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Poet Panya Banjoko on Nottingham’s First Young Poet Laureate

22 June 17 interview: Aly Stoneman

Panya Banjoko, aka Panya The Poet, is a Nottingham-based writer who’s performed at the 2012 Olympic Games, as part of the award-winning film Brit I Am directed by Andi Osho, and as part of a BBC documentary based on the Olympian Jamie Baulch. On top of all this, her work has featured in various journals and publications, including Guardian Award-winning online graphic novel Dawn of the Unread, and she’s the co-founder of Nottingham Black Archive. We steadied ourselves, and had a chat with the local legend...

illustration: Ian Carrington

Family Ties

Me and my family look good on photos
even the police wouldn’t get mad at us.

Sometimes we get away from places
put red dots on the map
make sure we fill up with water.

We can crawl through holes
in upper right corners and out of a box
if the chase gets like falling headfirst into a wall.

Me and my family stay behind curtains
in dark cubbyholes, the back yard
is where we’ve buried our eyes.


What are you working on at the moment?
I’m heavily involved in a World War One project with the Nottingham Black Archive (NBA). We’re mining the untold stories of peoples from the Commonwealth who served during the Great War, and the outcome will be a touring exhibition. It’s an exciting project as we’ve unearthed some untold stories and we can't wait to share it, but my lips are sealed until the launch at New Art Exchange on Friday 22 September.

You’re the co-founder and director of the NBA. What are its aims and why is it important?
Nottingham Black Archive is tasked with documenting the Black presence in Nottingham and making this information accessible to the entire Nottingham community. The aim is to promote understanding, reinforce self-belief among the black community, and highlight the contributions black people have made to Nottingham, which are largely ignored. The work of the NBA is vitally important, because without such archives, our past runs the real risk of being forgotten.

Your poems often address issues of social justice, such as sexism and racism. How do you hope to influence or change people’s perceptions?
I hope my work makes people stop and think about what it is like to be “other”, and for those deemed as “other” to know they are not alone. I want to use the privilege my ancestors didn’t have to empower and inform. I’d like for those who have the power to affect change, even on a micro level, to step into my shoes for the duration of a performance, feel what it is like to be peripheral, and then when they’re faced with a choice or action in the future, to think about what they do.

What inspired your poem Family Ties?
It’s from a collection I’m currently working on inspired by dreams; either personal or found. This poem is from a found dream. I took the image of red dots and grounded them onto a map, then made up a story to fit around it. What I came out with is a poem that, I hope, says families are not all they’re cracked up to be, but most importantly, what happens to the young embroiled in them.

How do you spend your time when you aren’t writing?
If I’m not writing or doing any of the things associated with it – performing, memorising poems, reading – then I’m doing NBA work or teaching. My downtime is spent eating out as much as possible; I hate the washing up after cooking and I hate the cooking before eating.

What’s next?
I’m currently working on a one-hour poetry show for the Southwell Poetry Festival and I’ve been commissioned by Candlestick Press to write a Christmas-themed poem, which will be a real challenge as I like writing about guts and gore. As patron for the City of Literature, I’ll be one of the judges looking for Nottingham’s first Young Poet Laureate. How exciting, and what a wonderful opportunity for someone to craft their skills with the support of the city behind them.

Nottingham Young Poet Laureate applications are being accepted until Friday 30 June, and you can enter by visiting the Nottingham City of Literature website.

Southwell Poetry Festival runs from Tuesday 11 - Sunday 16 July.


Panya Banjoko website

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