The whole wide world, in one hand, that is what living where I live feels like, particularly when it comes to writing. I rang my Auntie today, and she told me that she had booked us for a gig next week, a gig of international poetry. No, none of us are going to perform, but she had been offered tickets by someone, and had immediately thought of me.
It’s going to be a festival of poetry from Jamaica, England, India, Kenya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and lots of other former colonies and current Commonwealth members. I’m actually looking forward to it.
One of the reasons why London has such an attraction for me is this: the whole world gather in one place. Unlike a place like New York that I think conform literature to American standard, London is a safe-haven for the dispersal of literature for the world.
Why I think that American publishing is a great conformer, rather than a great experimenter, is how the Harry Potter books were changed just so they were more “relatable” to an American audience. I see this again and again, and the standard “advice” from Americans when I talk about my books online is that I need to make them relatable to Americans.
It’s the same reason why British television shows like Skins, and Being Human, etc are being “translated” into American because the networks and the publishers don’t believe that Americans understand English as spoken by us Brits. Or they don’t understand our customs, or the differences. Granted, I think that the British and the Americans are far more different from people generally assume, I do give Americans credit for being able to understand it. So, I feel that this paternalistic impulse among many professionals in publishing and the media is cringe-worthy.
I think I understand that London is different. Like during the war, when lots of governments fled into exile to London and continued their operations there, the participants of literature that fall foul of their local rulers fled here in order to gain a base where they could safely write and publish. They want to be free to think and write as they see fit, and then their work leaks back into their cultures, and it enriches ours.
I’m sure it’s not an ideal existence. I’m not naive enough to try to pretend that it’s even a good existence. Or that it doesn’t mean mad people who promise hellfire and damnation rather than enlightenment and uplifting. But maybe, just maybe its existence is better than the alternative. Maybe it fosters an environment that gives us both the mad people as well as the Salman Rushdies, VS Naipauls, and the Wole Soyinkas in the end. Maybe it does give England a unique and important role in the world – as a safe haven of thought and imagination.
It becomes the ultimate melting pot that creates cultural trends and movements that punch far above the weight that a medium-sized European country should normally have.
Of course, if you listen to groups like UKIP and parts of the Conservative party, this blessing is a blight, and it stains the little England window they want to erect, much like some of the Southern Americans long back to the day when the races were segregated, the UKIP folks long back to the days when England was pure white and ruled the world. And then I walk down the street, and some voice is singing a Blues dirge, and I see a white and blue-eyed English girl singing like she was Aretha herself.
To me, however, that is one of the things that make London interesting, and it is one of the reasons that the city attracts me so much, and it is one of the reasons why I would love to make a name there. With a name there, the whole world would be open to my words, while in New York I my world would be limited to, at best, Kansas and Canada.
Yes, I’m looking forward to the poetry reading. It would be my first such, and I’m keen to go. We’d do the queer thing on Friday, and the cultural thing on Sunday. I’d like that.