‘Nottingham is a city of poets, around a thousand,’ Dr Becky Cullen tells the WRAP Café when we have a special guest, Panya Banjoko. And by the end of the evening, we would realise Panya Banjoko is the charismatic Rastafarian Queen of Nottingham’s poets. She is one in a thousand – one in a generation.

Panya reads us a few poems with attention to detail, ability to change pitch and accent and passion for the craft. She slips from Nottingham to Jamaican sounds. Her poetic standard does not surprise me; she is a published poet studying for her PhD. It’s Panya’s quality that sends the electricity to every part of my cerebellum, her engagement with the word. Syllable, speed of delivery, and tone are all carefully and naturally orchestrated. If I thought myself a poet when the night began, then by the night’s end, I’d be digging deep in the literary soul and sharpening my poetic pencil; the bar she sets is high – stratospheric. A couple of the pieces are about Nottingham’s elderly black population; Elders as Panya affectionately refers to them. A man trying to remember his past, a past shaped by upheaved West Indian roots, replanted in Nottingham’s soil, working hard to get a job down the pit only to be rejected, when others appearing less capable are given the job. Panya’s vocal shape-shifting expressing the desire to belong, the human need to be accepted. Panya has long, thick dreadlocks that she throws over her shoulder. Once her father tried to cut them from her head. She left the family home, dreads intact. Panya negated the need to be accepted by her father, maybe because she needed to be herself to belong. And belong she has. In the words of fellow Rastafarian Bob Marley, ‘emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.’

Panya’s poetry emits light from a place maybe forgotten was it not for her self-propelled mission to catalogue Nottingham’s Black history by gathering artefacts and personal accounts from the Elders. She expresses the need to work hard at the poetic form to achieve what she simply calls ‘good poetry.’ Spend an evening with Panya, and you’ll get to know quickly what ‘good poetry’ really is. We hear a poem from her book of poems, Some Things, and she makes us privy to some trade secrets. She then pulls out the big poetic guns, a poem named ‘One of a kind’. She lets us know it’s her favourite poem and a childlike pleasurable expression covers her face as she says the words, ‘use your fingers like the limbs of a Darwin Bark Spider,’ and I know why. Because those words are magical when spoken in the Banjoko style.        

Panya takes time to listen to some of the WRAP ambassadors recite their poetry: a carefully crafted sonnet by Nick Barret and poems by Alessandra Leone and myself. She is clearly at home in the creative performing environment and takes as much pleasure in listening as performing.       

As Panya becomes more relaxed in the WRAP Café environment, she moves from her current poetry and talk of her work to expressing her dub poetic past. She even recites the first poem she ever read as a young girl and explained her desire, as a middle child, to stand out by performing it whenever she got the chance. Panya’s poetics are a product of her life and hard work. Her memories are compounded by those of others. Shine those memories through a multi-dimensional magnifying glass and project them through Panya’s carefully amped vocals. You get ‘a spa day for the ears,’ (Dr Becky Cullen coined the phrase) ending a wonderful evening with an exceptional lady that Nottingham can be very proud to say is the one in a thousand, one in a generation poet, Panya Banjoko. 

About John Lewell

John Lewell is a first-year Creative Writing student returning to education as a mature student, acting on his passion for writing. He has an interest in working class culture and a white guitar on the wall of his office.

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