I take a deep breath and smile at the team from KQ They’ve invited me back to be a Poet Chronicler for conference #2
I rush up to the foyer ready to start taking notes with gusto
Look around but it feels like a Bjork video
It’s all so quiet sssshhh sssshhh
Then my geeky heart almost jumps out of my throat
Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock walks past ahead of her keynote
Then it’s back to the morning murmur, a woman drops her coffee on the floor! I wonder if it can be used as some kind of metaphor
Keisha, I say to myself, stop clutching at straws
Maybe today an extended metaphor won’t be the thing, maybe today this poem will require you to sing. The idea will present itself I just need to listen
Roly gives a chirpy welcome, sets a perfect tone for the morning
Before handing over to Keir Starmer presents a soft warning - the paradox of digital tools allow us to build both bridges and echo chambers.
All the speakers are bursting with energy and impassioned voice, talking about barriers, rockets, doors. I’m spoilt for choice. Which one of these should I chose for my extended metaphor? But the more I try to write the poem, the more it feels like a chore. So in the face of writer’s block I switch up the methodology, whip out my dictionary app and opt for some etymology.
Knowledge is an abstract noun. Trace the word back it means “a higher thing”
Hhhmmm something just isn’t chiming
An abstract noun is something that cannot be experienced through the senses… why does that definition feel absurd? I reflect on the morning and everything I have heard, consider that maybe “abstract” isn’t the problematic word what if I changed the “noun” bit to “verb”? And there it is! I realise exactly what I’ve been missing.
I remember a quote from Dr Sunetra - the commodification of knowledge is a lethal thing.
All this time I’ve been trying to reduce my idea for this poem into a single metaphor - an echo chamber, a barrier, a sliding door but therein lay the flaw, knowledge is not a thing to be found, it is an experience that we endure
This commodifying attitude is how problems proceed, like the Facebook coders who have reduced our global interests into custom-made, narrow-minded newsfeeds. Like the journalists misreporting scientific findings to serve unquestioned public greed. Like all children chained by that question - what do you want to be? (When really we should ask - what do you like to do?) Because when I was little and got asked that question I didn’t have a clue. I used to say I don’t think I know what it’s called yet…
Like Madani said - we don’t know the answers but we know the question should be asked. It’s less about the words, more about giving voice, like the engineer I spoke to at the break who said it’s about choice, he said this conference has made him realise that he has been reading blindly, summed up his thoughts with a smoking analogy, you know it’s wrong from all the images on the package, it’s about transparency, I want access to information so I choose how to behave for myself. So knowledge can still be seen as a higher thing but we need not focus on the shelf but about the leap towards it, like a lightening talk speaker leaping to the stage! As Sunetra said there’s nothing wrong with a barrier if you know it can be surmounted.
It’s about momentum, context and aspiration
That changes a 6 people family in a two bedroom flat from overcrowded flat in Camden to an average one in Calcutta bursting with ambition
As Juliette from British Land says the magic is in the permission
Find the motion in the abstract
It changes mind full to mindful
Changes 20 years from meaning a childhood mired by a HS2 train to a journey to Proxima B estimated by Steven Hawking
When we stop thinking of knowledge as it thing it removes the status, knowledge can no longer be a thing to brandish like some modern day Christopher Columbus
Knowledge is the moment Maggie realised 1 cubic centimetre is equal to 1 gram
It’s Madani asking how do we lose control
It’s me telling Inua that insomnia can be fixed with two drops of lavender oil on a pillow
It’s break time when Roly encourages us to have a restorative cup of tea
It’s me admitting that I got the idea for this poem when I went for a wee
It’s the young people on the panel saying there should be more young people in the room
It’s the two week deliberation gap to a citizen assembly
It’s Maggie explaining that NASA use motion map projections instead of satellite images simply displaying history
It’s Clive saying that female coders are no different to male coders except they’ve been undermined systematically
It’s Hazel at lunch saying that experientially knowledge holds validity
It’s Maggie’s daughter being diagnosed with dyslexia and responding with visible glee
It’s inferring that everyone is really concerned about the political future of this country because I’ve heard more side convos about Boris and his floppy hair than I’ve had cups of green tea
Mayank looks at me and says I’ve seen 10 people in this room who could do a better job easily
And so my conclusion is conferences like this give space for hope, allow us to take a pause, connect and dismantle our troupes
Speak not of the round, speak of the curve
Speak not of the sound, speak of the reverb
Speak not of the frown, speak of the disturb
Speak not of the abstract noun, speak of the abstract verb
I’m rounding up this poem as there is some contention in the room but that’s exactly what we want! Critique, the challenge of consensus, communitarianism, the constant need for us not to assume! Like my journey with this poem, starting the day thinking it would be a linear account with carefully constructed words but now appreciating that poem was in the act of thinking, writing, speaking but most importantly in it being heard.