On my radar: Jay Bernard's cultural highlights

The poet on logic puzzles, sweetcorn ribs and listening to Idles on repeat

Jay Bernard (who uses the non-binary “they”) is a British artist, writer and poet born in Croydon, London in 1988. They studied English at Oxford University and, in 2005, were named a Foyle young poet of the year. Their multimedia performance work Surge: Side A, which explores the New Cross fire of 1981, won the 2017 Ted Hughes award for new poetry. Bernard’s short film Something Said won the best experimental category at Aesthetica short film festival and best queer short at Leeds international film festival. Their 2019 poetry collection Surge (Chatto & Windus) was shortlisted for various prizes including the TS Eliot prize and the RSL Ondaatje prize, and most recently, the Sunday Times young writer of the year award.

1. Art

Nalini Malini at the Whitechapel Gallery

A still from Ubu Roi, 2018, by Nalini Malani.
A still from Ubu Roi, 2018, by Nalini Malani. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist

My studio isn’t far from Whitechapel Gallery. I went in to go to their bookshop but saw this weird, scratchy, DIY-looking image that said “RAGE” across it, and thought I’d have a look. It was this amazing room full of glitchy graphics. I looked the artist up, and she was born in 1946! She talks about what it means to be engaging with the world and certain kinds of liberatory politics. There’s something beautiful and powerful about the fact that she’s in her 70s and is making this extremely fun, almost comic graphic art. As somebody who does a lot of doodles and mark-making and random prints, it was just a very moving thing.

2. Film

Pyaasa (dir Guru Dutt)

A scene from Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957).
A scene from Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957). Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

It’s an Indian Bollywood film from the 1950s about a poet who falls into this pit of despair and is in this bizarre love triangle between a sex worker and a high-class woman. He’s disowned by his brothers because he’s not bringing in any money. One day, he comes home and he’s like: “Where are my poems?” It turns out they’ve sold them as waste paper. He’s really sad about this, because it’s his life’s work and he goes for a walk and hears a woman singing a song that he wrote. That’s how the film starts. It’s a really beautiful idea. It comes from an era when poetry was embedded in the culture. You can still go and watch Urdu poets. It’s part of life. Poetry is still important in the UK, but it’s not the same. I think we’ve lost some of the reasons why it mattered.

3. Music

Samaritans by Idles

Watch the video for Samaritans by Idles.

I’ve been listening to this on repeat. My grandad died during this Covid period and there was something about the line “this is why you never see your father cry” that just spoke to that moment. I’d never seen my dad cry, and that was something that really struck me while we were at the funeral. The abruptness of my grandad’s death, all of that just came rushing back in this song about how the mask of masculinity is the mask that’s wearing me. It’s such a great song! The drums in it are brilliant, the structure of the song is brilliant.

4. Puzzles

Logic quizzes on Brainzilla.com

I’ve been doing a lot of self-referential quizzes designed to teach you logic. Each one looks like a standard quiz, but all questions refer to one another. It makes a joke about the logic around IQ, how we justify some of the things that we’re doing, and come to conclusions. Sometimes there’s a bit of wordplay. It will say “The answer to this is A”, and you’ve got to think: do they mean the actual answer is A, or that the answer is A? I don’t want to get too conceptual or philosophical, but we are in a kind of self-referential loop at the moment. These quizzes show some of the ways in which we’re referring back in on ourselves over and over again – the echo chamber.

The Continent of Black Consciousness: On the History of the African Diaspora from Slavery to the Present Day

5. Book

The Continent of Black Consciousness by Erna Brodber

[Jamaican writer] Erna Brodber is not a huge famous name, but we had the same publisher when I was working on Surge, and I kept coming across her work. In this book she talks about the history of the Caribbean. It’s divided up into 12 sections, each one delivered to her community in Woodside, Jamaica. It’s an incredibly dense, intellectual work. She does some real analysis, like whether or not Marcus Garvey’s ideas make any sense. She talks about Caribbean workers going up to Panama and the psychology of that. The idea that you can have a deep, dare I say, an academic engagement, and it doesn’t have to be in the confines of a university is really interesting. She’s got that slightly old-school way of writing a lot of convoluted sentences, which I find very endearing.

6. Food

Sweetcorn ribs

Sweetcorn ribs from Leon.
Sweetcorn ribs from Leon. Photograph: Leon

I don’t know who came up with sweetcorn ribs, but it is a genius idea. I’ve had it twice now. Leon has them, and I’ve also had it at this place called Food for Friends in Brighton. It was one of the most ecstatic experiences I’ve ever had. It’s a cob cut into quarters and covered in some kind of deliciousness. I also grew sweetcorn in my garden during the first lockdown. The little kernels were smaller, and it was milkier and really sweet. It was just beautiful and a different experience. During lockdown, I definitely felt quite miserable, but there was something amazing about something propagating forth from the ground.


Kadish Morris

The GuardianTramp

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