British born Poet, Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa, who was raised in Barbados has done a feat which many female poets dream of achieving. She won all three of the UK Poetry Slam Titles in the same year.
The poet, referred to in performing circles as Birdspeed, performed seven pieces: Energy, Treason, Bed, The Smell of Dark Girls, Carnival Queen, Sand, and If Narcissus Were Black. The pieces cover themes such as how she received the name Birdspeed, the plight of black men in America, a critique of advertisements where white women sell perfume, the beauty of Grand Kadooment in Barbados, the history of Barbados and mental health after she lost two of her friends to suicide.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY, Birdspeed said initially, she was not planning on competing in all three competitions but after much reflection she realized it would be a momentous achievement.
“I would have the opportunity to present poetry in a way in which people are not used to in this country. My style of performance poetry is experimental, bold and exciting. I am not afraid of changing my style and bringing my words to life in a fantastic way. Props, costumes and music are not allowed so I am proud that I was able to stand out just by using my words,” she said.
She won the Edinburgh Slam Championship, UK National Slam Championship and BBC 1 Extra Talent Search Winner and despite being triple champion, she said she still endured racism following her win when a white woman asked to touch her hair.
“Even after I won, a white woman asked to touch my hair. So, I sold her two of my pamphlets and explained she needed to read my pamphlets without distractions so she can figure out why her behaviour was so inappropriate and offensive. They say England is ‘not as racist as it used to be’ or that you are ‘less likely to experience racism there’ but that does not mean it does not exist. The British are simply better at being more covert about it.
“With that said, I have been refused from taxis because of the colour of my skin, been called the ‘n-word’ and threatened with rape and death threats several times online. Racist institutionalism is still a problem and there is a tendency for white British people to become defensive or reluctant about admitting their bias,” she said.
Despite the racism, Birdspeed has marked her name in history’s page and dedicated her win to her friends who committed suicide as she has only recently come to grips with their passing.
“They died before I became a poet and I wonder if I could have inspired them to speak up. So, I actually felt guilty for a long time for not speaking up earlier but I know that was not my responsibility,” she said.
Birdspeed has been performing throughout the US and England and will make her final performance in the Bloom Flowers and Festivals tour on September 27 at the BBC Contains Strong Language Festival.
“It is more of a run than a tour. I have actually had several throughout the year since October 2018. I group my runs under different names because I wanted to give each set of shows a different vibe and share new work. I have a pamphlet out now – Bloom: Flowers and Festivals – which features the poem If Narcissus Were Black and Pride of Barbados. This collection also sparked me to write about my fatherland, Jamaica, and my estranged relationship to the island through music and dance which was an unexpected and wonderful outcome, considering I usually write about Barbados.
“I actually worked for The Original Wailers for a brief period and Julian Junior Marvin from the band was kind enough to write the foreword for my pamphlet. British festivals tend to feature a great deal of black culture yet black people in England will be criminalized for what British enjoy during ‘festival season.’ Flowers: I was questioned a few times why I never wrote about ‘Pretty Happy Things’ and my response was to make it clear that every time I write about my blackness, I am writing about beauty and wonder,” she said.
Birdspeed said her pamphlet Bloom is just a sample of what is to come as she is planning to write about black British figures for British Black History Month.
“There is a vast amount of work on its way. Before I won these competitions, I was already accomplishing great things. I was already headlining in the US and I have self-funded another important project on writing poetry about black British figures for British Black History Month. I do not wait for opportunities. People make ridiculous, unfair comments that I am ‘lucky’, ignoring the hard work and perseverance I put into everything. I am rejected frequently but the difference between me and others is that I do not give up. I have been knocked down so many times but I always stood up again. I am a fighter and a winner, just be breathing and I am winning and because I know that I have power and no one can take that away from me,” she said.
Birdspeed had some words of advice for young poets: “I think every young poet should take a leap of faith with their craft. Try new styles, critique your work and read. Read as much as possible. The best performance poets are readers. The best poets are readers. Hearing and watching the same thing over and over on social media will not make you a better poet. We want the industry to be enriched not to be dulled. This is, in no way, to disrespect American poets. Some of my closest friends are actually American poets and American slam poets but their work is authentic. Keyword – authentic. You can take on ideas and mix styles but that does not mean you need to lose your identity,” she said.
To follow Birdspeed on her journey, you can email her at [email protected] or check her website www.birdspeed.com.