This is the second commissioned poem by Vanessa Kisuule, Bristol City Poet.

Vanessa Kisuule

There’s been talk that carnival

Is dying – a cruel and common rumour

But carnival will humour non-believers

Cos carnival has claws and carnival has teeth

It’s a long line of dominoes

Cascading down the street

There’s an elder sat quietly in his room

He’s lost down memory lane

Humming a rocksteady tune

He still remembers the date

The skippety-skip of his heart

In 1968 – asking a pretty girl to dance

Radiant in her green dress

She smiled big and wide, of course she said yes

That was how new connections were discovered

On this special day strangers became friends and lovers

As songs from a far off island brought sunshine

To this one – carnival meant so much to so many

They never missed one –

It was a time for people to collide – a space to play

And room to breathe

Where you could revel in the chaos of community

Different cultures often crash into each other

Fighting to be loudest and proudest of the borough

But here we meet at a bridge

Where we take time to sit, lick the same morsels

Of food from our fingers, sling each other’s music

On our bones, the melodies linger

See the young ones jig their limbs to old school raga

Maybe a grandad’s swagger finds new heat

Under the flames of a 140 bpm grime beat

We combine these genres on all the stages

The perfect blend of spices marinading

When the speakers call, nothing else matters

A carefree spill of cacophonous chatter – cheeky

Backchat back and forth

Kids giggle and scatter – getting up to all sorts

The corners of the streets sizzle and hiss

A world’s palette answers with culinary bliss

Jamaica, Trini, Guyana, flavours big and bold

Floating over Denbigh Street and City Road

The legacy of yesteryear’s among us: look around

The ghosts of carnivals past dance through

The crowds – what would

They reckon to carnival’s changing face?

Would they be proud, distressed,

Would they recognise this place?

We can only wonder – as

Airhorns pierce our ears and beats rumble like thunder

Rum-soaked rhythms writhing through us

These streets that have changed so much

From the rough ones of the Windrush

A sombre hush fills some people’s hearts

They miss the glory days – they feel too

Many things have changed

But perhaps a new age is coming through

One that we can shape and make our own

In a world that teaches us to keep our distance

To fear foreigners, fear change, fear time, fear difference

Old ways of distrust won’t hold a claim to us

Our kids play double dutch

In the same streets dismissed as dangerous

Tumbling out of tower blocks and locked doors

Where there’s no shared language, that’s what smiles were made for

We have many challenges – time to fight it or face it

Carnival is here, carnival is now, carnival is what we make it

It’s not about councils or corporations

Crushed cans of Red stripe underfoot, a mess,

A crush, a rush of red-eyed ravers defiling our city

This was lovingly built by committees who cared

Carnival is a heritage that trails through the air

Like BBQ fumes – we smell it, we see it, we feel it

This was how our ancestors

Grew home from the soil of colonial sin

So come sit, chill, dance, revel in it all

The feathers, the dancers and all the food stalls

The kids in their costumes and their parents

Dancing like its 68

Take a slice of the past and a piece of the future

Serve them both up on the same plate

This celebration was born in defiance of defeat

And so it will remain – this is not a sleeping beast

Carnival has claws. Carnival has teeth


Photo: @JonCraig_Photos 07778606070

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