Some Notes on Organic Hood Surrealism

  1. The hoodie is timeless. It’s a daily item. They function so well we hardly take notice of them.
  2. Silicon Valley CEOs wear hoodies to feel like “normal people”. To give the impression that their power is in conversation with everyday people. They  join the line of people in society who have made hooded garments iconic. Boxers, Monks, Jedis, Middle Age Executioners, Grim Reapers.
  3. Its form is so simple.
  4. Hood people are not normal by default. We are fantasy, nightmare, desire, and casualty. Rich, poor, dangerous, scared, hilarious. Hood experiences are part of my remit. My job is not, however, to just tell stories as myself.
  5. “Show, don’t tell” is the rule. Describing a person salivating at the cake shows their hunger rather than telling the reader they’re hungry. Hood people have been telling everyone where we come from is magical, but it isn’t enough to change how we are received. Thus, when my poems are full of tells, it doesn’t add to the conversation. “Show, don’t tell” is the rule for me, too. However, because hood people are shaped by such different experiences, a simpler form may, at times, be better for showing that off.
  6. In 2006, hoodies were a symbol of what then Leader of the Opposition David Cameron described as ‘Broken Britain’.
  7. The hoodie is a form of protection. Most wearers of hoodies wear it for this reason. At the same time, the anonymity that’s given to the wearer heightens our awareness of them.
  8. And with anonymity comes a million possibilities. Hoodies offer anonymity like no other garment does. It blows open the door of options for the wearer; they can be anyone, and in a perfect world the viewer would take this as a compassionate cue to entertain the options of who they could be. Realistically, we have to be judgemental of everybody around us to an extent. On a good day I choose to be empowered by this fact, and instead of letting it get in the way of my day, I use it as a chance to play with my audience.
  9. This is a writing tip from my musician friend. She plays a game which helps her open up the possibilities around her. She’ll sit down inside a restaurant to write. She pulls out pen, paper, puts a cigarette in her mouth, a lighter on the table.
  10. Obviously she never lights it. She’s in a position of power because she curates the responses to her, instead of being victim to their assumptions. She stays just outside of being dangerous because she is trying to be in better communion with this side of her. She orders dessert first, starters second; flicks on the lighter then feigns like she’s had another good idea, just to thicken the atmosphere even more. She knows what people are thinking, but it’s fine because she knows herself better.
  11. Writing in situ (posh way of saying writing in public) started off as an exciting cheat-code to having fun while writing. I went to galleries, I’d interview statues and pretend to hear answers. I sat in a park, I’d write a word between sets at the gym, I’d write a haiku every time I saw a bush on a long walk, I’d try on 3 pairs of trainers in whatever size and write down what the salesperson said about them. All for fuel. To flex the writer’s muscles.
  12. People are more curious about my friend, so the interactions are more of understanding than of presumption.
  13. When staff tell her she can’t smoke in there she says, “Good,” and continues as she was. She might go to the bathroom and change her hair, t-shirt, jacket, trainers. Might put a Haribo ring on her finger. Anything. She didn’t want the world to leave her alone; she wanted to curate a useful response from it.
  14. Denise Levertov in ‘Some Notes on Organic Form’ describes perfectly what happens when writing a poem: “The various elements of the poet’s being are in communion with each other, and heightened. Ear and eye, intellect and passion, interrelate more subtly” and all the other elements that make us who we are intuitively interact with each other. Hoodies are essential workwear for a writer like me. The ability to blend in and stand out reminds me that the voice on the paper is not supposed to be me in that moment, but of every version of me that has been and could be. (I’m definitely intellectualising after the fact; I don’t put on a hoodie and tell myself this is going to happen. I look at a hoodie and think, “Yeah, that works!”)
  15. In 2016, Malika Booker hosted a masterclass on performance at a Barbican Young Poets session. She touched on wardrobe choice. To paraphrase: “Some of you are already rocking up to venues steeped in poetic history and those people haven’t seen poets with poems like yours. Some people will be intrigued by you and some will discredit you straight away. Therefore, what you wear is the final choice after all edits and choosing your set list. It’s extra armour and choosing it is fun.” I could be imagining this but I think she went on to say established poets and their audiences are like earth’s scientists. And sometimes they don’t know what to do with a creature they haven’t encountered. I now take Malika’s advice to mean that, as I show myself to be otherworldly, I could do with the protection of knowing I’ve done my part in curating a more useful response from a place that has already prescribed ways of dealing with me.
  16. I have stretched this advice to mean you can play a game with your audience. Comedian Stewart Lee says that he likes to lose his audience by being unfunny during his sets. He enjoys having something to prove. He knows he can make his audience laugh, but he and they deserve to see another side of him. His audience are able to discover new parts of him in his tangents, and then when he returns to the funny Stewart Lee that they came for, they have a greater appreciation for the landscape of him.
  17. Maybe Stewart Lee is honouring the constellation within himself.
  18. Very soon writing in situ became a little dangerous for me. I’d dress how I always do and people started being even more suspicious of me. Why is this Black kid in a hood coming here and jotting things down? Black kids don’t come here and they definitely don’t write is what I thought they were telling themselves. I didn’t like it. I was now on guard, like I didn’t have enough of that.
  19. Prose poems are surreal experiences. Surrealism was a post-war movement; a detachment of reality which somehow depicted it more accurately. It was rooted in its response to a physically violent place.
  20. In a masterclass on prose poems, Roger Robinson said a benefit of the prose poem is that the reader is not confronted with a poem. They are lulled into a false sense of security because it leads them on as prose.
  21. In London you can go down one road and go from million pound houses to very cheap housing. You could’ve sworn you were in Camden, home of London Zoo, Regents Park, Primrose Hill, Roundhouse. Now you’re suddenly dodging nitties.
  22. Such is the Life, such is the form. Nature, the prime genial artist, inexhaustible in diverse powers, is equally inexhaustible in forms. (Coleridge, on organic form)
  23. Since the prose poem’s face is formless, there is nothing to tell the reader how it is to be read. They may have thought they knew what they were seeing, and prepared themself in a certain way. Now they have to survive in a space that sends them in many directions, yet still appears interconnected.
  24. Form is nothing but a revelation of content. (Levertov, 1965)
  25. The anonymity allows the poem to be read as something otherworldly. If you asked the prose poem, it would say it’s being its organic self.
  26. If someone appears on stage hooded, the audience / reader would immediately load their assumptions. Such a simple block of text, such a simple shape, comes with so many possibilities. The person on stage might say that they wanted to usher in new possibilities for the hood.

Kareem Parkins-Brown is Barbican Young Poets alumni, was almost Young Poet Laureate for London, and won the Roundhouse Poetry Slam in 2019. In 2021, he had a solo show at The Roundhouse and completed a run of performances as part of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen.