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2 September 2020

Roger Robinson Q+A: “These millennials have body positivity – I learn from them”

The poet talks Bernardine Evaristo, Chef's Table, and letting go of shame. 

By New Statesman

Roger Robinson was born in London in 1967 and grew up in Trinidad. He has written three spoken-word albums and five books, including “A Portable Paradise”, which won both the TS Eliot and Ondaatje Prizes.

What’s your earliest memory?

Taking an egg mayonnaise sandwich from my mum in a car, aged two. We were travelling from Scotland to London.

Who are your heroes?

I didn’t have a childhood hero: I didn’t pay attention to the world then. Now my hero is Bernardine Evaristo, who I’ve known for a long time. She encouraged me as a young poet and, quietly, has done so much for black writers.

What book last changed your thinking?

Sum by David Eagleman. It’s 40 vignettes about what could happen after you die. Sometimes they contradict each other.  It made me realise that death is just another part of the cycle.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Kwame Nkrumah, a former president of Ghana. He was an important leader in the pan-African movement. He talked to other states and did a lot of organisation for the independence of Ghana from England.

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What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

I have two: songs from Sesame Street and African-American poetry in the 1970s.

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In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Life for black people would not be better in any time in history. I’d choose the future – I’d love to watch my son grow to be a man.

What TV show could you not live without?

Chef’s Table. To me it is not just about cooking, but obsession, skill and training.

Who would paint your portrait?

Chris Ofili, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye or Hurvin Anderson. They all deal with alternative ideals of utopia.

What’s your theme tune?

Fela Kuti, “Zombie”. It’s a groove. I come in grooving.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“You are enough: stop being ashamed.” In my life, shame has stopped me from doing so many things: Am I too fat? Am I too loud? Am I impinging on their time? I let go of that. I’m 52, but these new millennials have body positivity, they let go of Christian shame – I learn from them.

What’s currently bugging you?

The invisibility of black British people in media, in politics, in management, in any decision-making context whatsoever. It will be a long journey. The fact that I’m thinking about it, that I’m telling you now: every little thing helps.

What single thing would make your life better?

Being able to provide a house for my son to live in when he is an adult, so that he never has to pay a mortgage.

When were you happiest?

Now. I have a certain amount of freedom, kudos, space, recognition, health and lots of time with my family.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I have absolutely no skill except writing poems.

Are we all doomed?

Absolutely not. There is a lot of hope for the world, no matter how dark it seems. It’s time for everybody to pull up their boots and start fighting against evil. 

“A Portable Paradise” by Roger Robinson is published by Peepal Tree Press. His poem “Paradise” features in the “Imagine Anthology”, a free e-book, available at imagineanthology.com