Roger Robinson and Caleb Femi both perform new commissions for the Manchester Literature Festival

  • Lockdown has caused the Manchester Literture Festival to think outside the box with poets and writers performing digitally from the comfort of their homes.
  • Roger Robinson and Caleb Femi the first among a list of poets and writers who will perform this spring.

Award winning writer Roger Robinson and Caleb Femi explore racism and pandemic solitude in their new poems for this year’s Manchester Literature Festival online.

Both poets touched on sensitive topics that have been the core of politics and social dialogue during the past year, applauded by fellow writers Malika Booker and Vanessa Kisuule.

Described by the festival as: “The idea of Black Lives Matter and how it pertains to the Black British experience”, Roger Robinson’s work received praise by fellow writers and its audience.

Winner of the T.S Elliot and RSL Ondaatje poetry prize Robinson’s new commission includes four poems: History, The Crowd, Interview and Benin Security Guard at the BNA.

Roger Robinson
Poet Roger Robinson

Drawing inspiration from his own experiences as a Black man in Britain, for Robinson it was important to articulate the depth of racism’s impact on the self.

He said: “I wanted to document in Portable Paradise. For this I wanted to map an internalisation of racism. Like, how it happens quietly in the moments and how it affects you internally.”

Founder of writers collective known as Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and the host of this year’s festival, Malika Booker, describes the performed poems as: “Like an unearthing, digging into the black body experience” and “the cracks of racism.”

An award-winning Black British poet herself, she also points out the similarities with Robinson and the late Toni Morrison.

“She’s always talking about the fact that she’s writing and elevating and exploring and chronicling her African-American community and historical moments in that,” she explains.

Alongside Roger Robinson, poet Caleb Femi also performed his new commission at the beginning of April.

Described by the festival, as: “A rising star on the British poetry scene”, his work explores themes pertaining to the pandemic turmoil such as solitude, inner and physical self, connection to others and imagination as a coping tool.

While speaking about the pandemic, the main theme of his work – Femi confessed the importance literature holds now for many.

 “I am going to say that there is no better time for a service of a book to be reinforced or reinstated than this time. We need escapism, we need ways of seeing the world when we’re actually not allowed to step out of our houses,” he said.

He recited a single poem and took part in an in-depth discussion with fellow writer Vanessa Kisuule.

During discussion Kisuule expressed the significance of Femi’s debut collection titled ‘Poor’, which she claims will be of great influence in the poetry world.

She said: “He is for me personally created one of the most important poetry collections of the last 10 years.

“I firmly believe that it’s going to be studied for many years to come.”

Both Roger Robinson and Caleb Femi are considered instrumental in shaping British poetry as a whole and specifically Black British poetry, which provides food for thought on diversity in modern Britain.

The Manchester Literature Festival welcomes everyone on their virtual platform and are open to donations.

Enjoy an extract from Caleb Femi’s fantastic, newly commissioned work. The whole work and Caleb’s illuminating chat with Vanessa Kisuule about it, his influences, Surrealism and male vulnerability is available to watch until 30 April. Tickets: #MLF21