Poetry Is Music From The Place You Are Born – Unknown
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About Raymond Antrobus
Raymond Antrobus MBA FRSL is the author of ‘Shapes & Disfigurements’ (Burning Eye, 2012) ‘To Sweeten Bitter’ (Out-Spoken Press, 2017), ‘The Perseverance’ (Penned In The Margins / Tin House, 2018) and ‘All The Names Given’ (Picador / Tin House, 2021).
Antrobus has many accolades to his name, including the Ted Hughes Award, Sunday Times / University of Warwick Young Writer of The Year Award, and Guardian Poetry Book of the Year 2018. He was also shortlisted for the Griffin Prize, Forward Prize and T.S Eliot Prize, and has had three of his poems (‘Jamaican British’, ‘The Perseverance’ and ‘Happy Birthday Moon’) added to the UK GCSE syllabus.
A passionate educator, Raymond is an Ambassador for The Poetry School, a board member for English PEN, and an advocate for several D/deaf charities including ‘Deaf Kidz International’ and ‘National Deaf Children’s Society’.
Listening to Antrobus’s reading of his ode to his deceased school friend, ‘For Tyrone Givans’, one is struck by the sense of survivors’ guilt weaved through the poem. “I was saved / by my friend’s mother who threw herself / in the road and refused to let the van drive away. / Who could have saved Tyrone?” In this meditation on the heartbreaking case of Givans, a man who died by suicide in a prison in which his needs as a deaf individual with a history of depression were not met, Antrobus brings together the themes of race, deafness and identity with admirable dexterity. As he takes us through a nostalgic journey of ‘sliding door’ moments in his own life, he invites us to join him in facing the irrational and the unjust, and asking the gut wrenchingly unanswerable questions: Why him? Why me? Why?
‘I Ran Away from Home to See How Long It’d Take My Mother to Notice’ offers striking insight into Antrobus’s own anxiety. A rambling and paranoid inner monologue, which will no doubt feel familiar to many of his readers. He addresses us directly, asking “Are you the boy who said I had the ugliest smile on the playground? Are you the girl who toe punted my balls and made me a piss sack of blood?” creating a barrier between he and his readers which further enhances the theme of isolation in this piece. It is easy to imagine him lying alone in bed, squirming at his recollections, trying to escape into sleep. Listeners will feel his helplessness in his recording of this piece, as he rattles through a neurotic inventory of the things he seems to despise about himself. “Best Second-Guessing Over Achiever, Best Internal Monologue While Drying Dishes, Best Self-Promoter at the Charity Fundraiser, Best Awkward Silence in a Moving Vehicle”
Isolation is indeed a running theme through Antrobus’s poems, as he deftly explores the intersection of deafness and blackness. He has a keen sense of the power of language; its ability to both liberate and oppress. We see this time and time again, in ‘And That’, ‘Sutton Road Cemetery’ ‘Sound Machine’, and ‘Arose’ – how the wrong questions, wrong answers, wrong names can have an astounding effect on identity. This is keenly felt in ‘Arose’, a deeply touching poem in which a twelve-year old Raymond, remarkably attuned to the significance of his father’s quiet kindness, is then ‘betrayed’ by his father’s dismissive reduction of his relationship with Antrobus’s mother to ‘good sex’. This is just one example of Antrobus’s exceptional ability to zoom in with pinpoint precision on the moments that define our relationship to the world around us.
Antrobus’s poetry is the type that lingers, that follows you about as you move on with your day. His capacity for searching tenderness in the face of the callous and the tough, his gentle but alert perseverance through loss, grief, and adversity, is what makes his writing resonate with the vulnerable and the brave in all of us.
Recordings made on 1st October 2021 at Spiritland Studio, North London. Photograph by Adam Docker.