Saturday 22nd May 2021 to
Sunday 13th June 2021
The mouth of the river is where its roar quiets to a gasp at it fans out into a larger body of water like the Thames does into the North Sea just beyond St James Church in Cooling, North Kent. To a poet the word ‘mouth’ opens up a wealth of possibilities to mould language into powerful meaning. It suggests the river can sing, scream, lick, talk, kiss, bite, drink, spit, gargle, shout, smile, spit, swallow and feed. To a poet, this means the river can also be ‘mouthy’ as it spreads itself across the landscape like ‘word of mouth.’ It’s that ability of water to be a liquid metaphor and disseminator of history, language, communication and emotion, in combination with the Estuary’s ability to extend its influence beyond its natural geographical reach, that most interests the poets for In the Mouth of the River: Water, Empire & Rebellion. Together, these poets - whose heritages come from India/Pakistan, Argentina, Ghana, Zambia, England, Iran and Nigeria - connect the voice of the River Thames to its role in Britain’s colonial past in the form of empire. In Hafsah Aneela Bashir’s Father, water’s ritual cleansing properties are a metaphor for rebelling against the stereotype of a muslim woman. Leo Boix’s subtly political England looks from Ramsgate to a just visible Europe as a comment on the UK’s immigration policies and Brexit. In Lost & Found, Dzifa Benson channels the voice of the 18th century’s Saartjie Baartmann, also known as the Hottentot Venus, and who was hoodwinked into coming to perform in Europe by a British ship’s doctor. Kayo Chingonyi’s Nyaminyami invokes the titular Zambian river god as protection against the after-effects of colonisation. Sasha Dugdale imagines rebellious angels stepping on to earth in a landscape that resembles the environs of the Estuary in The Fall of the Rebel Angels. Water as a symbol for memory, ageing and mortality is the topic of concern in Mimi Khalvati’s The Waves. In Yomi Sode’s La Porte du Non-Retour [The Door Of No Return] the reader/listener can imagine how slaves may have been carried down a river somewhere far away in West Africa, transported across the ocean, then entered Britain through the Estuary on their way upriver to their final destination in London. The poems can be heard every day through Estuary 2021 in the tiny cockle shell vestry at the C13 St James’ Church, on the North Kent marshes of the Hoo Peninsula.