Mother Tongue: a magical-realist riposte to the referendum

During a local meeting about the effect of the Brexit referendum result, a Spanish national, resident in West Norwood, told the audience that since the vote he had become aware that he no longer had a voice in this country.

This prompted us to make a modest proposal – here in West Norwood – in the form of a project we call "Mother Tongue". It's a very simple idea, designed to be hassle-free and open to anyone, anywhere, anytime, but could also become more elaborate and lavish if the desire is there.

Here's how it works: The idea is structured around 'cells' of at least three people who will go into public spaces in West Norwood* – shop, bus stop, library, cafe, launderette, bar, pub, hipster hang-out, community space, sports venue, street corner, cemetery (!) – and read a great short poem or fragment of a poem from a European language (to start with), first in that language and then in English translation, while a third person snaps or records the intervention for posterity and posts it to social media (#PoetrySlabs or #MotherTongue).

We got off to a great start with two of our German friends (who were also at the meeting), who read poems by Goethe and Georg on Rothschild Street, next to the corn, squash and beans growing in the Bzz Garage community garden.

Goethe and Georg at the Bzz Garag

Our second outing demonstrated the fact that European languages are all over the world (for 'interesting' historical reasons…). "Oda a la bicicleta" by Pablo Neruda was read by a local resident originally from Chile. The event took place at West Norwood's super-cool bike shop Bon Velo, bien sûr.

Neruda in Bon Velo

Since then we have had a reading (and some singing) in Greek (in the Greek section of the wonderful West Norwood cemetery), and have attracted the attention of a highly experienced photo-journalist who is documenting the project as part of his Master's dissertation.

CP Cavafy at the Norwood Necropolis

If you would like to take part, please do go ahead. If you would like us to accompany you at your happening, just get in touch:

News items about the various happenings are posted on our FaceBook page, and photos also appear on Instagram.

* We see no reason to limit ourselves to West Norwood if the project gains momentum and interest further afield. In fact, we would hope that the idea could seed itself quite easily, given a fair wind…