t make friends – real friends at least. I barely went out, I was notorious for poor communication, I study English which means I don’t need to leave my room…and yet at least 20 people from all parts of my life surprised me and welcomed my birthday in with singing and laughing last night. Then I woke up to presents, cards, messages and love.

I don’t deserve it – but I suppose we don’t deserve love. It’s a gift, given out of love, whether the receiver believes themselves worth the price or not.

Considering I run a blog and study literature, words are obviously important to me. They are me. I see my world though the matrix of language. And the words…the words of inspiration and love…of encouragement…I didn’t know I meant that much to people, that they’d take the time to build me up.

But that’s what love is, a firm foundation in order to elicit growth – everlasting growth.

Maya Angelou stated famously, and it has become my hopeful mantra for life:

‘My great aim is to laugh as much as i cry, to love someone with all my heart and have the courage to accept love in return’.

I suppose being a woman, is learning to accept love when you recognise it. This time last year I was moping about being separated from my sister, this time this year I am excited to realise…I love accepting love.

Happy Birthday,

with Love

K

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#259 ~ Ithemba Projects : Day 24

Below are excerpts of some of my students written poetry. Enjoy and be inspired:

Prayer for Day 24: That the spirit of creativity will continue to inspire these children long after I’ve gone. That they realise there is power in the written word and use it to improve their futures.

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