Raymond Antrobus

United Kingdom

Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney, London to an English mother and Jamaican father. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works iii and Jerwood Compton Poetry. He is one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word Education from Goldsmiths, University of London. Raymond is a founding member of Chill Pill and the Keats House Poets Forum. He has had multiple residencies in deaf and hearing schools around London, as well as Pupil Referral Units. In 2018 he was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Award by the Poetry Society (judged by Ocean Vuong). Raymond currently lives in London and spends most his time working nationally and internationally as a freelance poet and teacher.


Raymond Antrobus has published two acclaimed pamphlets and was nominated for a Forward Prize for his first collection, The Perseverance. It is published by dynamic and innovative independent press, Penned in the Margins. Accolades include the Ted Hughes award, PBS Winter Choice, A Sunday Times Young Writer of the year award & The Guardian Poetry Book Of The Year 2018, as well as a shortlist for the Griffin Prize. In 2018 Antrobus was awarded 'The Geoffrey Dearmer Prize', (Judged by Ocean Vuong), for his poem 'Sound Machine'.

Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney, London to an English mother and Jamaican father. The title poem, a sestina called The Perseverance, is the name of a pub on Broadway Market in London where Raymond’s dad used to drink and it recalls long hours waiting, telling strangers who ask that his dad is working. The quality of persistence burns brightly throughout the collection and in a range of contexts. Raymond Antrobus’s deafness was not immediately recognised and one poignant poem, part of a longer sequence called ‘Echo’, shows Raymond chanting ‘Antrob, Antrob, Antrob’, relishing being able to make his dad laugh, but unable to hear the end sound in his own name. Many poems contain such perfectly captured and vivid moments and are deeply moving. 

Perseverance in the face of loss is also a theme in the book, not only personal loss such as through the illness and death of Raymond’s father, but wider loss, as a result of the discrimination and prejudice faced by deaf people throughout history and in different cultures and countries. This is fiercely captured in the poem ‘Two Guns in the Sky for Daniel Harris’, a poem that describes the shooting in American of a deaf man because his sign language gestures looked aggressive to the policeman.  The poem ‘For Jesula Gelin, Vanessa Previl and Monique Vincent’ begins with three women found murdered, their tongues cut out, for speaking sign language. 

Racism is also tackled, and intersects with prejudice, loss and perseverance. Poems also wrestle with the tension and contradiction that comes with multiple identities:

In school I fought a boy in the lunch hall — Jamaican.
At home, told Dad, I hate dem, all dem Jamaicans — I’m British.

He laughed, said, you cannot love sugar and hate your sweetness
took me straight to Jamaica — passport: British.

As these examples suggest, Raymond Antrobus’s poems combine the personal and the political to stunning effect. 

The Perseverance contains drawn images of sign language. Indeed signals and ideas around tuning in or out are deftly explored. The opening poem offers an insight into Raymond’s relationship with his deafness, as an immersion in a different world:

Even though I have not heard 

the golden decibel of angels,

I have been living in a noiseless 

palace where the doorbell is pulsating light 

and I am able to answer.

 

Throughout this collection, Antrobus is able to maintain a dynamic tension between ideas around deafness as an infection, a defect and as a source of wonder and possibility and a ‘sanctuary’. For example in these lines:

So maybe I belong to the universe 
underwater, where all songs
are smeared wailings for Salacia,
Goddess of Salt Water, healer
of infected ears,

The collection also offers multiple perspectives. Antrobus is a master of the dramatic monologue and we hear his mother saying, ‘when you’re raised poor the world is touched/ different’. The collection gives voice to deaf people throughout history, such as Mable Gardiner Hubbards who says, ‘To pass as normal I rehearse my listening in mirrors’ and a stunning sequence of poems based on an interview with a Deaf Jamaican woman about her arrival in England. 

‘To Sweeten Bitter’ is a poem which encapsulates this bitter-sweet collection and also the range and depth of Raymond Antrobus’s poetry. 

I ask dictionary why we came here — 
it said nourish so I sat with my aunt 
on her balcony at the top
of Barnet Heights 
and ate salt fish 
and sweet potato

Raymond Antrobus is a poet who absolutely and abundantly repays time spent listening and reading. According to Kaveh Akbar, ‘it’s magic, the way this poet is able to bring together so much—deafness, race, masculinity, a mother’s dementia, a father’s demise—with such dexterity. Raymond Antrobus is as searching a poet as you’re likely to find writing today.’