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Poetry # 3 Jay Bernard, Devin Johnston

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

Surge - Jay Bernard

An archive of black radical British history is explored against the backdrop of the Grenfell and Windrush scandals...

A key element of the project is Bernard’s exploration of black radical British history in the George Padmore Institute’s archives, against the backdrop of the GrenfellTower tragedy, the xenophobia of the Windrush scandal and Brexit. This interrogation of the tensions between “public narration and private truths” is found throughout Surge. Bernard, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun “they”, reminds us that the self is an overlaying of multiple identities, comprised not just of what is remembered and forgotten, but of how one is located in the wider questions of belonging, memory and solidarity.


Sandeep Parmar Sat 6 Jul 2019 09.00 BSTLast modified on Sat 6 Jul 2019 11.06 BST

I once wrote an essay comparing and contrasting Kamau Brathwaite with Derek Walcott. The main difference between them was that Walcott took western forms and worked within the flow, whereas Brathwaite honoured his own Caribbean rhythms. At the time I argued that Walcott's project was more impressive, taking on a colonial history and creating a new space for himself. Maybe I was biased, the forms he played with were more legible to my eyes, whereas Legba wasn't. In hindsight, it was a leading question. I can't recall any lines from either, I'm just left saddled with the memory of a name : Legba, a god of the crossroads.

When I read Jay Bernard's Surge, I had no revelatory excitement compared to that celebrated in the two previous posts. In fairness those moments are rare but at the same time, you are on the lookout for hints of that capacity. Heaney says - a poem must have it's own 'snake life'. He's great for the clarity. I must admit I couldn't tune into the potential 'snake life' of Surge. And I was all too ready to dismiss the value of the work. Then I watched Jay Bernard's performance of her own work, it sings. I don't want to make the point that the work is lesser because it is improved by her own voice. Rather that upon my own internal review, I could recognise that poetry is more synthesis than analysis.

Sunday 14th June, was the three year anniversary of the Grenfell fire. At the same time an inquiry found that 'racism contributed to disproportionate UK BAME Coronavirus deaths' and furthermore this finding was suppressed. Meanwhile Black Lives Matters protests are ongoing in the wake of George Floyd's murder.

Boris Johnson has promised a commission to address inequality.

Mosses and Lichens - Devin Johnston

These are poems of 'subtle transformation and transfer', following Ovid. I was attracted to this book because of the title. I've always thought there would be much to mine in mosses and lichens. Writing about such material is not necessarily an exhibition of wilful indifference to contemporary reality. Especially since today, the ability to know how to hold a book for a photograph, is a political act. But that said, I think that overall, these poems are a bit too safe.

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