An afternoon with Elmi Ali



“Speak to them so deep, so true, that tigers will be vegans and lions will shave off their manes, fold their claws into fists, pound the air, and roar the song of freedom and equality; elephants and rhinos in a stomped to stomp out greed and corruption.”

Elmi Ali, ‘Quench Your Thirst’

A man after Mancunian art lovers’ hearts, poet, writer and teacher Elmi Ali was at Coffee Nubia cafe in Moss Side on Saturday 14 November for an afternoon of readings – fiction, page and performance poetry (spoken word). Elmi was spreading light when the weather outside was spreading misery with relentless downpours.

The Manchester poet, who’s only in his mid-20s, has long been a formidable writer, not only in the city’s writers circles, but beyond as well. Quite frankly, he hardly gets the recognition he ought to receive.

As rain did what it’s renowned to do in Manchester, Elmi gathered poetry and art lovers at the vibrant café, performing a range of pieces including a unique version of Quench Your Thirst. It was an ephemeral rendition of his poem, meaning it needed to be watched and heard at the cafe and cannot be replicated. This is what makes performance poetry different to book poetry. Elmi is a perfect ambassador of the art and what’s more, he is Mancunian and a realist too.

Not to make any distinction between book poetry and performance poetry, but Elmi’s pieces – as witnessed at #PAC70 at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in October – have a rhythmical structure intended to engage the listener. Their stresses shift according to the space in which they are performed. With the intimacy of Coffee Nubia, Elmi performed his pieces whilst seated, whereas at MMU he stood up to adjust his tone and pitch in a way tailored for the specific space – a lecture room.

Inspired by “life and the difficulty of being”, Elmi experiments “with language to broaden meaning, understanding and ultimately to inform thought”. Through his craft, he explores “the inadequacies of language in bringing across and translating our multi-sensory experiences”, he told TNT.

When emphasising the benefits of visiting performance poets like Elmi, in the spaces they deliver their art, it’s crucial to point out that all poetry involves voice and is constructed with voice. In performance poetry, there is crafting and editing of sentences like in book poetry and even its title too, however when the poem is performed, the poem is the poet.

It also stands to reason therefore that performance poetry reaches people that book poetry does not. Something much more than the beauty of words and their rhythm, rhyme and cadence, resonates well with the audience. This marks performance poetry as a movement that also incorporates cultural identity.
Elmi’s work exhibits this precisely, as his themes ricochet between “many things. Mostly in people, actions, reactions, situations and language”, he told TNT.

Also joining Elmi in the cafe were poet Stephen Brown and freestyle artist Akinyemi – who did some poetry and live sketches of attendees on the day, respectively.

Elmi will be performing at Contact at the One Mic Stand Manchester on Friday 20 November between 7pm and 10pm, before being amongst 20 artists eight days later at 8pm at Track Brewing – responding to a single theme: White.

TNT Arts & Culture

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