Following on nicely from Kim Moore’s My People, is Dean Atta’s kaleidoscopic ‘I Come From’. Here is a biography of many lives lived; ‘a wonderful mother‘, ‘griots and grandmothers, and her storytellers”, with people with a ‘story or poem that never made it into a book‘. The poem moves at pace from food and its origins of the UK, Jamaica, and Cyprus (shepherd’s pie and Sunday roast/Jerk chicken and stuffed vine leaves), to travel, home, music, and how they make us the people we are. Dean has put everything into this pot and you truly get a sense of the person he is and the history of ‘his’ people, who have come from different parts of the world.
I will feast on this poem for quite some time as it raises a number of interesting questions: about identity and nationality (‘I come from a British passport and an ever-ready suitcase‘), which in the current political climate of wanting to atomise ourselves within regions and being so fevered about immigration, is so apposite; gender and motherhood (there is only one mention of ‘him‘) and the role women play in the upbringing of children at least till the age of eleven, where they are responsible for most of the childcare and schooling (both as teachers and mothers). Then the importance of class in how we are educated (‘I come from a decent education and a marvellous mother’) and knowing who we are (‘I come from last year and last year and I don’t notice how I’ve changed’). I won’t go on about the food because this post would take too long.
The video by Dean is the title poem of his great collection, I Am Nobody’s Nigger.
Dean Atta is a writer and performance poet. He has been commissioned to write poems for the Damilola Taylor Trust, Keats House Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern. Dean won the 2012 London Poetry Award and was named as one of the most influential LGBT people by the Independent on Sunday Pink List 2012. His debut poetry collection I Am Nobody’s Nigger was published in 2013 on The Westbourne Press. Dean lives in London and performs internationally.
I Come From
I come from shepherd’s pie and Sunday roast
Jerk chicken and stuffed vine leaves
I come from travelling through my taste buds but loving where I live
I come from a home that some would call broken
I come from D.I.Y. that never got done
I come from waiting by the phone for him to call
I come from waving the white flag to loneliness
I come from the rainbow flag and the union jack
I come from a British passport and an ever-ready suitcase
I come from jet fuel and fresh coconut water
I come from crossing oceans to find myself
I come from deep issues and shallow solutions
I come from a limited vocabulary but an unrestricted imagination
I come from a decent education and a marvellous mother
I come from being given permission to dream but choosing to wake up instead
I come from wherever I lay my head
I come from unanswered questions and unread books
Unnoticed effort and undelivered apologies and thanks
I come from who I trust and who I have left
I come from last year and last year and I don’t notice how I’ve changed
I come from looking in the mirror and looking online to find myself
I come from stories, myths, legends and folk tales
I come from lullabies and pop songs, Hip Hop and poetry
I come from griots, grandmothers and her-story tellers
I come from published words and strangers’ smiles
I come from my own pen but I see people torn apart like paper
Each a story or poem that never made it into a book.