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Subject to Change: ‘Did You Pack Your Own Bags’ by Kareem Parkins-Brown

Throughout 2018, we’ll be celebrating The Art of Change by inviting 12 of our Young Poets to write and perform a poem that speaks to our changing world.

This month, Kareem Parkins-Brown shares his poem, ‘Did You Pack Your Own Bags?’, inspired by the Cambridge Analytica files and the nature of privacy.


‘Did You Pack Your Own Bags?’

Thumbs are the guiltiest part of the body,

Guiltier than the brain

Guiltier than the heart.

Thumbs have brains, our palms have hearts,

So we vote with our thumbs, so we choose to hold hands.

I’m okay with you knowing things about me,

I’m not okay with how much you know.

I don’t know how much of me is actually online,

That’s as bad as not knowing who packed your bag for your flight.

Cyberweaponry sounds like it could be something nice

Like a flower that grows next to hyacinths

The perfect name for the cat of an oligarch.

The word data is an 8-bit bird stuttering across the sky.

My kids will read about privacy like I read about dinosaurs,

How they put the Mock in democracy,

Saw the pry in privacy.

There are myths we believe in to get us out of bed,

Like good things happening to good people, and practice making perfect,

The latest myth is that you can have a private and public life.

This world is obsessed with watching itself,

Even our sky finds a mirror in the ocean.

Whatever I’ve stored in the cloud will rain down on me eventually

So maybe shamelessness is the best thing to make this information war fair.

If you want to defeat propaganda take a proper gander,

We see straight through politicians, even though they aren’t transparent.

They all play the same tune and do the same dance,

In couples therapy they all blame each other, then remember how similar they are.

There is oil in the skin, rare spices in the mind,

We are theatres of war,

We were putting on a show for each other,

Unaware of the investor in the audience.

There are certain facts that are hard to hear

Like how I’d been laying traps for myself.

The unconscious aspects of life make the best art.

My thumbs were afraid to call themselves artists,

until their work was stolen,

Each like an expression of self

Used to fund lies

I left a trail of cookies everywhere,

The beast that hunted me became my friend,

Now we are both here, hungry


What inspired your poem this month? 

I’ve been on social media since I was 11. That’s nearly 15 years of exhibiting myself at my most vulnerable. So waking up to the Cambridge Analytica news was like hearing people broke into my memory chest and reading my journals in the name of ‘research’. The shock never left me, I began to question my faith in the future being a nicer place to live. Not when I have to critique how I be myself in the name of safety.

Who do you think writes well on the topic of change?

Gillian Rose writes really well on the topic of change in Love’s Work. It’s a memoir, she writes it after being diagnosed with cancer and months to live. It’s my first interaction with Rose and I was floored by the clarity and the elegant yet aggressive poetry of it all – although she doesn’t directly address the topic of change in the book, she takes you through the stages of her life as an exploration of identity – a topic poets are constantly attacking because it is constantly changing.

Why do you think poetry is a good way to talk about change?

In the process of making something, change is the alpha and the omega – the idea in the beginning isn’t the idea in the end but that’s e∫cause you’ve watered it and nourished it, os perhaps growth is the word to use. Develop. Evolve. Audre Lorde explains best, for me, why poetry is good at starting the discussions that grow into tangible changes, ‘Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought’. We identify the changes we want to make through the process of writing into the things that affect us.

I really appreciate having a space where I can say what I want without having to compromise for the easier thing to say

How has poetry changed your life?

Since meeting Poetry, it’s almost certainly the thing I use to frame my living experience. I know if I begin and end my day with writing, just the process aligns my perspective, shakes off all distractions so I can focus on the important, more efficient, memory is engaged now etc. I’m energised with intention. I tried other things before but this obsession was the one for me. I also stammer, have done for 20 years now, but when I’m reading poems in public it disappears. I really appreciate having a space where I can say what I want without having to compromise for the easier thing to say.

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Part of The Art of Change, our 2018 annual theme which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.