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Subject to Change: ‘Bun Babylon!’ by Anita Barton-Williams

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.

For June’s poem, Anita Barton-Williams shares a personal reflection on her heritage in light of the Windrush scandal.


Bun Babylon!

You say: you want to celebrate the Commonwealth
you lack historical memory
we are subjects, animals to you,
no,
less than – we see how you cherish your dogs.
You love to feed off a new sweet riddim, take a cruise to the place you asked us to leave
wipe your mouth of £3 coconut water
tell your friends about eating out of a chimmy at Turtle Bay in Brixton
how you got a sense of the Caribbean

Bun Babylon!

You say: you dispel any impression that your government is clamping down on Commonwealth citizens
Mum inhales clouds distraught
we watch Mr Braithwaite cry
they have always been British, born when Jamaica was still a colony
we watch
we watch
we watch
Mum was an eight year old told to dress in a grey skirt suit, on a chalkboard night
patent shoes like oil awaiting plantain
reflecting more ribbons than hair on her head
a black passport vomit vomit vomit all over the BOAC plane
Dad ran through the cashew trees
he had a home with his Grandma- that boy put down a piece of running
he had a home with his Grandma- that boy put down a piece of running
Dad ran through the cashew trees
a black passport vomit vomit vomit all over the BOAC plane
patent shoes like oil awaiting plantain
reflecting more ribbons than hair on her head
Mum was an eight year old told to dress in a grey skirt suit, on a chalkboard night
we watch
we watch
we watch
they have always been British, born when Jamaica was still a colony
we watch Mr Braithwaite cry
Mum inhales clouds distraught
You say: you dispel any impression that your government is clamping down on commonwealth citizens

You say: the United Kingdom has long standing deep ties, long standing relationships with their country
when Mum arrived in England she was taken to a house in Kensal Green,
Grandma did you recognise her?
When Dad arrived in England
Grandma did you recognise him?
Grandma put him in a bath scrubbed his skin with a scouring pad
You say: the United Kingdom has long standing deep ties

You say: you want to celebrate the connections particularly the Windrush generation helped to build the country
Grandma worked 14 hour shifts sewing your clothes,
before we worked on Ann Barton’s plantation
before we worked on Ann Williams’ plantation
this country is ours.
It would not exist without the sugar cane fields
where would it be without the 15% who left, who were sent for?
We know who drove your buses, we know who cleaned your houses
we know who nursed you back to health.
Mum spent her evenings
wailing
wailing
wailing
for the grass she learnt to plait hair on
for the goodbyes she never got to say.
Dad spent his time locked in a house in this land
the white children at school rested their noses in God’s lap whenever my parents spoke,
stripped the seasoning from their tongues until it was unwashed chicken
sprinkled with salt and pepper
(British).

Bun Babylon!

You say: you are genuinely sorry for any anxiety caused
Dad has black and burgundy passports
Mum has a burgundy passport up for renewal, no naturalisation papers
Mum is leaving home to go to Jamaica soon
Mum has started searching the house for her Patois in case she’s not allowed to come back
Dad has prostate and skin cancer

Bun Babylon!

Dad has prostate and skin cancer
Mum has started searching the house for her Patois in case she’s not allowed to come back
Mum is leaving home to go to Jamaica soon
Mum has a burgundy passport up for renewal, no naturalisation papers
Dad has black and burgundy passports
You say: A mistake has been made a mistake has been made a mistake has been made.
Mum kisses her teeth,
Dad drinks another glass of rum.

 


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

Nina Simone. She wrote songs that inspired both personal and political changes. When I first heard Young Gifted and Black I think I had it on repeat for a week, as a young black girl she made me see myself in a totally different light.

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

Poetry has no investment in anything besides openness. It’s not arguing a point. It’s creating an environment.’ –Claudia Rankine

To put it simply poetry has kept me alive

How has poetry changed your life?

To put it simply poetry has kept me alive. It’s not only allowed me to be part of programmes such as Barbican Young Poets and most recently Rachel Long’s Octavia collective but, it has allowed me to build a community of Black and Brown womxn creatives as founder of the open mic night Heaux Noire. Without these communities, without poetry, I wouldn’t be here.

What inspired your poem this month?

The Windrush scandal is very personal to me. My parents are part of the Windrush generation, their parents sent for them to come to England when they were children, they didn’t actually want to come here. They have spent most of their lives here. When the story broke I wasn’t at all surprised I was just reminded of the fact that we as Black people will always have to fight to be seen as human, to be treated humanely by our former colonisers.

 

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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.