Malika Booker

Inspired by Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Malika Booker created this poem for inclusion in A Poetic Declaration, commissioned for the Ripples of Hope Festival at HOME in Manchester, in September.

School children across Greater Manchester are creating a new Poetic Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which will be unveiled online on 10 December – Human Rights Day.

Malika Booker, a poetry lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, was Inspired to write this poem by Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which codifies the right to freedom from arbitary arrest and exile. Malika said:

“I chose to respond to Article 9… Since the migration of West Indians into Britain in the 40’s – the windrush community has been subjected to unprecedented biased and rascist behaviour from our police force, ranging from corrupt policing, police brutality and racial profiling.

“The sus laws In the late 70’s and early 80’s resulted In many Injustices being committeed against black men and there has been a continued high number of deaths In police custody Includeing a cousin of mine. We look at the Injustices In the USA and see Britain as a liberal and just society.

“I wanted to address this In my poem. The poem Is both catalogue, archive and witness to the ongoing actions of our police force.”

The Ripples of Hope Festival at HOME in September was held by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights UK charity.

Museum for the countless Mothers of Black bodies dead in state custody

“I just want to testify” Dianne Reeves

“I am an endangered species but I sing no victim song” Dianne Reeves

1.

Exhibits – gathered – fossil from 18th century Caribbean plantations.

Exhibits 1 – Room of wombs

Sound – keening  – sharp – piercing

Black wombs – pregnant with death – a shango dirge humming possibilities

2.

Exhibits 2 – Monologue Poetic translation by a griot in 2020

Since the news her bones had been sluggish

How she held it in, did not bawl

And the weight piled up bent her back with age

Her heart malfunctioned, one-minute chopping onions

The next laid out in a bed incessant bleeping

Tubes attached to her arms. How do you warn your boychild

At the shop counter, local sweet shops also kill,

You can die buying a pack of cigarettes and chocolate

The clot of mud bounced the coffin – ripped from her mouth

A primal high-pitched roar and base tone, that raised pores,

That rippled her belly each exhale. This was like birthing

21 years ago. How useless her warnings – to look both ways

When crossing the road, drive within the speed limit,

She did not tell him what to do – black man in a sweetshop

Thrown onto the floor, arms handcuffed, weigh on your body

As she remembers her inadequacies press her palms

Into her belly pushing air through her body like an

Hot air balloon keening, gut sucked, she sways

To Sister Mabel’s tambourine clap. Today she watches

The seven wasps littering her floorboards, this morning

It is autumn now and wasps knowing something

Important died from this house arrive in swarms

To die littering her parquet floorboards

3.

“What kind of mother/ing is it if one must always be prepared with knowledge of the possibility of the violent and quotidian death of one’s child.”

“Is it mothering if one knows that one’s child might be killed by the state no matter who wields the gun?”

“Swallowed whole by the state, purged by the police, stopped and frisked, back broken, humiliated…”

“I ask again – what does it look like to defend the dead.”

 In the Wake – on Blackness and Being – Christina Sharpe

Exhibit 3

1ST Public Appearance

Skin brown, podium, microphones, lawyer

Always grief hidden behind a black wall

Always – comments “she is holding up so well”

                              Metaphor for sobbing

                                Metaphor for bawling

                            Metaphor for restraint grief

                            Metaphor for newly baptised mother for the ongoing revolution

                           Metaphor for no language – this is a damn metaphor

Exhibit 4

After the News

How when she heard the news

(She) sat all night in a darkroom

Stitching his face in the cloth embroidering

Then unpicking     each hour, the endless lift of needle

The next the savage pull and tear of needle picking,

Snapping thread, fingers bleeding into the cloth…ruthless unravelling

Exhibit 5

This is not seasonal – it is everyday

Exhibit 6

  • cell phone rings…pauses and part of the everyday mundane
  • hand presses
  • the voice breaks      silence   body falls   floor is not a good cushion chair is not a good cushion
  • door knocks     uniform at your door – step back – step back
  • living room, blue uniforms           son died in cell/ died in handcuffs/ resisted / arrest/ oxygen on the floor/

Exhibit 7

  • cold body flat on mortuary table
  • autopsy    medical investigate
  • hands shattering glass windows, running with TV, throws bottle
  • riot police

Exhibit 8

  • Lawyer – phone calls offer services
  • Video trending and sharing on social media

There is no respect for your grief – the goats are bleating. Bleat bleat

  • Trolls on social media – vile statements about your son.

Bun down Babylon

Exhibit 8

  • Jawbone clench composure
  • No place to fidget
  • Mother not only of son but join the mother movement
  • Addressing community
  • Composing statements – all these burying the fact – your son/daughter is dead

Exhibit 8: Doorways

  • H/ she slammed the door shut this morning
  • He/ she sat down in that car and shut the car door earlier
  • They slammed him to the floor
  • Slammed the cell door shut on him/ her
  • He/ she ran through the train door just before it closed this morning
  • he walked through the shop door

Exhibit 9 clothing

Handcuffs, baggy jeans, hooded tops, converse, afro, fade, beard, beard,

Exhibit 10

Black, suspect, reports. Resists, fitted description, beast. Threatening. Beast. Aggressive

Exhibit 11

The Academic comments – Hmmm, he taps his chin, it goes right back to anthropology – E.E. Evans Pritchard b.1902

Savages – beast, it is his haunting, haunting this savage beast referred to

Exhibit 12

The police, chokehold, police statement. Not guilty. No persecutions.

The statement and all that air on the white page.

Exhibit 13 – Questions / absence

Where are the black bodies dying in police custody?  What penalty to white bodies who do this killing? What _______? While_________? Blue______? Mother is now un/mother

Mother is now un/justice

Is simply un/

Un/mother/ing

Is tired

Is weary

The wake is fire in the streets, is matchsticks to buildings, is bottles flung at police, is footsteps marching/ is no jus/tice

Is just in our pores always


Malika Booker

Malika Booker is a British poet of Guyanese and Grenadian Parentage and the founder of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen. Her pamphlet Breadfruit, (flippedeye, 2007) received a Poetry Society recommendation and her poetry collection Pepper Seed (Peepal Tree Press, 2013) was shortlisted for the OCM Bocas prize and the Seamus Heaney Centre 2014 prize for first full collection.

She is published with the Poets Sharon Olds and Warsan Shire in The Penguin Modern Poet Series 3:Your Family: Your Body (2017) and her poem Nine Nights, first published in The Poetry Review in autumn 2016, was shortlisted for Best Single Poem in the 2017 Forward Prize. 

She recently wrote and directed her first black fairytale production for age 0 -5 years titled: The Adventures of Mangolina playing at Discover Story Centre from June  2021 – Sept 2022.  Malika currently hosts and curates Peepal Tree Press’s Literary podcast, New Caribbean Voices. A Cave Canem Fellow, and inaugural Poet in Residence at The Royal Shakespeare Company, Malika was awarded the Cholmondeley Award (2019) for outstanding contribution to poetry, and her poem

The Little Miracles, commissioned by and published in Magma 75(autumn 2019) won The Forward Prize for Best Single Poem (2020). Malika received her MA from Goldsmiths University and is a PhD Candidate at the University of Newcastle.

Malika Booker
Malika Booker

Poetic Universal Declaration of Human Rights

To celebrate Human Rights Day on 10 December a Poetic Universal Declaration of Human Rights, consisting of 30 original poems inspired by each article, will be unveiled online on Human Rights Day.

The poetry for this Poetic Declaration has seen been created by school children across Greater Manchester. The entries will be whittled down to the final 30 poems by an expert panel of judges. This anthology of poetry celebrating human rights is presented in Manchester by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights UK  and Curious Minds.

The two charities are now partnering with cities across the UK (Manchester being the first) to create further Poetic Declarations that highlight the experience of young people in the cities they live in.


First published in A Poetic Declaration, September 2021

On Human Rights Day, 1O December, to see the new Poetic Universal Declaration of Human Rights – click here

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Feature image: Ripples of Hope Festival

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