Spoken Word London's Anti-Hate Anthology
By Patrick Cash, writer, spoken word artist and Amnesty Words That Burn poet
Ten years ago, at the age of 22, I had my first experience of hate. It was in the swirling crowds outside Tottenham Court Road tube station, on my way out to heady, gay Soho, when I accidentally made eye contact with another shaven-headed man, around my own age. ‘Fucking poof!’ he snarled. Luckily, there were too many people for him to reach me, but the innate violence of his utterance seeped into me. He quite clearly hated me.
Being young and academically educated, but not necessarily worldly, I didn’t question his hatred. Instead, I questioned myself. As Irish drag queen Panti Bliss states in her powerful Abbey Theatre speech I ‘checked myself’ for what could have elicited his violence. Finally, I concluded the scarf I was wearing was too visibly camp. It was only years later, as I grew more confident in my sexuality, that I realised my scarf wasn’t the problem; he was.
There could have been any number of reasons for his hate. Was he severely religious? Was he brow-beaten at the bottom rung of the ladder, full of spitting self-hate, looking for a target? Was he a far-right Nazi who genuinely believed all homosexuals should be shot? Whatever the case, the crucial point, for me, was he hated me without even knowing me. Perhaps hate, like stigma, originates from ignorance and fear of the ‘othered' unknown.
A few years later, I set up an open-mic night for poetry and performance, named Spoken Word London. Held in a queer Dalston basement club, it followed an egalitarian format: everybody who wants to speak gets five minutes, but nobody gets more than five minutes. However, as much as the night was about speaking, it was also about listening. People from all creeds shared their emotional truths, deepening empathy, and creating solidarity.
This seemed to be the antidote to hate. The more you understand somebody else, that they are human like you, the less easy it is for them to be ‘othered’ into a figure eliciting violence. If we take ignorance to be dark, and understanding as illumination, this aligns with Amnesty’s own motto: ‘It is better to light a candle, than curse the darkness.’ It appeared fitting to choose ‘Anti-Hate’ as Spoken Word London’s anniversary theme.
Five years later, and the theme seems more important than ever. Our country is in turmoil: homophobic attacks rose 147% in the wake of the Brexit vote, far-right groups march through London, and the police are bracing for a Brexit-linked xenophobic hate crime spike. We don’t propose to have the solution, but we want to be part of the movement against hate. Hence why Spoken Word London is printing its very first Anti-Hate anthology.
Funded by Arts Council England, curated by myself and Spoken Word London’s current host Hannah Gordon, and endorsed by Amnesty International UK, the anthology features 42 poets speaking out against hate. We’ve divided the 56 poems into twelve categories addressing societal discrimination: race, queer, womxn, mental health, masculinity, addiction, trans, ability, immigration, faith, age and class. Six sections are edited by brilliant poets Dean Atta, Amy Acre and Tim Wells.
We’ve assembled a collection of powerful insights. From Sean Wai Keung’s basic economics - ‘we took your jobs it’s true without us you could / run your takeaways however you wanted’, - to Roberta Francis’ daily experience as a trans woman in Out of the Briar - ‘I wanted to scream out - ‘do you know how brave I am?’, - to Desree’s musing on privilege - ‘Your privilege shares videos of Cecil the Lion, but doesn’t know who Rashan Charles is.’
Our reasons for publishing these poems is not to adopt the moral superiority associated with some ‘wokeness’, it’s in the hope of spreading compassion as a salve to division. For although the age of identity politics has become increasingly interested with labels, running our modest open-mic night has taught us a fundamental lesson. When a poet hits emotional truth, it resonates with everybody in that room, through a shared human core.
The Spoken Word London - Anti-Hate Anthology will be launched as part of Spoken Word London’s first Anti-Hate Festival. The festival will run from 11 - 12 February at The Bunker Theatre, 53a Southwark Street, London Bridge, SE1 1RU.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.