City welcomes Esther Phillips to discuss her ambassadorial role as Poet Laureate and deliver readings about slavery and migration.

By Hamish Armstrong(Senior Communications Officer), Published

City, University of London’s School of Communication & Creativity was honoured to welcome Esther Phillips on a rare visit to the UK, in an event hosted jointly by the Department of Media, Culture and Creative Industries and Department of Journalism.

Esther became Barbados’s first ever Poet Laureate in 2018, and delivered readings from her poetry about growing up in the Caribbean, slavery and migration before a fireside chat with Dr Jonathan Gibbs, Programme Director of City’s Creative Writing MA and MFA.

Born in Barbados where she still resides, Esther has become a prominent champion for justice and in particular a strong voice in support of handing over the infamous Drax Hall Plantation, owned by the British Drax family (including Richard Drax, MP for South Dorset), to the people of Barbados in honour of the many slaves who died on the site.

As well as exploring her poetic influences and current research at SOAS University of London and the British Museum, Esther talked at length about politics, Barbadian culture and the importance of recognising the island’s colonial past.

It is not possible to destroy the soul of someone else and not be destroyed yourself

– Esther Phillips on resistance to reparation.

She then took questions from the audience around the importance of acknowledging the past, reparations, her legacy and her role as Poet Laureate, before finishing the evening by reading ‘He Called for Momma’, an emotive poem she had written about the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota.

Reflecting on hosting the event, Dr Gibbs said:

“It was a real pleasure to hear Esther read from and talk about her poems.

The readings themselves were incredibly powerful, and she navigated the issues they raised, both personal and public, with insight and grace.

“It was also great to hear from her collection-in-progress, The Plantation Poems, and I can’t wait to see them in print.”

Dr Paul Lashmar, Reader in the Department of Journalism at City, said:

'I met Esther in Barbados in 2022 while researching my book on the history of the Drax Family.

Esther grew up next to Drax Hall sugar plantation where for 200 years enslaved people were forced to work. She is a poet-philosopher who, in her deceptively simple poems, explains why it is so important to recognise what slavery means to people from the Caribbean.

“I am delighted I was able to instigate this event at City during her visit to London.

“Esther’s reading of her poems was incredibly moving and it was a great privilege to be able to be present.”

Esther Phillips’ poems are published in the UK by Peepal Tree Press.

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