Salena Godden writes the sixth episode of Pessimism for Lightweights on Bravery in Peckham, Dystopia on Love Island and Comfort in Books


Last week I went into Harris Academy in Peckham, to read and record poetry with the students for the HUH project. For the last year or so I have been working alongside composer Jasmin Kent Rodgman on HUH, a collaboration of music and poetry – the latest version of this work was performed as part of the Last Word Festival at The Roundhouse last weekend.

I really enjoyed this gig, I enjoyed performing my new piece ‘The Bees’ with The Grime Violinist (performer with Stormzy and collaborator on Vossi Bop) and improvising a new version of Jasmin Kent Rodgman collaboration ‘The Letter’ with the LSO ensemble. It was an amazing night! Killer line up of young voices, Solomon OB, Sophia Thakur, Kieron Rennie, brilliant singer and cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson, plus legendary Errollyn Wallen and George The Conductor!

I view Love Island as a sociological experiment, an exploration of human nature, conflict and ambition. This programme betrays our dislocation of connectivity, the degringolade of our humanity.

It was so profound and rewarding to meet the students of Harris Academy Peckham. At the school we began by filming students reading excerpts from my essay ‘Shade’ from The Good Immigrant. Afterwards, I shared some poetry, I was worried that my work was too political or too heavy for a Monday morning with 13-14 year olds. For many years now, I have facilitated workshops and worked in schools, but in Peckham that particular morning last week, I noticed how things have changed, ramped up a gear, with teen expression and poetry, teen rebellion and teen consciousness.

These were very switched on, engaged and talented teenagers, they read work and shared poetry that contained grief and fury. The poetry was their reality, poems about knife crime and mental health. The anxieties and fear of the now and of an uncertain future. I was moved by the truth and the passion. This is the next generation, I went home thinking about this, these powerful young voices: I felt like I was meeting the next generations Tupac or Basquiat, Nina Simone, Kate Tempest or Stormzy.

Love Island

I came home from school and flopped on the sofa and watched Love Island on ITV2. I wish we had an hour of poetry and new voices on TV every night instead, but this is what we have, maybe you get the TV you deserve, just as they say you get the politicians you deserve.

I view Love Island as a sociological experiment, an exploration of human nature, conflict and ambition. This programme betrays our dislocation of connectivity, the degringolade of our humanity. I’m pressing my nose up to the factory window to see how the robots live, how the shiny machine works. This programme is a guide to the aspirations of the average teenager and the aesthetic they are being told to aim for. The very same black teenagers that are fearing for their lives, afraid of peer pressure and the police, the boys and girls I met that are writing poems about knife crime and broken Britain.

Check out these phrases, this is a list of phrasing the public are tweeting for both scenarios, the race to win Love Island and the race to win Number 10.

Watching Love Island explains everything we need to know about this disastrous and intolerable shit creek we all paddle in right now. With our bare hands. With no paddle. And no boat. And no creek. Just shit.

It is called Love Island. But are they loving? Are they loved? Do they feel or show love? Well. No. Not exactly. They are playing a game to win a prize. They are cell mates in a couple prison. A human zoo. I saw a pair of Galapagos tortoise in captivity at London Zoo with more spirit and individuality. They don’t break any rules. They don’t break the mould of heterosexual coupling. Threesomes? Orgies? No. Nothing like that. And they don’t read books. Are they allowed books? I don’t know. They are aliens who sit by a pool and don’t read. They don’t create or invent anything. They don’t cook and share a meal and talk about anything else but the cult of this illusion.

I watched Love Island with twitter in hand. I am curious about it all, the stereotyping and double standards by people onscreen and people online. I watch how the hashtag explodes with every fight and every kiss. This is an hour on primetime television every night. Just like Mr Johnson is given airtime almost every single day.

As the late great Gil Scott Heron wrote, the revolution will not be televised. I imagine now if there was a revolution on Love Island. Imagine if they barricaded themselves in, protested with an explosion of truth, big brave courageous thinking and philosophy, art and science, the voice of the marginalised breaking through to encourage people at home to get inspired and rise up! Ha! But that’ll never happen, they give the people at home what they are told they must want, the escapism, the illusion, the shiny drama, the oiled up models, macho muscle men and beautiful girls in G-string bikinis soaking in a toxic sun-drenched dream.


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Toxic Masculinity. Ego. It’s just banter. Self interest. Game playing. Men don’t talk about their feelings. It’s just boys being boys. Gaslighting. He’s punching above his weight. Entitled. He’s out of his depth.  He’s immature. Red flag. Check out these phrases, this is a list of phrasing the public are tweeting for both scenarios, the race to win Love Island and the race to win Number 10.

Remember one is a whipped up media circus of one-upmanship, conflicting interests and ambition and the other a sunny reality dating show.

Books can Change the Wold

I end this on a brighter note: Books can change the world! Or at least inspire another perspective. Hachette Children’s publishers is publishing a series of kids books that tackle the sometimes scary and often confusing big questions of our times. If you have teenagers I highly recommend the Hachette series of Big Questions books, it includes books by Michael Rosen, Juno Dawson, Nikesh Shukla and many others.

This week we see the publication of ‘What is Masculinity? Why Does it Matter? And other Big Questions’ Edited and curated by Darren Chetty and Jeffrey Boakye and featuring writing from Leisha Small, Dr Fen Coles, Breanainn Lambkin, Dave Pickering, Dr Andy Williams and a new prose poem by me. It is a highly topical look at the subject of masculinity, encouraging young readers to question language and meaning, words and phrases. It covers the violence we see in games, on screen and in our neighbourhoods and the effects of toxic masculinity. This important and timely book looks at the questions surrounding definitions of masculinity, and discusses where ideas of masculinity have come from and the effects of gender stereotyping. Published by Hachette Childrens group and launched this week, June 2019.

Salena Godden is the poet laureate for Byline Festival  ‘Pessimism Is For Lightweights, 13 pieces of courage and resistance’  is published by Rough Trade Books

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