FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION IN CONVERSATION WITH MALIKA BOOKER

FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?

MALIKA BOOKER: I started writing poetry as a young adult who wanted to express herself and could find no other outlet. My favourite poets when I was growing up were William Blake and Louise Bennett because their poems spoke to and about what was happening socially and culturally in their societies. They also recorded the lives of the ordinary men, women and children exposing social injustices. My education in the Caribbean exposed me to traditional English poets as well as leading Caribbean poets and natured my love of poetry.

FAF: Please talk about your development as a writer of poems. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.

MB: Once I decided to be a poet I wanted to learn the craft so spent several years religiously attending workshops and courses both in Britain and the States. There is a joke in the Spread the Word Office that I attended all of their courses for two years as my names is consistent on the register. I was keen to train with poets that I admired, like Pascale Petit, Mimi Khalvati, Bill Herbert, Kwame Dawes and Patricia Smith and am thankful to organisations like The Complete Works, Cave Canem, Goldsmiths University and The Poetry School.

FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?

MB: It means that recognition of all the hard work that I put into my craft. This shortlist is not simply a win for myself but for all of the mentors and other writers who have invested in me. I wrote this particular poem as a Douglas Caster Fellow at University of Leeds University and I am forever grateful for the time and space that allowed me to do it.

FAF: Please tell us about the genesis of your shortlisted poem. Is it part of a collection or sequence? Where can a reader find more by you?

MB: Yes, I have been developing a series of poems around Caribbean funerals whilst in post at the University of Leeds and this is one of the poems from that manuscript.

FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?

MB: I admire Pascale Petit for her wild imagery, the way her poems use nature and animals as metaphors to describe the unspeakable, Mimi Khalvati for her formal constraints, Bill Herbert, Liz Berry and Kei Miller’s use of myth and vernacular in their work, Kwame Dawes because of the way the way he approaches biblical language and text.

FAF: What is next for you as a poet?

MB: I am currently creating a multidisciplinary poetry project that will utilise an interactive website, a book, and a performance theatre piece based on interviews conducted within the Caribbean community in Leeds. I have also just completed a poetic duologue for the theatre.

FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?

MB: It is important for artists to learn their craft. This involves writing, reading and attending classes. Always remember that a poet is always learning. That we are always in the act of building a community of writers, as you learn so you teach and pass on that knowledge. It is better to build a supportive community that nourishes you as a writer than to be isolated in a room.