There is an enormous high-walled prison near the centre of Leicester. Here, my son was held on remand, an iniquitous practice that was recently condemned in an official watchdog report.
My son is black. His experience is so unlike that of my other two sons, who are white and have never experienced police harassment.
I visited my son in prison at least once a week. From the time of his arrest in March 2009 to his release following a jury trial in the Crown Court. All through that March I sobbed to think that my son, raised with love and gentleness, was being subjected to prison regimes. Walking to and from the prison, I studied the pavement cracks while new poems burned holes in my soul. All month long, I was afflicted with the desire to wretch (‘over the side of the boat’).
Privilege disappeared out of the political vocabulary around the time of Thatcher. Being white, male, middle-class and able-bodied, I am privileged. Save one regard: I am gay.
I went into the closet
to look for Mom’s bright dress
the one with black above the waist
huge roses down the rest
I twirled around inside it
and tried on high-heeled shoes
I never knew they’d bother me
a boy by sheen bemused
Leicester has the oldest Secular Hall anywhere. It was there, in October of 2010, to celebrate United Nations Day, Black History Season, and Every Day as a Liberty Day, that I first gave a public recital of ‘it is over.’
In contrast to my son's treatment in the hands of the law, Leicester's communities of black poets and creatives give out pure joy and resilience. 'Open mic' events, too, have imbued my poems with a sense of poetry as public expression. For example, the opening line of my poem above - ‘it is over’ - is actually a refrain. Refrains encourage the audience to join in, imbuing the poetry with greater force. When I perform, the words march through me, stride by stride. And, as I recite them, I'm transported to my working-class childhood. To an aunt, recitations she had performed as a young woman in vaudeville. To my mother, relishing a little didactic rhyme.
For the moment the pleasure is in the doing, the listening to others, the sharing. If we attend closely to one another in this diverse city of ours, all sorts of fusions become possible and we can be transformed.