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14May

‘The poems began to dance among themselves’: curating a fresh mixtape of Black British poetry

A companion to 1998’s The Fire People, Kayo Chingonyi’s anthology creates a space for a new generation of voices to express the wide range of their work

Putting together an anthology is, as the American poet Katrina Vandenberg once said, like making a mixtape. It’s an artefact filled with various resonances. Much like the painstaking process of recording cassettes for one another in the pre-playlist age, editing an anthology is intimate, a gesture towards the reader. And just as you never used to be able to put absolutely every tune you wanted to on tape, the same goes for anthologies. The beauty of the form is in the suggestions it makes, the ways it invites further exploration. In More Fiya, the anthology of Black British poets I’ve edited, a selection of poems stand together as a gesture to the wider and more expansive community to which these poets belong.

Thinking again about the close-reading and listening I did when putting this book together, I’m struck by how phrases, how whole lines from poems, can stay with you. Sometimes I’d be talking to someone and something they said would chime with a line I’d read, and that poem and the conversation would begin to dance together in my head. Then the poems would begin to dance among themselves; the glistening signet ring in Dean Atta’s poem chiming with the knife in a poem by Dzifa Benson; the fires that burn in poems by Janette Ayachi and Momtaza Mehri; Inua Ellams’s reflection on the consequences of wounded masculinity and Kim Squirrell’s poem about those first moments in which girlhood comes under the toxic gaze of men.

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