Wednesday, 7 January 2009


Music and Poetry from the Home of Free and Brave…

Outside it is chilly, so chilly that you are relieved to vanish inside...
One of the ladies smoking by the doors, whispers shshshsssh as the session downstairs is already on. Always the same story at Poetry Café. Because of the creaky floorboards, any step  magnifies like a wild herd of running deer…
“This is the first time in 8 years that I have not felt embarrassed being American,” quips tall, confident, Barbara Marsh one of the four performers, her acoustic guitar, a treasured medal.
Yes, indeed; this is an extremely chilly evening, early 2009. Fifth of January; Monday, "voted" worst day of the year, after Christmas holidays 
Barbara's repetitive, wailing, chorus line:
woes and goes and puffs on and on...aided by experienced picking and strumming.

Barbara rocks...

We are all curled up listening: sipping wine, tea, coffee; mobiles tuned to silence by our semi-frozen fingers; some too scared to let go our jackets; winter is the enemy within.
Like many others you are curious to hear what the four writers have to say. Signed, Sealed, Delivered....Oyee.. There is a new leadership in the USA.

A few years ago you came to hear the Nobel Prize laureate, Andrew Motion reciting his verse; you even shook his talented palms. Poetry Cafe always brings best stuff across borders...and this is another jolly night by Exiled Writers Ink!
EWI ! promotes writings by those who have fled their countries in fear of persecution. Sometimes you also have outcasts, outsiders, the alienated brainy, soulful ones who feel they do not quite belong. Which is also a story of its own, too.
At the helm of this very interesting organization that boosts London’s international literary scene is Jennifer Langer; diligent, consistent, hardworking Jewish lady whose parents were persecuted by the Nazis. Apart from the three American writers also featured is a Congolese businessman, researcher and writer, Mike Beneti Sudi Ammba, promoting his new book on the current Congo Crisis:

Yes, you are curious.
Barbara Marsh ushers us straight into America through those powerful, melodic folk songs we hardly hear anymore these days.
Loud rap with crotch holding, rude, scary, intimidating faces and predictable, tedious monotonous R & B has almost hijacked our ears so much that we forget America has much more on her colossal plates…
Like her mates, Barbara has had an interesting past. She used to be in an Anglo-American Indie duo called Dear Janes. Her father was in the navy so she knows globe trotting: having lived in Honolulu in Hawaii (“where it is summer, always summer, always two o’clock”) travelling across America; reminding us how huge America is ( “ I inhale/ caffeine steam”). Constantly teasing us. Greyhounds are buses not dogs...
It is her cheeky poem (Girl of your Dreams, co-written with Ginny Clee)which will undoubtedly remain in our skulls, if i may recall some lines:

Smoother than a chocolate pond on the milky way
I'm the girl of your dreams
Take me home

“Hotter than boiling blood of my crazy aunt…”
“Brighter than the eye that flicks in the traffic lights…”

Amy Corzine is next. Subdued, introspective, deeply sensitive. Her poems about being a watchful American in the UK are hip and funny in parts. “Dulwich” (South West London) creates the most laughter especially because it is short, precise, playful:
Dull Dulwich
Dull itch
Wet little houses
Tight serious mouths

Amy Corzine chats to Iranian poet Ali Abdolrezaei

These days we hear more of Al Queda and Hamas, so when Amy Corzine mentions the North Ireland conflict it is almost ancient. Her poem throw questions at the grave of late legendary poet, William Yates (“What can be done for Ireland? I asked him”).
Her observation of pigeons is catchy:
“Remember me; remember us;
We live here too…”

Contrasting the two is Manhattan born, Melanie McKay; louder, direct, jovial, loads of exquisite hair. Being mixed race she thwarts expectations that she is expected to do a poem on Obama. No. She is not going to recite an Obama poem because “it has to be perfect.”
Her last dinner with her dead daddy, is sad and touching, yet she manages to squeeze in other thoughts on culture, arts, decor and geography. Wood and furniture becomes this sub story when she mentions how important Formica is in American dining rooms.

Melanie McKay (right) with a fan...

The Manhattan expatriate lives in Devon, where like Amy Corzine’s “Dulwich” we are given catchy gymnastics in the poem P.Y.O (Pick Your Own):
“Sweet Strawberries
Big Juicy Blueberries
I stare out of the bus…”

When performing it is familiar things that brings audiences closer and with Melanie McKay her two London poems do the job.
“Rubber, metal, skin
Yellow bright
Streets like a volcano
People like lava…”

Oh yes. Familiarity is a key to good art and writing.

Finally, the man from Congo.
He is not American but his humble presence brings the evening to an interesting united climax. Mike Beneti Sudi Am Mba reads an open letter (from his book) to Barack Obama. Like many across the world he expresses high hopes for the President elect. The suffering of Congolese, the rape of women and death of children, HIV, the murder of five million people. He reminds us Congo is not a poor country; but her riches have been taken by the West in collaboration with a local “bad leadership.” Why should we suffer? He raves...

Mike Benedi with Hansen Chokowore (left) another exile, from Zimbabwe who wanted to know what exactly the Congolese is doing to help bring a difference...

When Jennifer Langer kicks off the question and answer session it proves such a brilliant idea. Many a times you have been to events where each one absorbs stuff goes home alone, keeping this depressive, stiff upper lip culture alive. Talking afterwards, sharing banter and clutter, always helps.
Are the expatriate poets wrapped in guilt being American, for example? Amy Corzine says when September Eleven happened she wanted to write a letter to her government, but declined for fear of being pursued by the FBI. What was she going to write? Someone wonders. It was the right time (an opportunity) for the Bush administration to “ share a nobler vision.” Everyone worldwide was suddenly sympathetic because of the tragedy. This is my understanding of what this lady meant : America would (like the Abba song said) take her chance... be an emphathetic superpower...
Melanie McKay says she believes America was built on those noble principles but might never quite follow them.
End is nigh. Time always flies; tomorrow is Tuesday!
Out to the freezing rhymes...
Once again we are reminded how London ( and Exiled Writers Ink! in particular) always brings people from different parts of the world together. And how being American, is not that easy or straightforward, for her ordinary citizens…

Always involved Jennifer Langer (left); Melanie McKay and unidentified man network...

 All pics by  author

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