Thursday 15 August 2019

Interview with Ambrose Musiyiwa

Ambrose Musiyiwa edited and published Bollocks to Brexit: an Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction (CivicLeicester, 2019) and Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about The City (CivicLeicester, 2018). He also co-edited Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). 

He is the author of The Gospel According to Bobba

His poems have been featured in anthologies that include Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015), Do Something (Factor Fiction, 2016), and Write to be Counted (The Book Mill, 2017). 

One of his poems, "The Man Who Ran Through The Tunnel," first published in Over Land, Over Sea, has been translated into many languages as part of Journeys in Translation

You can also read some of his work here and here

In the following interview, Ambrose talks about Bollocks to Brexit, the poetry anthology.

Q: How did Bollocks to Brexit: an Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction come about?

AM: Over the past three years, I have been following the debate around Brexit and have been conscious that the only voices that are being heard are those of politicians like Nigel Farage and billionaires like James Dyson, multimillionaires like Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin, and the people who sit in the Houses of Parliament. All other voices are being marginalised. The voice of the poet has been particularly mute. And yet poets up and down the country are writing about Brexit and are sharing what they are writing in workshops, in performance spaces, on social media, in publications of different kinds. So, to work with the voice of the poet, I put out a call for submissions for poems (40 lines or less) and short fiction (100 words or less) on the theme "Bollocks to Brexit" with a view to compiling an anthology.

I sent the call for submissions to as many poets, writers, writers’ associations and schools of writing in the United Kingdom as I could find. The call for submissions was also listed through local, regional and national writers' networks like Writing East Midlands, the National Poetry Society, and many more.

In terms of the volume, range and quality of submissions received, the response was phenomenal. I even received submissions from people in countries like South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Canada who said they were following the news on Brexit and were concerned and worried about Britain's future. They felt compelled to write poems about this, and submitted the poems for possible inclusion in the anthology.

From over 300 items of poetry and short fiction that were received from over 100 writers, 95 of the items, from 77 poets, made it into the anthology.

Also in the anthology are a Preface from Nottingham-based poet, Neil Fulwood who gives an overview on protest poems from World War 1 till now. This is followed by an introduction from Dr Corinne Fowler, Associate Professor of Postcolonial Literature at the University of Leicester, who looks at protest poems and the literature of resistance from sites like Peterloo, Manchester, Grenfell Tower, and Leicester. And there's an article by Joel Baccas looking at the word "bollocks" and its uses.

After these introductory remarks come the poems

Q: How has Bollocks to Brexit been received since its release?

AM: The anthology became an instant bestseller. When it came out, it spent a week on the Amazon Bestsellers in Poetry Anthologies list and is still going up and down the list.  On a number of occasions, Bollocks to Brexit: an Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction has been a No. 1 bestseller in the category for hours, sometimes for days, and sometimes for a week.

Q: In your view, how and why did this happen?

AM: I think this is because people want to hear what poets are saying on Brexit. They want to hear other voices other than those of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.

People want to be inspired and re-animated about life, about the future and about the country. The anthology offers other voices to the ones we hear all the time; the new voices counter the latter, which have become tiresome because they are unimaginative, uninspiring and lacking in vision and hope.

The anthology offers hope. It says every voice matters and that Downing Street and Parliament should be working to repair the damage Brexit has caused to friendships, families, communities and the country.

Q: Initially, the anthology was going to be launched at the Bishop Street Methodist Church but something happened and you had to find an alternative venue?

AM: Yes. We'd made arrangements to hold the launch on Saturday, 29 June 2019, at the Bishop Street Methodist Church in Leicester. The church lets artists and community groups hire space for different activities and is an important space for the arts in Leicester. Over the past two years or so, we’ve held a number of literary events there. But with Bollocks to Brexit, a few days after we’d made a booking to hold the launch there, the church revoked the booking. The church said it "understand[s] the anger expressed in the title of the collection" and was revoking the booking because it wants to "strike a balance between being prophetic and a place of reconciliation".

We had no choice but to look for another venue. Dr Corinne Fowler, Co-director of the Centre for New Writing at the University of Leicester found us a venue at the university and we ran with it. 

Q: How did the launch go?

AM: The launch went well. Most of the people who read at the event live in and around Leicester. A good number also came from places further afield. One person who'd read about the event in the local paper also brought a poem of his own that he shared with all present. Most of the featured poets who attended read their poems and shared reflections on the poems and on Brexit. The readings and the reflections convince me it was right to bring out the anthology the way we did. One person who attended the launch said, "What an amazing evening and the people reading their poems. Everyone treating each other with respect. I loved it."

Bollocks to Brexit, the poetry anthology, headlined at AfterWORD! at Attenborough Arts Centre on Monday, 29 July 2019. That event went well, too. The readings and reflections that we heard at both events convince me that through events like these, we can broaden the space that is there in public discourse on Brexit. All we now have to do is organise more events around the anthology in more places around the UK between now and October. 

Q: What happens next?

AM: In Leicester, De Montfort University will also be hosting an event around the poetry anthology on 1 October as part of Everybody’s Reading, Leicester’s festival of all things to do with reading. And we are currently looking into the possibility of organising events around the anthology in a number of towns and cities around the UK over the coming few months. As part of these events, alongside readings from Bollocks to Brexit: an Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction, there will be space for other people to bring their own “Bollocks to Brexit” poems and present them at the events because these are part of the conversation that the anthology is about as well.

Monday 5 August 2019

Review by Kirsten Arcadio of "Bollocks to Brexit" ed. Ambrose Musiyiwa

As an ardent pro-remainer, I joined The People’s Vote march in the spring of 2019. ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ was a phrase I yelled during the march, so when the opportunity came up to review an anthology of the same name, I jumped at it. From discussions of the language we use to describe our crisis to reflections of our predicament, this anthology of anti-Brexit poetry and short fiction is a joy to read. The collection is brimming over with pertinent questions: the question of our children’s legacy; the effect on our businesses; the loss of our European identity; our repulsion at the sudden rise of anti-immigration sentiments; the lies told to us by the Leave campaign, to name but a few.

I particularly enjoyed 'Peregrines' (Yvonne Reddick) with its feeling of transience and reminder that most of us hail from elsewhere and, like the author, I would love the freedom to stay on the move; 'Yes there will also by singing' (Deborah Harvey) is a beautiful poem that echoes Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Motto,’ a collection of verses he wrote after fleeing Nazi Germany. 'Reverse Brexit' (Rachel Hardisty Vincent) is a clever poem you can read top down or bottom up for two entirely different reflections on how a person could have voted in the referendum – very nicely done and it works as a quick an effective mirror on current society. 'Before and After' (Pam Thompson), about an Italian café through the pre and post referendum period, is almost too close to home (I own an Italian café). The two verses of this poem show the golden era of tolerance and multi-cultural European values before the vote and the quick reversal of that afterwards. I enjoyed the immediate image of Disney villain, Gru, that 'Bad bad man' (Andy Callen) brought to mind. This poem reminded me that, in a world where a PM plays the fool to win voters’ affection, we should examine our begrudging affection for cardboard cut-out villains. Maybe it’s time to look behind their larger-than-life characters to see what they are really up to?

Bollocks to Brexit is a wonderful collection of poetic reactions to our current state of affairs. The works outline, in succinct form, the predicament British society finds itself in at this peculiar crossroads in time. It delivers a great slap in the face for complacency in bite-sized but not easily digestible chunks - and is worth carrying around to delve into every time a reminder is needed of what’s at stake. 

About the reviewer
A Ph.D student of Creative Writing at the University of Leicester, Kirsten Arcadio is an entrepreneur who runs a business alongside her writing career. She has written and indie-published four novels:  Borderliners, Split SymmetryWorldCult, and Zeitgeist, each with a different speculative theme.