Kay, Jackie, James Procter, and Gemma Robinson, eds. Out of Bounds – British Black and Asian Poets. Newcastle Upon Tyne : Newcastle University in association with Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 2012. 368 pages. ISBN : 978 1 85224 929 8
Out of Bounds : British Black and Asian Poets is an anthology of poems by writers of African, Caribbean and Asian descent who “have lived and lingered in, who have passed through or been born into” Britain (Out of Bounds, 13), but who are not necessarily “Black British” or “Anglo-Asian” in the sense of having been born and brought up in Britain. What brings together the poets gathered in this anthology is that they have all, at one point in their lives, lived in Britain. So the subtitle is slightly misleading as the reader might be led to expect a “traditional” anthology of Black and Asian writing.
The three anthologists have thus tried to break new ground by inviting the reader to “travel from north to south” (Out of Bounds, 13) and to consider their anhtology as “an alternative A-Z of poetic Britain” (Out of Bounds, 26). The reader is invited to “stroll through the distinct localities” (Out of Bounds, 13) that all these poets evoke in their writings and to see Britain through their eyes.
Remapping, dual or multiple loyalties, the pull of home and landscape, attachment to place and what home may mean are important concepts which lie behind this project.
So the anthology is divided into geographical sections (Scotland, the North, Wales, the Midlands, and the South) which correspond to a poetic journey from “the Shetland Isles” to the “Isle of Wight” (Out of Bounds, 13). The advantage of such a division is that the reader really feels as if he or she was travelling through Britain and was recognising well-known monuments or landmarks. The reader feels as if he or she is on an Intercity train from Glasgow to London and can identify many places and landmarks which lie at he heart of some of these poems. The geographical sections also work as mini-anthologies of regional poetry by Black and Asian poets and can stand on their own. They also allow the reader to experience mutltiple perspectives on a single area or town. The downside of such an approach is that many themes recur throughtout the sections or from one section to another, and this can leave the reader with the impression that the same themes recur again and again.
This anthology avoids some of the major pitfalls associated with anthologies of Black and Asian wiritng. One of these pitfalls is a concentration on themes like alienation, dislocation, racism and homesickness. Although these themes can indeed be found in the present anthology, other themes emerge like the attachment to Britain as home, the translation of landscapes across cultures and the theme of dual loyalties. The anthology also breaks new ground by offering a regional perpective on the Black and Asian presence, whereas previous anthologies were associated with an urban context.
Lastly, language or language as the expression of a regional or local identity emerges as an important theme in this collection.
Although the themes of alienation and unbelonging do crop up in many pieces, this anthology offers new perspectives on “the rich and manifold attachments to place” (Out of Bounds, 13) which characterise British Black and Asian poetry. So alongside Kwame Dawes’ “Bristol”, Wole Soyinka’s “Telephone Conversation” and Linton Kwesi Johnson’s “Di Great Insohreckshan”, we find pieces like Grace Nichols’ “Angel of the North”, which celebrate the North’s unflinching spirit, and Fred D’Aguiar’s “Home” which makes the simple point that England is now the poet’s “Home”. Monica Alvi’s “Rural Scene”, about the incongruity of an Asian walking down a village street in Norfolk is counterbalanced by Merle Collins’ “For the Lumb Bank Group, December 1991” with its memorable conclusion : “warmth might just/sometimes/be found in misty cold” (Out of Bounds, 108).
In many pieces, a dialogue of cultures or landcapes is staged by the poets, with Trinidad’s hummingbird being associated with Yorkshire’s blackbird in John Lyions’ “Drinking Up the Drizzle”(Out of Bounds, 118) . The poems by Sheree Mack and Nabila Jameel often stage dual or multiple loyalties (for instance Nabila Jameel’s “A Book Closer to Home”, Out of Bounds, 124)). John Lyons’ “Weather Vane” falls into two sections, one about the Calder valley in Yorkshire and the other about Trinidad, and it looks at these two distinct areas through the poetry of Ted Hughes and Derek Walcott.
The present anthology alos breaks new ground by offering a regional perspective on the Black and Asian presence in Britain. Indeed, the North of England is powerfully evoked in pieces like “Angel of the North” by Grace Nichols, John Siddique’s “Industrial Landscape” and Seni Seneviratne’s “Yorkshire Childhood” while the commanding presence of nature in Scotland and Wales is an important theme in Rizwan Akhtar’s “Aberdonian Winter” (Out of Bounds, 33) and in Moniza Alvi’s “Spring on the Hillside” (Out of Bounds, 161) respectively. The poems about the Midlands range from evocations of the region’s industrial heritage (Sue Brown’s “Birmingham”, Out of Bounds, 189) to celebrations of its vibrant muticultural nature (Benjamin Zephaniah’s “The Big Bang”, Out of Bounds, 194). But the dub poet Moqapi Selassie’s “Tellin de Stori” (Out of Bounds, 190) and Martin Glynn’s “Highfields Style” (Out of Bounds, 183) remind the reader of the tensions that often characterise life in Britain’s inner cities.
Language as the expression of a regional or local identity emerges as a powerful theme in this anthology. For many of these poets, finding a space in Britain or finding a place was negotiated through the process of learning a new language. Thus Seni Seneviratne’s “Frame Yourself” (Out of Bounds, 89) takes as its starting point a Yorkshire expression which means “sort yourself out” to make a point about tuning your ears to a new environment. Jean Binta Breeze’s “Mi Duck” takes its title from the West Midlands phrase meaning “mi love” and makes it clear that the poet feels quite at home in Leicester in spite of the forbidding weather :
I know I know I know mi duck
I konw mi duck I know
I know how England breaks your heart
how summer ends before it starts
I know mi duck I know
I know how cold can shut you in (Out of Bounds, 209)
Roger Robinson’s switches back and forth between Scots and Trinidadian English in his “Conversion” and the Scots phrase “Lukeit theis evrybuddy” becomes “All of alluyh, check dis out nuh” in Trinidadian dialect (Out of Bounds, 39). Raman Mundair’s “Name Journeys” insists on the difficulty of learning to speak with a Manchester accent (Out of Bounds, 131).
On the whole, Out of Bounds amounts to a comprehensive poetic remapping of Britain, and takes the reader on a journey through multiple identities and mutiple landscapes. It is an innovative and forward-looking anthology which should delight all poetry lovers.