On 19th January, the critical and creative collaboration between poet Kayo Chingonyi, Royal Holloway and Counterpoints Arts was successfully launched at Toynbee Studios. Exploring the ways in which the intersection between arts and activism can be used to voice the migrant experience, poets and activists alike joined together to explore how art can be used to speak the unspeakable. Almir Koldzic from Counterpoints and Agnes Woolley from Royal Holloway’s Humanities and Arts Research Centre, outlined the aims and hopes of the residency, highlighting a desire to cross disciplines in a new and thought provoking manner. Drawing on the previous work of Counterpoints in supporting and producing artistic material designed to enhance awareness of the migrant experience, Almir voiced his hopes for the success of Kayo’s residency whilst Agnes emphasised the creative and critical potential for artists and researchers working together.
Kayo began by discussing his own feelings and experience as a migrant. Born in Zambia in 1987, he moved to the UK in 1993. Despite the cultural significance of poetry in Zambia, it was his migration to the UK that enabled him to be a poet. This hybridisation of the Zambian importance of poetry and the British acceptance of it as a viable career guided him towards being a poet. Moreover, his own issues of self-identification and where he positions himself culturally – more Zambian or British? – proved to be fruitful ground for poetry.
Through his reading of his poetry, Kayo showed how he engages with his Zambian heritage while living in Britain. The importance of memory is a significant current through his poetry and his exploration of what poetry rhythmically allows people to do in terms of remembering is an indicator of how he writes against the grain of traditional English poetry. By bringing together two seemingly different identities in his poetry, Kayo voices the hybridised experiences of the migrant. For Kayo, marginalising the migrant in a liminal space is dehumanising and poetry is a means of revival for those trapped within these parameters.
Also speaking at the event were Saradha Soobrayen and Hamdi Khalif. Saradha read from “Sounds like root shock”, a poetic inquiry into the depopulation of the Chagos Archipelago. It was a melange of political rhetoric, poetic methodology, Kreol dialect and song lyrics. Saradha questioned how poetry is something that can be active. Its role in activism is perpetually undervalued due to the often privileged position of the poet. However, Saradha stressed the importance of using poetry to voice the plight of the disenfranchised and how that, in itself, engages in activism. Hamdi Khalif, a contributor to Bards without Borders poetry collective, further discussed the role of poetry in activism. By giving a voice to the voiceless and acknowledging traumas which are often culturally ignored, poetry becomes a way of getting closer to the human experience by creating a space in which to explore trauma.
During his residency Kayo hopes to explore the wide definitions contained within the words ‘migration’, ‘asylum’, ‘welcome’ etc. His residency will not be narrowing, nor will it pigeonhole him within a specific type of poetry. Instead, it will create an opportunity to open up his work to the issue of forced migration.