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The Fat Black Woman's Poems: From the winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry 2021 (Virago Poets)

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Yet, it was not enough to keep Heaney off the shortlist, and it was not enough to prevent him from winning eventually.

What English has given us as a model for poetry, and to a lesser extent prose (but poetry is the basic tool here), is the pentameter… But the pentameter carries with it a certain kind of experience, which is not the experience of the hurricane. Of critical importance here is our profound impoverishment because of the vast continents of poetry that we have either dismissed too casually or never heard at all because it came to us like ultrasound – pitched at volumes so loud the English ear was unable to hear them. Sometimes she attempts to speak to the world, but her sounds do not always make sense in the cold landscape. But my identifying intersections are what make me an amazing person that deserves to travel the world.To be civilised, to be mannered, to be a person of good taste was to be as different from the Fat Black Woman as possible. It was the first time I hadn’t done all the work of planning a vacation myself, but I really needed the help because I was overwhelmed about where we would not only BE safe but FEEL safe. As a plus size woman, I also loved the travel tips – especially travelling with your own seat extender when there can be so much shame around asking for one. GOOD BITS: It was a particularly grey day and I was feeling grim about the mouth and like knocking people’s hats off, so I picked up this book and the poems made me feel sad and happy and seen. In her 1984 book “The Fat Black Woman’s Poems,” Guyanese-born poet Grace Nichols presents the fat black woman’s body as an object of divinity despite the demonization and fetishization of black bodies.

Too much has been made about the supposed lines drawn between the two great Caribbean poets, Derek Walcott and Kamau Brathwaite. It is not just her weight, her race and her gender that sets her apart from everyman but also her sense of what is beautiful – her desire for volume – and her ability to read complexity, sophistication and perfectly pitched tastefulness within that volume. Of critical importance here is the critical language which we continue to use in reviewing discourse, words we offer up in our assessment of whether a poem or a collection is good or bad, words that pretend to be neutral but are burdened with so much history – words that I have hinted at before like subtle, quiet, restrained, elegant. The Fat Black Woman when weighed beside and against the slim white everyman, embodies not only disobedience and unruliness but a necessary corrective, a sort of counter-aesthetic, a necessary rejection of the ways we have tended to valorise restraint and subtlety as markers of poetic excellence.

Her 'fat black woman' is brash; rejoices in herself; poses awkward questions to politicians, rulers, suitors.

But Grace Nichols’s character and co-author, triply othered – fat and black and female – stands as Everyman’s antithesis. It might interest you to know that Hugo Williams had similarly cutting remarks for the other Nobel laureate, Heaney, who did make it onto the short list. Yet, there is no single black voice: black writing can come from everywhere in the world – America, Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and Britain.Skip Zagreb (go to Trieste, Italy instead), get lost in Split while discovering old Roman artifacts everywhere and if you have time spent a) some time on an island and b) travel to Mostar (Bosnia-Herzigovina) and spent a night there to enjoy it when the tourists from the cruises are gone (and maybe make a day trip to the Blagaj monastery). The Fat Black Woman, however, glories in her sexuality, the pleasure of her own soft centre, and also she relishes her mind – the sheer playfulness of her thoughts, and how she is able to bring strange and sometimes dissonant ideas into a productive relationship with each other. I should have gone straight to sleep, but instead they drove me from the airport to the reading venue. Also, downloading offline maps from Google is a game changer in case you find yourself in an area without SIM card or wifi accessibility.

You can change your choices at any time by visiting Cookie preferences, as described in the Cookie notice. Nichols acknowledges the origin of the Jemima stereotype when mentioning that “the Jovial Jemima” pressed “little white heads/ against her big aproned breasts” alluding to the childcare services of a fat female slave due to her assumed matronliness (lines 4, 11-12). Deliciously inert and self contented, the fat black woman mocks oppression by the scandal of being herself. When Fiona Sampson quotes this poem in her book ‘After the Lyric’, she redacts the two stanzas that stand out to me, the third and fourth, from ‘The fat black woman want / some bawl’ to ‘All the sleepless droning / red eyed wake nights’.To believe in the progress of the victimised is to believe that only now have they advanced to the point of deserving greater inclusion. In comparison, the sorts of sights offered in such places as Africa and America, though undoubtedly very exciting, would, I am sure, strike the objective viewer as inferior on account of their unseemly demonstrativeness. There was this small productive moment in my emergence as a poet that the old and oftentimes false barriers between performance poetry and written poetry did not exist for me. And that’s the problem: how do you get a rhythm which approximates the natural experience, the environmental experience? I haven’t travelled for a long time but now I worry about antisemitism, which is something I hardly ever thought about in the past.

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