“I felt genuinely honoured to read such tender and unequivocal truth” – Carvell Wallace on That Day She’ll Proclaim Her Chronicles
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About Muneera Pilgrim
It is no surprise that Muneera Pilgrim won the 2018 Ann Kaloski Naylor award for Adventurous Writing – for ‘adventurous’ is exactly the word that springs to mind when hearing her poetry. Founding member of Nana collective and Artist Associate with The English Touring Theatre, Pilgrim herself seems to embody the themes at the heart of her work; to bring together and to forge new pathways.
Pilgrim’s writing often plays with the tension between modernity and tradition. When They Speak of Muslims provides a celebration of contemporary Muslim Britain, walking the fault line where urban British life and Islam mesh. It advocates for the right of young muslims to be cheesy, to be messy, to be human, laughing in the face of the British middle-class desire to condescend.
Divine Light offers Pilgrim’s empathetic perspective on looters, using repeated imagery of black boys breathing ‘fire like purgatory’. Her words bring to the mind’s eye the idea of a dragon which has been caged and abused. Yes, the fire is brutal, terrifying, but it is a fire which brings a sense of cleansing, of liberation, of justice. The juxtaposition of this fire with its surroundings of ‘muggy water’, ‘hutches for houses’ and ‘shattered’ glass portrays a righteous sort of beauty. The poem invites us to make space in our hearts for the kind of anarchy that starts revolutions.
St Paul’s Festival speaks to the feeling of transcendence that the titular festival provides. A nod to the festival’s mission of bringing cultures together and improving relationships for those in St Paul’s, Bristol, this piece draws on imagery of stars to stir in its audience a sense of unity and balance. When this harmony is broken by police officers who refuse to recognise the innocence of the black boys they stalk like prey, the poem itself literally starts to break, and a fault line of conflict disturbs the page. As the poem draws to a close, the stellar imagery takes on a new implication, one connected with violence and rage.
Throughout her work, Pilgrim’s voice is clear and urgent, and ‘Skin A Cat’ is a thoughtful monologue which speaks for itself. This reminiscent piece explores the idea of black parents overcompensating through cleanliness and presentability in the face of the systematic neglect of their children, calling attention to the many ways a black woman may be murdered by conscious carelessness. The feeling that death is only a breath away haunts this poem and sticks with you in the aftermath.
Pilgrim’s work pushes, probes, excites and delights. It will get you thinking, get you angry, and get you ready to dance. Most importantly, it brings voices and communities together with a fierce and ceaseless call to listen and to love.
Recordings made at the Bristol Free House Studio on Friday 18th November 2022. Photographer credit: David Mensah.