The opening event of this year’s Marlborough LitFest will feature a rising star amongst the new generation of poets, Kayo Chingonyi, in a collaboration with the dancer Sean Graham, whose joint performance at the South Bank Centre a few years ago became a talking point of the London literary scene.
Kayo Chingonyi is a young poet whose gifts are already widely recognised, even though his first full collection was published only this summer. Titled Kumukanda, which means ‘Initiation,’ it explores the idea of rites of passage into manhood and masculinity – the title refers to the initiations undergone by boys from Luvale tribe in Zambia before they can be considered men.
Chingonyi was born in Zambia in 1987 but moved to Britain at the age of six – so he missed out on these traditional initiations. Instead, he has had to explore different paths into manhood, finding alternatives to the tribal and traditional formal initiations, some political, and some artistic. One of these was writing poetry, which he discovered through music, first writing lyrics and then stumbling across London’s vibrant slam and spoken word scene.
For a time in his youth he was strongly influenced by grime and garage music, and performed his work under the name of ‘Requiem.’ This apprenticeship means that he brings an extraordinary power to his performance.
He has said of his approach, ‘at its best my work is a marriage of the poem on the page – something that can be read and contemplated by the reader – and also something that can be listened to.’ His collaboration with the dancer Sean Graham intensifies the resonance of the words, and breaks down the idea that poetry and performance are separate entities. This will be an event that defies definitions.
This challenge to definition is a thread that runs throughout his book. Chingonyi wants to resist being defined by his race and gender. He challenges us to think more deeply about colour and masculinity.
He asserts that black men miss out on opportunities for love and tenderness, or that these things get cloaked in macho posturing: “So I’m trying to find a space for uncomplicated, unmediated, unqualified love and tenderness of that kind.” This issue is addressed with a telling gracefulness that mediates the anger he sometimes feels – there is a whimsical charm as well as a political edge to him.
Sean Graham’s dance offers a rich complement to Kayo Chingonyi’s words. He has been the lead dancer for the Avant Garde Dance Company, taking the role of Romeo in their Romeo and Juliet. His collaborations include the band Muse and Bricolage Dance.
As a soloist, Graham has produced some acclaimed performances, such as his 2014 piece Freedom of A Formless Kind which synthesized underground jazz, contemporary dance and urban movement to present an experience in the aftermath of the Tottenham riots.
Kayo Chingonyi and Sean Graham’s performance is in the Ellis Theatre at Marlborough College at 7.30pm on Thursday, 28 September.
You can watch Kayo Chingonyi and dancer/choreographer Sean Graham performing Kayo’s poem Some Bright Elegance here
Booking for this and all other events is available online using the LitFest link on marlborough.news’ main page – by phone 01249 701628 – or in person at the White Horse Bookshop (cash & cheques only)
Brewin Dolphin are the lead sponsor for Marlborough LitFest 2017.