© Image by Caroline Forbes

Grace Nichols

(b. 1950)

'Not only rich music, an easy lyricism, but also grit, and earthy honesty, a willingness to be vulnerable and clean' - Gwendolyn Brooks

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Recordings

These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Extras

  • Carribean Poetry Conference
    A conference on Caribbean Poetry will take place in Cambridge from 20–22 September 2012. Speakers and performers include John Agard, Beverley Bryan, Christian Campbell, Kei Miller, Mervyn Morris, Grace Nichols, Velma Pollard, Olive Senior, Dorothea Smartt and special guest Linton Kwesi Johnson. For more details click on the link above.

Select bibliography

  • I is a Long Memoried Woman, Karnak House, 1990
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  • The Fat Black Woman’s Poems, Virago, 1984
  • Lazy Thoughts of a Lazy Woman, Virago, 1989
  • Sunris, Virago, 1996
  • Startling the Flying Fish, Virago, 2005
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  • I Have Crossed an Ocean, Bloodaxe, 2010
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  • Pumpkin Grumpkin (with John Agard (Author) and Satoshi Kitamura (Illustrator)), Walker, 2011
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  • Grace Nichols Reading from her Poems, Poetry Archive, 2012
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  • Picasso, I Want My Face Back, Bloodaxe, 2009
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  • Everybody Got a Gift, A&C Black, 2006
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  • Under the Moon and Over the Sea, (with John Agard (Author), Jane Ray (Illustrator), Satoshi Kitamura (Illustrator), Sara Fanelli (Illustrator), Cathie Felstead (Illustrator), Christopher Corr (Illustrator)), Walker Books, 2007
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Grace Nichols is a poet whose work has been central to our understanding of the important cultural Caribbean-British connection for nearly 3 decades. From her first collection, I Is a Long Memoried Woman (1983), to her more recent work such as Picasso, I Want My Face Back (2009), she has uncovered with a disquieting lyricism and humour the various facets of life as a woman and as an immigrant living in the UK.

Nichols was born in Guyana in 1950, and moved to live in the UK in 1977. Her work is influenced by the history and culture of her homeland, in particular the oral story-telling tradition with its fantastic folk tales, the landscape and its rural tasks and the history of enslavement (particularly relating to women). ‘To My Coral Bones’ from Startling the Flying Fish (2006) explores the importance of Nichols’ Caribbean heritage, suggesting she has ‘always | carried deep | these islands’.

On arrival in the UK, Nichols’ work began to respond to the contemporary situation. She was one of a number of West-Indian poets, including Linton Kwesi-Johnson and John Agard, whose work also touched on racial tensions at a time when immigration was at the centre of the political debates under Margaret Thatcher’s government. Poems from her 1984 collection The Fat Black Woman’s Poems are an arresting and humourous riposte, presenting the unfettered thoughts of the heroine in the bath or at the shops. A later poem, ‘Hurricane Hits England’, expresses the connection between cultures, when a hurricane reminds her that ‘the earth is the earth is the earth’.

Her poetry is characterized not just by the themes above, but by an acute attention to the language which carries the poems. Her work marries the Creole of her homeland with standard English, creating new possibilities for rhythm and rhyme. As such, while reading her poetry on the page offers fascinating insights to the potential for linguistic hybridity, it is when spoken aloud that her techniques sing most powerfully.

In her reading for the Archive, Nichols’ voice brings the poems to life, giving free reign to the infectious lyrical sweep of her verse. For example, in ‘Praise Song for My Mother’ (which is on the current GCSE syllabus), there is a true harmony in the blend of the vibrant imagery, ‘the fish’s red gill’ and ‘the flame tree’s spread’, the haunting recollection of the past tense ‘You were’, and the forward movement of the repeated stanza structure and end-rhymes.

Her poetry for children is characterized by the same rhythms as her other poetry, although the subjects are designed to appeal to a younger audience. ‘Cat-Rap’, included here, proves that Nichols herself is ‘The meanest cat-rapper you’ll ever see | Number one of the street-sound galaxy’.

Recorded on 12 October 2009 at Pier Productions, Brighton, UK. Produced by Anne Rosenfeld.

Prizes

1983 Commonwealth Poetry Prize

1996 The Guyana Poetry Prize

2001 Cholmondeley Award

1994 Poetry Book Society Best Single Author Children's Collection

2003 Centre for Literacy in Primary Education Poetry Award

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