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10-01-2018


Raymond Antrobus


Jamaican British
-after Aaron Samuels

Some people would deny that I'm Jamaican British.
Anglo nose. Hair straight. No way I can be Jamaican British.

They think I say I'm black when I say Jamaican British
but the English boys at school made me choose Jamaican, British?

Half-caste, half mule, house slave - Jamaican British.
Light skin, straight male, privileged - Jamaican British.

Eat callaloo, plantain, jerk chicken - I'm Jamaican
British don't know how to serve our dishes, they enslaved us.

In school I fought a boy in the lunch hall - Jamaican.
At home, told Dad I hate dem, all dem Jamaicans - I'm British.

He laughed, said you cannot love sugar and hate your sweetness,
took me straight to Jamaica - passport, British.

Cousins in Kingston called me Jah-English,
proud to have someone in their family - British.

Plantation lineage, World War service, how do I serve Jamaican British?
When knowing how to war is Jamaican
British.

Give

I want to climb towards him, the one who is not in the ground. He is sat somewhere with his brother scooping jelly from the inside of a coconut. White afro comb, vaseline and blue ironed shirts, looking sharp as the grief that drapes my body. If he saw his shirts on my back and his afro comb in my hair, he would stroke his white beard and call me revivalist.

Away

It's the grief talking, asking the dead why they aren't here. That's all it wants to know. I have his shirt, I even kept the ones he never wore, the green one that shrunk and smells of mothballs in closed cupboards.

His Clothes

Give away his clothes
all things of his will still fit
in this jumbled world.

When He Died

I told no one
how old he was,
in case
his death
seemed too
inevitable.
When asked
his age, I made
him years younger,
needing
their
understanding -
he was taken
from me
too soon.

-from To Sweeten Bitter (Out Spoken Press, April 10, 2017) selected by Fall Guest Editor Tyree Daye

BIO: Raymond Antrobus was born in London, Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father, and is the author of To Sweeten Bitter and The Perseverance. He is a founding member of 'Chill Pill' and 'Keats House Poets Forum' and the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works 3 and Jerwood Compton Poetry. He is also one of the world's first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word education from Goldsmiths University. In 2018 he was awarded 'The Geoffrey Dearmer Prize'. 

His monologues are stunning studies of voice and substance, and his lyric poems are graceful and finely crafted – Kwame Dawes 

Twitter@RaymondAntrobus 
Instagram – raymond_antrobus

PROMPT: In "Jamaican British," Antrobus expertly uses the ghazal's repeating yet disparate parts to examine issues of identity. Whether he's "straight male, privileged" or "half-cast, half mule, house slave" the speaker in this poem remains caught at the intersection of Jamaican/British. Review the rules of a ghazal and write your own in which you explore some element of your identity. What does the world see you and how does this align or diverge from your interior sense of self? --Amie Whittemore, Associate Editor  
 

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