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Grace Nichols

About Grace Nichols

http://imgur.com/Bs7BgnL

Grace Nichols was born in Guyana in 1950, and moved to 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 folk tales, rural landscape and history of enslavement (particularly relating to women). ‘To My Coral Bones’ from “Startling the Flying Fish” (2006) explores the importance of Nichols’ Caribbean heritage. As she said, she has ‘always | carried deep | these islands’.

In the UK, Nichols’ began to respond to contemporary issues. She was one of a number of West-Indian poets, including Linton Kwesi-Johnson and John Agard, whose work dealt with racial tensions at a time when immigration was central to political debates under Margaret Thatcher’s government. Poems from her 1984 collection “The Fat Black Woman’s Poems” are humorous and assertive, presenting the honest views 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 also by attention to language; their essence. Her work blends the Creole of her homeland with standard English, creating new rhythms and rhymes. When spoken aloud her poems are most powerful and memorable.

Reading aloud brings these poems to life, freeing up the infectious lyrical sweep. For example, in ‘Praise Song for My Mother’ (which is on the current GCSE syllabus), there is 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.

Grace Nichols' poetry is central to our understanding of the 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 highlighted — lyrically and humorously — the nature of life as a woman and immigrant in the UK.