In January of this year, Roger Robinson was announced as the 2019 winner of the prestigious T.S. Eliot prize for Poetry with his first nomination, a collection entitled A Portable Paradise, published by Peepal Tree Press. In May, the book won the Royal Society of Literature (RSL), Ondaatje Prize. Robinson is a writer and educator who has taught and performed worldwide, as well as an experienced workshop leader and lecturer on poetry. He was chosen by arts organisation Decibel as one of the 50 writers who have most influenced the Black British writing canon.
Soca News caught up with Robinson recently, and asked him a few questions:
In what ways has the success of A Portable Paradise impacted you?
Recognition from the poetry industry is always good, in that it can open doors where you can get on with making effective change socially and emotionally for people with less privilege. I’d been writing for 25 year without any major prizes, and trust me I still have to clean dishes, take out the rubbish and play with my son. I think what’s changed is that I’m taken more seriously, not just in literature but in other fields too that require poetic narrative, like talks and TV.
What plans do you have for Black History Month?
None; no one ever books me for anything for Black History Month. I know, I think it’s weird too. Black History Month is a con if all that’s talked about is American Black History. Name five Black British people who fought for Black rights. It’s ok I’ll wait. Trust me, they are there, but they’re not taught to us as a tactic of eras.
What are your feelings about the impact of COVID-19 on Black people?
COVID will always kill the least protected, and Black people are always the least protected. The bigger question is: why are we always the least protected? Then you’d have to get into the devaluation of black bodies.
A Portable Paradise
And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath.
And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel,
hostel or hovel – find a lamp
and empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.
© Roger Robinson, from A Portable Paradise (Peepal Tree Press, £9.99)
Click for information about Roger Robinson.