'We're on week six now,' said headline performer of poetry night, Pen Ting for Grenfell and Ladbroke Grove resident Lénea Herew. While strumming her guitar to the intimate audience of The Poetry Society fundraiser, she spoke matter-of-factly about the ground work she’s been doing to help the victims in her neighbourhood whose lives were changed six short weeks ago.
The news of the fire, which has now already been forgotten by mainstream media, reached SOAS student and poet Omari Daniel while he was on holiday, and as a West Londoner himself, he wanted to do anything he could to raise awareness and money for the victims on his return. At the Poetry Café on Thursday, he put on a night of poetry and acoustic music, Pen Ting Volume III, Justice for Grenfell.
Other headline acts of the night included Mizan the Poet, a political activist who spoke about the current state of Britain and expressed his optimism for unity and hope, poet and rapper Patch and singer Asabi Hawah. There were open mic performances from Conor Toal, Reece Jackson, Yaz and Rachel O’Connor whose poem called The Tower was powerful and chilling:
I’m not your immigrant
I’m not your benefit cheat
I am your £300,000 saving
I am your wall of hate
[Extract from "The Tower" by Rachel O'Connor]
The songs and spoken word pieces were uplifting and beautiful, reducing people to tears but there was a strong sense of anger and frustration for a disaster that could have been avoided. Speaking to the organiser Omari Daniel, he explained how he felt that Grenfell was a symbolic tragedy for a wider problem:
“For me, this disaster falls under the banner of gentrification, in that there are multiple areas around London where a more elite class would prefer that less well-off communities weren’t there, for example in Tottenham, Brixton and Elephant and Castle. There are estates and peoples’ homes that are being knocked down or neglected to an extent that goes beyond just an inconvenience to them, the problem is systematic. The record of historical negligence at Grenfell Tower is outrageous – there were appeals to sort out the [fire safety] problems long beforehand but the cost was too much.
There is now denial and continuous government failure in the face of this disaster and the government and the bodies involved have repeatedly insulted the intelligence of the survivors and mourning families of this social class. Whether it’s a case of cloak and dagger gentrification or whether it’s much more disastrous events like this, the problem is systematic.”
The night felt like a peaceful protest where the poets and open mic performers could share really important messages in the form of lyrics and used it as a way to channel grief, hurt and frustration into a positive movement.
There was a lot of love and positive energy in the room and it was comforting to feel the determination of communities to make the problem better, in the name of humanity rather than politics. Instead of a fluffy "thoughts and prayers" approach to showing solidarity, Omari Daniel’s night of poetry and artistic expression was a small yet strong step in the direction of genuine solidarity and community support.
Photo Credits: @saffmacc