SuAndi was born in Hulme, Manchester, with absolutely no aspirations to be a writer - though at an early age she joined a dancing school and had dreams of a life not as the first Black ballet dancer, but as a contemporist. She literally walked into the arts as a model, the poet was quick to follow, and since 1985 she has expanded her portfolio of work into diverse locations, from galleries to public artwork. She is the freelance Cultural Director of Black Arts Alliance, a recipient of a NESTA Dreamtime award, and in 1999 she was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Honours list for her contributions to the Black Arts Sector.
My mother washed clothes as a hobby
passing long days on the upper floor of Berkley Street
men waited long shadows of themselves
in the light of the day
In silence they told of other places
where lampposts were tall trees
and traffic rustled four-legged through bush grass
Cleaning up was a ritual that united my parents
washing up as he scrubbed down
her pinny, floral - a bright contrast to
the navy blue-below-decks
where he sailed the seas
My father was ever restless
turning tidal in his search for a shore called home
every dock was temporary
every harbour a pause in his journey
This man came from rivers of stout fish
and escaped poverty
to the destitution of manmade canals
where he never sailed in harmony with life
She worried on his return
picking up pennies of labour
from other hands dirty with oppression
that one day he would simply jump ship
to join those still floating a middle passage
between here and there
and in the still night she would listen
as the sea wailed its warning
Once all of this was mine
Once all of this was mine
I was raised within the confines of the Catholicism transported from County Wicklow to Liverpool, my mother’s place of birth, and married to the missionary zeal of Nigeria.
My father came to England as a seaman joining the Merchant Navy to “do his bit” for the Mother Country. His ship was torpedoed and he spent the remainder of the conflict as a prisoner of war. My mother never shook off the weight of domestic labour and though she spent her last years running a herbalist business, she was always either the cleaner or laundry hand, and I really believed she equally enjoyed both.
The poem isn’t really a reflection of my parents. In a true light, their marriage suffered from the bigotry of the times. Because Dad held the English in a sort of awe, he avoided confrontation, so my mother survived better and found an inner strength against those who looked down on her family when my father was away at sea.
To be honest I wrote the poem within minutes of being told the theme of a workshop. It was in Liverpool, it seemed appropriate. I write best when I write without preparation. I always need someone to proof my work but the body of it is always well-fed and mature.
There is nothing clever about my writing and I write for performance, not the page. I come from a family of talkers. From both sides of the globe my family have retold their lives to each other around coal fires in a converted terrace shop with a crooked window installed by whole village of Black men, to whom my father never spoke a word because they were Caribbeans. (another example of the ignorance of those times).
I do not attempt to follow any form, it doesn’t interest me. I want my work to sound like a conversation - the exchange of secrets, often some that should not really be spoken. My mother’s mouth was filled with the over-the-fence chatter of Liverpool, expanding her expressions with an inherited Irish superstitiousness - we never did anything that might tempt fate against us. So we never wrote anything down, preferring to whisper it on.
I want my work to be powerful and therefore it must be honest. I believe the poet is the timekeeper of society. I believe the poet is life’s narrator, commentator and often its critic.
I don’t rant or rave about racism. My inner skill is the Scouse humour -hard hitting and in your face. I don’t attempt to RAP. I am not a pseudo African-American - I am Black British.
Soliloquy, Bop Cassettes BIP 601
Essays & Journalistic Work
A diverse number of published articles:
Black Theatre in the African Continuum; Theory & Praxis, Harvard University
New Theatre in Francophone and Anglophone Africa, edited by Anne Fuchs Matatu 20
Acts of Achievement Colloquium
Unprecedented Times, for Black Theatre Network, USA NY/USA
Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture, Routledge
Virtual Revolutions: Act and Read, ISBN 0 9523161 0 2
Work in Numerous Anthologies
including poetry for children:
2005 Feminist Futures, Palgrave/MacMillan Press
Four for More, ISBN 0954276604
There Will be No Tears, Pankhurst Press ISBN 1 90016 00 1
Nearly Forty, Spike Books, ISBN 0 9518978 0 2
Style, Purple Heather & Pankhurst Press ISBN 1 871426 30 8