Caleb Femi's Poor combines poetry and original photography to witness and celebrate life as a young Black boy in 21st-century Peckham – the very experience that shaped him as a poet. The personalities, architecture, music and stories of his youth come together in mythic fashion, a tribute to people finding magic in difficult circumstances.

This poem finds the people around Femi unfurling and blossoming in a tableau of spring in the city.

Here Too Spring Comes to Us with Open Arms

& it looks like this:

a few youngers sprawled like a deck of trick cards on the back stairs
talking all that talk about any day now they’ll be taken under the wing of a dragon

little cousins unseen in the side pocket of the function plotting a sleepover
if you ask my mum and I ask yours they’ll say yes

twilight and three unbroken voices at the back of the bus
flat earth theories flat asses flat shoes – sweet nonsense chatting

wickedest whine from Chantel and the boy would’ve fell on the dance floor
if the arms of his bredrin didn’t hold him up
(like scaffolding)

two men bouncing along the pavement
through another eye they look like young dolphins slicing coastal waves

two schoolgirls walking down the street laughing
nobody knows why

a room of unraveling ribbons reaching for the same microphone
to spit over an eskimo instrumental

a boy smiles at the mirror welcoming a new strip of muscle
breaking through the sheen of boyishness

a fresh pair of Air Jordans, clean like a smile
and everywhere they touch is hallowed ground

a boy who takes pain like a stone looks up and imagines
stars hanging in the night sky like meditating monks

a girl sends a risky text: the universe gasps and sound falls in on itself
a riskier reply is received

at dusk the boy walks through the park
no police no opps only the company of spirits


For Black History Month, we asked Black British authors at Penguin to celebrate the things that bring them joy.

  • Poor


    Chosen as a Book of the Year by New Statesman, Financial Times, Guardian, Observer, Rough Trade and the BBC

    Shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize
    Longlisted for the Jhalak Prize

    'Restlessly inventive, brutally graceful, startlingly beautiful ... a landmark debut' Guardian
    'Oh my God, he's just stirring me. Destroying me' Michaela Coel
    'A poet of truth and rage, heartbreak and joy' Max Porter
    'Takes us into new literary territory ... impressive' Bernardine Evaristo, New Statesman (Books of the Year)
    'It's simply stunning. Every image is a revelation' Terrance Hayes

    What is it like to grow up in a place where the same police officer who told your primary school class they were special stops and searches you at 13 because 'you fit the description of a man' - and where it is possible to walk two and a half miles through an estate of 1,444 homes without ever touching the ground?

    In Poor, Caleb Femi combines poetry and original photography to explore the trials, tribulations, dreams and joys of young Black boys in twenty-first century Peckham. He contemplates the ways in which they are informed by the built environment of concrete walls and gentrifying neighbourhoods that form their stage, writes a coded, near-mythical history of the personalities and sagas of his South London youth, and pays tribute to the rappers and artists who spoke to their lives.

    Above all, this is a tribute to the world that shaped a poet, and to the people forging difficult lives and finding magic within it. As Femi writes in one of the final poems of this book: 'I have never loved anything the way I love the endz.'

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