Tuesday, 14 March 2017

An interview with Sandra Alland and Khairani Barokka, two co-editors of 'Stairs and Whispers'

Today I'm delighted to bring you an interview with Khairani Barokka and Sandra Alland, who along with Daniel Sluman, are the co-editors of 'Stairs and Whispers', which will be published by Nine Arches press and will be the UKs first major anthology of poetry and essays by D/deaf and Disabled poets.

Nine Arches Press are currently running a crowdfunder to bring this amazing anthology into fruition. As of right now they've reached their initial goal so along with their part-funding by Grants for the Arts funding from Arts Council England they have had enough pledges to be able to publish the anthology, but any extra support towards their stretch goal will mean you are supporting an incredible anthology and some great writers - you can even get yourself a free gift poetry book with one of the crowdfunders pledges! 

So to spread the word about 'Stairs and Whispers', Sandra Alland and Khairani Barokka, two co-editors of the anthology, have kindly answered a few questions all about the anthology. Thank you both!

Khairani, as ‘Stairs and Whispers’ is going to consist entirely of d/Deaf and disabled artists’ voices - how important do you think the anthology will be to the industry moving forward? What impact do you hope it will have?

We hope the anthology will have an impact in many ways, including: providing a way for our community of D/deaf and disabled poets to have a sense that we are a community, one that’s vital to ourselves but also to literature generally; to encourage other D/deaf and disabled poets based in the UK and overseas to keep writing, keep sharing, submitting, to find each other, and to assert their work into the scene wherever they are; to set an industry standard in terms of making an accessible anthology that’s also inclusive; and getting fundamentally important poetics, talents, and perspectives to a wider audience, so that we have our own say in the mix when our lives are being threatened by political policies, austerity, and continued discrimination.

What kind of work can readers expect to find in 'Stairs and Whispers’, Khairani?

A huge variety—poetry set everywhere from colonised islands to Alice’s Wonderland, from the funny to the sobering, and poetry that’s both, and lots of really vital political takes on the world we live in and how it treats our varying bodyminds: whether through personal stories or explicit take-downs of policy. There are as many writing styles as poets in this book!

Sandra - 'Stairs and Whispers' is obviously very important for various reasons - how did you come to be involved in the project?

The project was conceived by Markie Burnhope and Daniel Sluman, in collaboration with Nine Arches Press, after the successful Fit to Work: Poets Against Atos online anthology (edited by Burnhope, Sluman and Sophie Mayer). I was over the moon to be invited to join the editorial committee, and we dreamt hard together about what kind of anthology we wanted to help shape – one that showcased disabled and D/deaf artists in the UK like they hadn’t been before, one that sought to address intersectional activism and access, one that ‘wrote back’ against neoliberalism and our current political climate.

Our call-out went into the world in 2015, and we were bombarded with a ridiculous amount of brilliant writing by brilliant people. When Markie sadly had to step down because of health issues, we were also unfunded, so we took a wee break to reassess what we could manage, as disabled poets with chronic health issues, and without cash.

Reinvigorated by rest and part-funding from Arts Council England, we wooed Khairani Barokka to join us in making the selections from over 500 pages of writing, editing them, inviting poets to write essays, and conceiving ideas for the form, tone(s) and scope of the book. Okka, Daniel and I asked additional artists to submit (I have a firm belief that call-outs are not sufficient to reach as many communities and people as one wants. Nothing is enough, but tonnes of research and invitations help.) When the final deadline came, we went swimming in a very large pile of the most refreshing poetry.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about collaborating on 'Stairs and Whispers', Sandra?

If I had to name a dream job, co-editing Stairs and Whispers would likely be it. I cannot emphasise enough what an absolute peach of an experience it’s been working with Okka and Daniel – and Jane Commane at Nine Arches, and Markie before. Having coworkers who just get things – for example, that you’re tired or ill or fed up with ableist, cissexist, heterosexist and classist micro- and mega-aggressions – is an amazing gift. Working with other disabled people is a gift, cross-disability organising is a gift. I learned so much, but we all had to explain so little.

Okka, Daniel and I also balanced each other out well as editors. We have overlapping tastes, but also differing tastes and backgrounds, and I think this helped us choose a wider variety of styles and kinds of poetry. Speaking of the poets, it was super difficult to make decisions, but we just couldn’t publish everyone. We’ve included over 50 poets, in print or on film, and the calibre of work is truly impressive. Working with them has also been dreamy – they get things to us on time, they’re open to edits, and they’re as passionate about the work as we are. There’s a real sense of community to this book – of disabled and D/deaf people, of adventurous poets serious about their craft. 

These are tough times, in the UK and elsewhere. We hope Stairs and Whispers will contribute to ongoing discussions about the value of disability poetics, aesthetically and politically, and continue both our unique artistic traditions and our resistance to oppression of all kinds.

Thank you again for taking the time out to answer these questions! What a fantastic insight to 'Stairs and Whispers' and its editing process. 

You can buy a physical or e-book copy of 'Stairs and Whispers' and support the project through its crowdfunder here (and I definitely recommend you do so asap, as it closes in 2 days!) Every supporter of the crowdfunder even gets their name printed in the back of the anthology as a supporter as well! What more could you want? Please pledge if you're able to - I've already pledged and I can't wait to receive my copy. Not only is it a really important anthology for so many reasons - some of which Sandra and Khairani have so rightly pointed out, but it also sounds like an incredible body of work by some outstandingly talented disabled and D/deaf poets. So if you're able to, please pledge if you can and get yourselves a copy! 

Sandra Alland’s work includes Blissful Times (BookThug, 2007) and Naturally Speaking (espresso, 2012) and Khairani Barokka's works include Indigenous Species (Tilted Axis, 2016) and Rope (Nine Arches, 2017). Daniel Sluman has two books with Nine Arches Press: Absence has a weight of its own (2012) and The Terrible (2015).

You can find more information about Nine Arches Press on their website, here. They can also be found on Twitter, here.

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