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Launch Day // Inua Ellams #Afterhours + Selected Poets | 12-Apr-17

This is what the journey will be. Tonight, when I leave my flat, the stainless steel pill of an elevator will whirr me down to the ground floor of my block of flats in Brixton. The street's air will fold me in itself, I will get the timing right and dart between the coming and going traffic to the other side of the road. At the bus stop, I will take any that travels down the Brixton road and walk through the church grounds on the left. I will imagine a congregation's held breath and I will go underground at Oval Tube station. I will stem the urge to imagine the train time display board as a basketball hoop and myself a winged baller, and I will wait, twitching, as I have so many times before, for the tube to come.  

I know this route so well, I could sleepwalk it safely. For the 12 months it took to complete the #Afterhours project at the National Poetry Library, I travelled it, hustling back and forth, having imaginary conversations with the books I was reading, the poems inside them, and the poets who wrote them. Thinking of each poem as a city, the point of each conversation was to agree on a path through, a direction, a lens, a way of being within the poem, and a way out. Nineteen such times, on nineteen poems, I muttered to myself, mouthing or whispering lines under my breath. Often I'd catch a fellow passenger staring and I would still my lips until the next stop. 

Years before the project, I always felt nervous when I walked through the doors of the library. I'd stand before the shelves like a boy before an insurmountable wall not knowing where to start, or if I could at all. After the year spent as its poet in residence, I now know each book is a soft brick issuing silent invitations to pry open, to reach through and see who you might be on the other side. I started by narrowing the field of vision, 1984 to 2002, British or Irish poets only – and in doing sound found safe, familiar places, small mirrors, hand and footholds, beckoning. 

To visitors coming to the library, to poetry newbies, to those who might be daunted as I was, I would suggest the same. Don't waste wondering, don't create a massive project as I did. Anything works... start small, think of a lens, anything that might narrow your vision and help you zoom in. Any random aspect of your background will do, your interests, the countries you visited, sports you love (or hate), favourite birds, bicycle machinery... anything. In the library's online catalogue, you can search by keyword. Should that fail to throw up anything, come to the library itself. The staff are there to help, as they did me, for a whole year, as they will again tonight. 

I will exit at Waterloo Station and walk to the South Bank Centre, cross the bar, to the singing yellow lift, and rise with the voices in harmony, to the fifth floor, turn left, and into the library for the book launch, where the book will be launched, and another soft brick added to the shelves. 

For more info on the book launch event, click here 

#Afterhours Anthology / Diary / Memoir / Poems by Inua Ellams + Selected Poets 
£9.99 from Nine Arches Press 

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