7 Black British Spoken Word Poets You Should Know (and Love)

Prepared to be entertained and educated listeners of spoken word poetry.

Many Black Brits are using spoken word poetry as a platform to celebrate the fragments of cultures that make our identities hybridised and unique.  They also position themselves as representatives of our community’s shared frustration regarding inequalities, ethnic tags and other ongoing issues that exist within the black community in the UK.

Here’s a list of Black British poets that will get you ‘Mmm Hmm’ing’ and clicking your fingers.  Listen to the videos, sit back, relax, and let the flows, rhymes and rhythm take your mind on a literary journey:

1.Deanna Rodger

I was raised by the church and educated by Eastenders, Friday nights of teenage life were spent going on drink benders…

Deanna Rodger is well-known for her protest poem which provides a voice for many young people who feel unheard, making her poems highly relatable.  Raw emotion and passion are present in her tone of voice, body language and facial expressions which makes her performances so stellar.  Another aspect that I find most captivating about Rodger, are her combinations of words that create tongue twisters, musicality and rhythm the further she delves into her spoken word poems.  In this satirical poem below, Rodger explores what it’s like to be a Brit, yet have her identity questioned.

 

2.Raymond Antrobus

You cannot love sugar and hate your sweetness

A lot of Raymond Antrobus’ poems provide nostalgic accounts of his childhood, allowing us to delve into his experiences of being deaf as well as a mixed raced Jamaican-Brit (similar to Deanna Rodger).  My favourite thing about Antrobus’ poems is that he uses prosody and phonetics in order to intensify the impact of sound and the struggles with pronunciation that he has had to overcome.  In this poem attached below, he incorporates time and place to allow his audiences to visualise his journey dealing with his hybrid identity and eventually learning to embrace it.

 

3.Isaiah Hull

I wrote a Hemmingway along your spine and it read profanity, and biro pens that I wrote poems with I swallowed so they’d never tell my secrets

For those of you who are a bit on the dark side when it comes to art, Isaiah Hull from Old Trafford, Manchester will be right up your street.  Hull electrifies his performances with honesty and melancholic vibes which are signature aspects of his poetry.  His technical craft, wordplay and vivid imagery will leave you in awe and intrigued to learn the deeper meaning behind his poems.  I was lucky enough to see him perform live at Shoreditch Box Park’s Boxed In open mic event.  Hopefully, he will return to give another amazing performance.

 

4.Samuel King

We need to open our minds, but how can we be taught to see if the blind leads the blind, the first person to develop significant eye surgery was a black woman named Dr Patricia E Bath…

Feel like schools haven’t been teaching you enough about Black history?  That’s exactly how I felt after listening to Samuel King’s What I Wasn’t Taught in School poem.  You’ll need to have a notebook and pen with you as King sheds light on numerous black pioneer’s achievements such as Lewis Latimer’s invention of the light switch and many more.  What I like about this poem is that it promotes black pride by giving us an understanding that our history is not predominantly based on slavery.  Instead, it is versatile, we have black inventors, doctors, nurses, Kings, Queens.  These are foundations that we can all look up to and relate to.

 

 

5.Eno Mfon

Step four: Strip back layers of dead skin, black skin, melanin.  Step five:  Scrub hard till your brown face reddens…

Mfon’s Check the Label poem sheds light on the ongoing issue of skin bleaching within the black community.  Not only is the title powerful, but the sub-themes she depicts explores the link between colourism, rivalries between the black community as well as family members with certain complexions.  The visuals are quite disturbing to watch; however, it is necessary to highlight bleaching’s toxic effects on the skin, self-esteem and relationships.

 

6.George the Poet

It’s tempting to dwell on what you did & didn’t do, but first you gotta confirm she isn’t kidding you, and you just wanna tell her straight “This don’t equate to no relationship even if there is a kid in you”…

George the Poet has gained popularity through his critically acclaimed spoken word.  He is also massively popular for being a recording artist and a social commentator, which comes through in his works.  George the Poet depicts sociological and political themes which are largely based around his observations and experiences of living on a council estate.  I’d recommend listening to The Chicken and The Egg EP which provides a raw, intimate account of teenage pregnancies and relationships.

 

7.Warsan Shire

You fill his mouth, his teeth ache with memory of taste

If you’re a Beyonce fan, you must know Warsan Shire.  Cough cough, her poems were featured in Bey’s award-winning Lemonade album.  Aside from this collaboration, Shire’s poems are very character driven as they explore her own trauma’s through themes of war, migration and gender.  Her other poems also build upon the topic of relationships that you can have a good cry to.  In the poem below, Shire’s second person perspectives create an intimate, moving and honest setting that resonates with the experiences and insecurities of everyday people.