In 2008 Arts Council England invited poets to commemorate the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act by writing a poem on the theme of enslavement.
Valerie Bloom was born in Clarendon, Jamaica and came to England in 1974. She gained a first in English with African and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kent.
She has written a number of poetry collections and two novels, run writing courses for the Arvon foundation, led workshops for students, teachers and librarians in schools and colleges and has had residencies worldwide. She has performed her work at festivals, on television and radio in Britain, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. She writes poetry in both English and in Jamaician patois for readers of all ages. She currently lives in Kent with her husband and three children.
If any man be found stealing any of his brethren and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him, then the thief shall die, and thou shalt put away evil from among you. Deut. 24:7
They have taken my voice, Mother,
And I am dumb,
No sound springs from my parted lips,
No groan or sigh,
No croak or curse
Or blessings fall.
Silence is all.
They have taken my name, Mother,
I am unknown,
If you should call I'll not respond,
Names pass me by unharnessed
Who am I?
They have taken my song, mother,
I cannot sing,
The melodies of home are silenced now,
No drums, no flutes,
No whistles wail,
No koras croon
A soulful tune.
They have taken my children, mother,
What use my rage?
Their piping cries still haunt my dreams,
Unused cups taunt,
The empty mat
Still mocks my gaze
Through ceaseless days.
They want my thoughts, mother,
But my face is blank,
I do not show distress or joy,
No twitch of jaw,
Nor curl of lip
No chains, they'll find,
Around my mind.
My fathers, I have made a voice,
I have replaced the one I lost.
From abandoned words and sounds
I fashioned it,
Tried it for size.
My fathers, I can vocalize!
My fathers, I have bought a name,
It does not wrap around the tongue
Like kente cloth around the waist,
But slips from lips
Like an eel through the hand,
I wear this name like an armband.
My fathers, I have found a song,
It wails high-pitched with sound of steel,
It dances from the skins of goats,
It sighs from guitar and banjo,
With syncopated beat I sing.
My fathers, I am surviving.
My fathers, I have found my sons,
My daughters, they're in every state,
From billboards they smile down at me,
They lead, they rule, they guide, they teach,
They call the world their home,
My fathers, we have overcome.