On 22 June, we mark the 75th anniversary of Windrush by joining forces with The London Library to bring the exhilarating live literature phenomenon, the R.A.P. (Rhythm and Poetry) Party, back to the Library with a Windrush Day twist. A nostalgic, no-clutter, no-fuss, evening of poetry and music, this time with a focus on reggae, the evening is curated and hosted by award-winning poet and RSL Fellow Raymond Antrobus. Raymond, along with 9 other poets – Dean AttaCasey BaileyMalika BookerAnthony Vahni CapildeoCourtney ConradMr GeeKeith JarrettSafiya Kamaria Kinshasa, and Deanna Rodger – all composed a new poem engaging with Windrush and Reggae culture to share with us on the evening.

In the run up to tonight’s event, the Royal Society of Literature worked with some of the R.A.P Party poets to engage young people in school workshops in London and Birmingham, as well as online. Mr Gee, Keith Jarrett, Deanna Rodger and Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa encouraged young people to reflect on their heritage and to create their own poetic responses to the theme of Windrush. In the words of one participant:  I felt like a part of me I didn’t know has been awoken to see the world from a different mindset.  Some of the poems created as part of these school workshops will be published on RSL’s website and also in their annual magazine, RSL Review.

Read all ten poems and listen along to the poets song choices below:

Raymond Antrobus – GB Windrush 75

Give thanks, the ports our grandmothers heaved
baggage through, the shift and drag of whole lives.

Give thanks, the weight that shaped shoulders,
the stamina of a sea-crossing ship. Give thanks,

my mother’s hands are hurdles, heightened
by immeasurable trails and trials. Give thanks,

what it is is what it becomes – this road
that leads to the park my father raced me through,

over the double yellow lines, over cracks in cold
pavements. Give thanks, the steady sound

of our pace mattered to the ground –
the reign of our rhythm continues

through exhausted rain. Give thanks, a rush
of registered names and wind, turning into lanes.

Nod to the elders and the roar inside the stadium
of our chests. Give thanks, the ears

that hear how much the race matters.
Defeat is not a direction, surrender

 is not my position,
said my father, give thanks.

Raymond’s chosen songs: 
Delroy Wilson – Dancing Mood
Mortimer – Lightening

Dean Atta – A Prayer for Granny

Granny prays for her children, her grandchildren,
and great-grandchildren every day in England.

In England, Granny held the pardoner,
held down multiple jobs, raised six children
and sent money to her firstborn in Jamaica.

In England, one Christmas, Granny’s voice faltered mid-prayer.
From the head of the table, she shed a tear and told us
of standing at the end of a pier in Jamaica with her firstborn in her arms, thinking
of jumping in, of drowning herself and him.

‘Hush now, Mummy,’ my aunts and uncles said to Granny.

I saw an alternate reality
in which a small axe stumped our family tree
before it had a chance to branch again.

I felt an even stronger bond with Granny.

In England, I’ve stood at the edge of
a balcony, a train platform, a bridge. My arms were empty.

I’m grateful to Granny for choosing to carry on for herself
and her firstborn before her second son, my dad, was born.

In Jamaica, I stayed by Granny’s foot on my first trip.
Afraid I’d trip myself up. Afraid I’d be betrayed by my own body.
Afraid my lack of patois would render me speechless.
Afraid my dress sense would trumpet ‘tourist’.
Afraid my body language would blast out ‘batty man’.

I hear my dad say, ‘Isn’t this supposed to be about your granny?
Why make this about you being gay?’

Hush now, Dad.
You borrowed blood from Granny to give to me.
It flows through me: her story, my story.

As Granny prays for us, I pray for Granny.

Granny’s migration made us
an extended family across Europe, Africa and the Americas.
Her prayers for good grades, good fortune and good health
were heard, even if they weren’t always answered.

She did everything in her power to protect and provide for us.

I pray on behalf of all who call her Granny
and all who call her Mummy.

Back through our bloodline and our timeline,
I pray a prayer of gratitude to a young woman in Jamaica
standing at the end of a pier with her firstborn in her arms, stepping
back from the edge to find a way across the water

Dean’s chosen songs:
Koffee – Toast
Chronixx – Never Give Up

Photo credit: Thomas Sammut

Casey Bailey – Flooded

When I was young, I saw my friends die
talk of good die young Left uncertainty
in the air and we were scared to talk
on the scars that marred their reputations.

Now, as you slow walk towards goodbye
we praise errors and flaws. Talk of how
you sidestepped the mundanity of perfection
how you were so much better than good.

When I was yout, and masculinity
was a fidget spinner dancing over my palm
I heard a song.
A song about how men didn’t cry
when women left.

No woman no cry, no woman no cry.

It seems unrealistic,
with all I’ve come to understand,
that it was in this room – with hospital corners
and fresh flowers, remote control beds
and a stiff back chair – it seems untrue
that it was here that I first understood.

My sandpaper thumb
negotiating with your wet cheeks
like the pain lives in the tears
like I could syphon away your pain
like I had space left for it with mine

In this room I hear the song pleading
with you, I wonder what it means
when we ask you not to cry
who does it serve to push the tears
back where the pain lives.

No woman no cry, no woman no cry.

I remember when we used to sing

In a government yard in BrumTown.

 Even now, before you’re gone
I know there are memories lost
In the fog. It hurts to know
I don’t know it all. It will be years
before I watch my sons who never met
you point to your photograph
and shout your name. Years

before I realise that it isn’t the memories
That we forget that hurt the most
But the ones we never got to make

No woman,
a drenched pillow case,
a flooded room

Casey’s chosen songs:
Bob Marley and the Wailers – No Woman No Cry
Gyptian – Wine Slow

Malika Booker – SEASONING

After Lorna Goodson

Late Saturday night, Hyacinth is washing
the chicken in cold water.

She rubs lemon, holds it over the gas
fire, scalds off the stubborn, hard-ears feathers.

She rocks the dead bird, hands splayed across the white
belly, she mind simmering with the evening

news: elders like she plucked
from their homes, who like her came to this place

in the belly of ships,
hands rocking the handles of beige grips, bodies

sharp-suited, pretty frocked
and she sitting in a shared cabin bawling, made sick

by sea. She stomach sloshing like this sink-water

She rocks the dead bird, becomes again,
a hard ears             young girl back home, taking

a measuring tape to bodies, Cutting patterns on brown
paper, creating frocks to raise she fare

to England. Back then, these same hands had worth, baptising
chicken with vinegar, cutting

the freshness with lime.

She mother was fresh to fling she out
of the family         with she pregnant belly,

all she clothes
bundled out onto the street, she mother plucking

her out of she house, like she now plucking the innards
of this damn chicken,

washing away the errant flecks of blood. Same way
she had to wash way picky head Colin

because he wouldn’t mind she child.

Aunty Julie took her in, set her up
in her little back room, beg

she mother to take her back,
glad for she mother’s hand that time

when baby came. And time reach to go England.

She chops the garlic and onions, anoints
her chicken with season-all and thyme. Wipes

her eyes, like she did the day she arrived
      Plenty of work for your sort up there. Your sort –

not seamstress, not even cloth-cutter. But ‘Your Sort.’

 In them Yorkshire days, Leeds was a frigid breeze, that cut
to her blood, digging into her bones, raising

the pores of her skin like this dead
chicken right here.

Who ever thought that she, a seamstress, who knew
how to dress a body with one glance,

would be sitting in drafty rooms, stinking
of stale air and paraffin smoke, missing

the sting of
mosquitos and the noises of singing crapaud!

Her hands
choke the knife handle, dig lines into the chicken’s flesh

so the seasoning soaks in. She wraps
her palms around the bird like chastisement, then dunks

and lifts
it from the basin, cradling a remembered weight,

her left-behind
child rocking to a granny’s lullaby:

Clap hands for granny
till mammy comes
bring cake and sugar plum
give baby some. 

No cake here, no sugared plum, but salt
to suck and real grit-teeth struggle,

stitching herself into a country too busy unpicking
her stitches. She lifts

the seasoning, then smears it
against the flesh, rubs a rough anointment, sniffing

the lingering hints of beast scent, of freshness
of renk that clings       to flesh.

Malika’s chosen songs:
Judy Mowatt – Black Woman
Sister Nancy – Bam Bam

Anthony Vahni Capildeo – Turn and Live

The sacrifice got up off the altar.
is the name of a ship
not of a generation
is the name of a ship
not of any situation
is the witchcraft name of a ship
waterlining us into uncharted, obligatory, and perpetual migration

The sacrifice got up off the altar.

The naming of ships Is a terrible thing,
The Terrible Mother tell me.

I came in a ship called
Threat Vector
I came in a ship called
Dust to Dust
Who came in a ship called
Willing Ambassador
Who came in a ship called
Evidence of Funds
Did I dance with you on the blue carpet?
Was your ship called the Providence?
The Invitation? Was your ship called Guerilla Diplomacy? 

Go back where you came from, citizens,
Says Terrible Motherland,
whether that means overseas
or going back under the sea,
citizens, life forms.

Listen to the lady, she is a consultant anonymizer,
A high-mobility native of Fortress Trolley.
We are phantasmagorically, primarily, and politically
lightless and all-bearing creatures
put down, not undrowned, gone beyond
beyond drowned 

The sacrifice got up off the altar.

A woman is sweeping the sea.
In the father’s words, in Kamau’s words,
a woman is sweeping the sea.
They still say in English
a ship is a ‘she’?
Who say so? The ship is
a thing of itness
witness and creator
fury of a wake
raking over of witness
The island scholar is sweeping the carpet
in her London digs
sweeping the sea-grey, the pea-souper carpet
in no-blacks no-Irish no-dogs London’s aspirational digs
that carpet had etiquette, it demanded her to accept it
in its misty itness, as grey, grey like ethical practice, dove-or-pigeon grey.
Could the island scholar
trust loose-talking fibre
after she study the French liberator
Charles de Gaulle
Who dismissed our archipelago
as specks of dust?
She sweeps and a pattern emerges
stabilizing as many colours
stabilizing as a miracle
a many-coloured pattern wanting to dance beside her feet
after she was forced to breathe in dust
settling and unsettling
the miracle of many colours

 The sacrifice got up off the altar.

Anthony’s chosen songs:
Rita Marley – A Jah Jah
Lady Saw – What is Slackness

Photo credit: Hayley Madden

Courtney Conrad – Motherland Nuh Wah Wi Again

Rebuild Rebuild Rebuild
Unnu hear weh di Queen of England seh?
She seh, mi fi come wid mi whole fambily.
My stush stride follows four hundred to board the ship.
I wave goodbye to gulley pools and low-hanging meals.
My yute doodles postcards by my feet.
Home: a cherry seed.

‘HMT Empire Windrush’ docks in Essex.
Spit and slurs unwelcome me. My Black nurse face
a toilet bowl for white folks’ bedpans; my husband
a cleaner dodging Molotov cocktails.

Leave Leave Leave

Unnu hear weh di Prime Minister seh?
She seh, mi fi guh back a mi yard, and tek mi whole fambily.
The Home Office’s charter flight to Jamaica
is the first time I rebuke freeness.

Muscle memory goes back thirty years
my face pressed to the window as the plane lands.
Strangers Relatives collect me and tour me around
the housing scheme. I pit stop to grin at old faces
that yell Pinkie, you dat? Welcome home gyal.

Restore Restore Restore

In bed, I toss and turn thinking about tomorrow.
Must go to:
☐ The Registrar General’s Department fi di birth certificate
☐ Tax Administration Jamaica fi di Taxpayer Registration Number
☐ Supermarket fi di toothbrush, panty, and deodorant.

Courtney’s song choices:
Lila Ike – Where I’m Coming From
Morgan Heritage – Nothing To Smile About

Mr Gee – Pumpkin Belly (memories of 1985)

“This is the song of the old time proverbs”

Of folklore skipping along digital grooves,
Of Cables plugged into a dubplate’s need,
Of ancient voices contorted to show and prove –
that both the coffin and the Speakerbox
are cut from the same tree,

It’s 1985: and I already knew
that George Orwell wasn’t alive to count –
me and my big cousin as we decided to step out,
Out on this very special night,
When Dancehall’s dystopian children
decided to set the world to right,
Azania was hidden amidst our shouts,
And if Babylon dares to sing “Cherry Oh Baby”,
Brixton gets burned to the ground!

Resentment lived everywhere,
Enoch threatened to cough up another speech
but I didn’t care,
White people can doublethink their hatred so beautifully,
Powdering their Pinocchio noses in opulent explanation,
Admiring their own redecoration, but unlike my parents –
I know these hideous rivers well,

Me & my cousin were illiterate to the washing of Empire,
Ignorant to the cleanliness of Windrush neglect
So let the historians scrub their scarlet books down in hell
Because that’s where all blood money gets spent

“Whatsoever you want,
You’ve got to work very hard to gain”

Ahhh, the pumpkin belly,
Bursting! Full of Old time proverbs,
entrenched within such riddims and sounds,
This was where our potential was finally given life,
Inside that spiritual concoction
of sleng-teng and regret,
It repainted our surroundings
and commanded our respect,

Look to the crumbling wall
you’ll see another brick unspoken for,
Glare past the molested gates
you’ll hear a Parliamentary debate,
For tonight,
abandoned police cars
will be sporting a brand-new camouflage
of burnt charcoal,
Castrated from ever flashing their pearly whites again,
Under the strain of this new blackface,

Mr Gee’s song choices:
Tenor Saw – Pumpkin Belly
Sanchez – Never Dis the Man

Keith Jarrett – Origin Story

Origin Story: London is the place for me

After the first day, after light,
God created calypso and his stepsister ska.

And when calypso got lonely, from the rib of an oil drum,
he fashioned the first calypsonian, Lord Kitchener.

Then came floods, and the Ark, a.k.a. the Mothership,
a.k.a. the Windrush, housing all the porkpie-hatted forefathers.

This is from whom we and all the man dem are descended,
and to where we will return, blue-passported foreigners.

We, undocumented history of this empire, whose scant records
were burned or destroyed. Some say we hid like Trojan* warriors,

stowaway inheritors of Britishness, children of those invited to become
drivers of the buses with Go Home slogans on the side. Our Fathers are stars

watching over us, like tambourine jingles, sequins on a carnival mas,
pioneer Black Brits holding onto their grips*, descending from the ship, blah blah

Origin Story: churchwomen go a farin

Because we can only hold one thing and one time. Out of many, one arrival*.
One mass of Sunday best but otherwise underdressed colonials stepping off

______into the wind:

Sister Erica with her grip, her battered tambourine and
green Pentecostal Hymnal, adjusting her hatpin in the breeze.

Mother Doreen, Deaconess Green, baby Shirleen, Icelyn and Eileen
and all the untold women, unheard and unseen in the Pathé newsreels,

not documented but present, presenting their Good News
with an up-motion of the lips*. See them disperse

into front room congregations…

Origin Story: citizens of nowhere 

Actually, between the third and fourth day, after land, sea and plants
and before the moon and stars, God began the process of Carnival.

He planted it along the long Ladbroke Grove, professed it good good.
Built planes to fly my mum and dad who slyly arrived after the ship had sailed.

And then he made the West Indian. Prophets to fill the void behind the masks.
Out of clay he fashioned us to withstand the hostile winds that blew us about.

This may have made us braver men, or pretty much stymied our progress,
our acceptance to this land, a motherland, an England, a broken strand,

a scratched record of this unsound system: we are here because you were there.
We are here because you made us triangular. We protest your injustices

that project us as just ship cargo, wind chaff, a churned-up old tale
that is crude – albeit seductive –, reductive, and counterproductive.

But our prowess, beyond our assigned seventy-five years of existence,
and our resistance, beyond the myths, persist regardless–

Keith’s song choices:
Buju Banton – Destiny
Marvia Providence – Hear My Cry O Lord

Photo credit: Ciaran Frame

Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa – Good Morning

before i collapse back onto the bed like uncrushed salt flakes
my husband whispers to me in a peppered tamarind phrase,
his words are the texture of chick feathers,
i try to respond with as much gratitude as i can give
without my teeth wrinkling, but the boiler starts complaining,
again, about how he can’t get hired for a better paid job:
we tell these porkies to make the objects who want us gone
feel like part of the family, so we pretend they imitate us,
this also gives them a nicer reason for not working,
like the leak in the kitchen ceiling crystalised with mould,
the mouse-hole by the biggest window with no direction,
the foolish tap who can’t accept she isn’t a fountain:
on the bed is our sweat & skin & dribble & dreams,
our greatest exports which can be collected after we sleep
like silk worms, though not all silk worms are boiled alive,
some are given a pale uniform, flap fuzzy towards a roasted
orange light, in shoes costing a whole pay check:
endurance during a time of great hardship is what we do best,
it is a bleached porcelain figurine in gran gran’s cabinet,
having the time of its life because it knows
though you will question why this woman twirling her petticoat
has the right to be in your gran gran’s home,
you will eventually accept it is a part of your heritage:
my posture has changed, the bags under my eyes
are slumping over my hips, my nails are tearing like toilet paper:
we need to buy a new bucket, there’s a new leak
i don’t want to use my saucepan again, i say nothing,
my husband already knows but now is not the time,
sometimes we turn these moments into games:
six points if we can’t find a new problem with the flat,
three points if Ms has-a-stick-up-her-backside doesn’t glare,
twelve points if a threat on the wall doesn’t throw off our rhythm:
the pathetic excuse for a sun has still not left for work,
my husband tells me he knows our luck will change soon
& he can practically smell the gold we were promised,
i ask him what it smells like, he says goat droppings & sea breeze,
finally i am smiling, tomorrow i must do the same for him,
cocoon him in a phrase both kind & careless:
i pack my cheese sandwich, place it at the top of my bag
so it does not become as flat as this continent used to be,
when her men were too afraid to fall off the edge
& staid in their beds

Safiya’s song choices:
Kofi – Black Pride
Janet Kay – Silly Games

Deanna Rodger – Terminals 

Tonight we will visit a dead man
We will pretend he is alive
We will smile
We will try not to show pity
We will talk of our pasts
When asked about our present we will leave out the best parts
Our futures will not be spoken of
They do not exist here
We will be alert to any hint that we should leave
We will pretend we don’t want to
We won’t want to
We will wish to stay
To see the peace cover his face finally
This is not our right
We will leave
I will avoid the eyes of his wife
She is too alive
She knows this and
I don’t think she will want to be reminded of her l
She will be tired
She will be exhausted by smiling
Her barriers will remain high
She will feel damned while we are sat by her…
He is not dead yet.
I do not know what to call him
He is at the terminal.
I hope it will be delayed
But delays are stressful
I hope it is a smooth sprint along the runway
I hope his legs stretch to the distance of his kindness

I will forever remember his height and size
His gentle nature
And strong hands
How he allowed us to float in our dreams as children
And how he built what cleansed and hid my tears
I hope he remembers this also

He probably doesn’t
I may hum the puff daddy song he’d sing on repeat
I miss him more than my dad
I miss my dad because of men like him
I’m missing a man I haven’t seen for years
This is not unusual
Men in my life are usually terminal.
About to leave
Whether they want to or not.
Whether they should or not is not the point.

I am used to waving.
Tonight I will wave
With both arms.

Deanna’s song choices:
Sanchez –  Missing You
Pat Kelly – If it don’t work out

Poet Biographies

Raymond Antrobus MBE FRSL is a multi-award-winning poet, writer and educator. He is the author of Shapes & Disfigurements (Burning Eye, 2012) To Sweeten Bitter (Out-Spoken Press, 2017), The Perseverance (Penned In The Margins / Tin House, 2018) and All The Names Given (Picador / Tin House, 2021).

Dean Atta is an award-winning British author and poet whose works include a poetry collection There is (still) love here and a novel in verse, The Black Flamingo, which won the Stonewall Book Award and was shortlisted for numerous further prestigious awards. 

Casey Bailey is an award-winning writer, performer and educator, born and raised in Nechells, Birmingham. Casey was the Birmingham Poet Laureate 2020 – 2022. He is a fellow at the University of Worcester, and in 2021 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Education by Newman University.

Malika Booker FRSL is a British poet of Guyanese and Grenadian parentage, a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and co-founder of the writers’ collective, Malika’s Poetry Kitchen. Her collections include Breadfruit and Pepper Seed and her poem ‘The Little Miracles’ won The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (2020). She was awarded the Cholmondeley Award (2019) for outstanding contribution to poetry.

Anthony (Vahni) Capildeo FRSL is Professor and Writer in Residence at the University of York. Their site-specific word and visual arts includes responses to Cornwall’s former capital, Launceston, as the Causley Trust Poet in Residence (2022) and to the Ubatuba granite of the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds (2023). Recent publications include Like a Tree, Walking and A Happiness . 

Courtney Conrad is a Jamaican poet. She is an Eric Gregory Award winner and a Bridport Prize Young Writers Award recipient. Her work has been widely anthologised and she is an alumna of The London Library Emerging Writers Programme, Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, Barbican Young Poets, Obsidian Foundation Retreat, Griots Well Collective and Roundhouse Poetry Collective.

Mr Gee has been a veteran on the UK’s Spoken Word scene since the 90s. He has presented several radio series for Radio 4 and National Prison Radio and his poetry has been used to launch the 2023 FA Cup Finals and the 2021 Euros. His work has also been included in the 2022 anthology The Other Windrush which explored the story of Indian and Chinese Indentured labourers in the Caribbean.

Dr Keith Jarrett is a writer, performer and academic of Jamaican heritage. His work explores Black history, religion and sexuality. A multiple poetry slam champion, he was selected for the International Literary Showcase as one of 10 outstanding LGBT UK-based writers. Keith teaches at NYU London and is completing his debut novel. 

Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa is a British born Barbadian raised choreopoet and PhD student at the University of Leeds, whose interdisciplinary art braids dance and poetry. Safiya is an Obsidian Foundation alumna and an Apples & Snakes/ Jerwood Arts Poetry in Performance recipient. Her debut collection Cane, Corn & Gully was shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize and won Barbados’ Gine On People’s Choice Book of The Year Award.

Deanna Rodger is a former UK Poetry Slam Champion who has performed and facilitated around the world. She has worked with FIFA, Disney, St Paul’s Cathedral, Nationwide, Keats’ House, Young Vic and Adidas and her reimagined ‘If’, was read by Serena Williams for BBC Sport International Women’s Day 2021. She is founder of Who Knows Poetry, a facilitation training platform. Publications include I Did It Too and his fingers have left.