In July, PoetryHouse founder Jahmar Ngozi brings London, Paris, Amsterdam to Offbeat Oxford. A spoken word performance exploring love, creativity and identity, the former business lecturer has an incredible journey that celebrates culture, inspiration and romance. From his home in South London, he spoke to Sam Bennett about food, fashion, and friendship.
You already have a spoken word album of London, Paris, Amsterdam. Upon listening, it seems your London, Paris and Amsterdam – your London in particular – contradict the romantic notions people have of those places. Is that fair to say?
I don’t know, to be totally honest. I can only speak about my own experience. I think London can be very romantic, it just depends on what you experience there. Growing up in a place is like watching a person grow up, you don’t really see them grow up, you just grow up with them – London’s like that for me. I still think it’s beautiful, it’s a benefit I’ve been able to travel. I can go away, come back, and look at it with fresh eyes. That’s what the trips in this show have done.
Is the show about one specific trip?
It’s a trip to Paris and a trip to Amsterdam.
I should have guessed that really. The show is about love, creativity and identity. Do those things differ from city to city? Is creativity different in Paris to London, for example?
In my experience, yes. Paris, from what I saw and a fashion perspective, felt a bit freer than London. Everyone had their individual style, whereas in London people are more uniform.
Is there more stress in London?
I can’t speak too much on it because I haven’t lived in Paris or Amsterdam – going somewhere as a visitor is always different to living there. But I will say the stress in London is pretty high, pretty intense. I don’t think social life in London is as liberal as in other places, due to long working hours and high prices. Quality time with family, developing friendships, and just enjoying each other’s’ company isn’t as widely experienced here as elsewhere on the continent, from what I saw.
It might be a UK-wide thing – I think we’re fairly low down the rankings in terms of good work-life balance.
Sometimes I question how happy people are in the UK. In a lot of ways, we are very content, and there are a lot of things we enjoy, but happiness is more difficult to measure. Also, does a new car bring you happiness? Or is it a replacement for a good old get-together with friends on a regular basis? Regular meals – that social construct which is more meaningful than material things.
Maybe food has a lot to do with it. In Italy and France there seems to be far more love and bonding over food than over here.
From going to Italy and just seeing how they share their meals, I totally agree. In the UK we bond over alcohol, in other places there are actual meals and other things that come with that – I think we’re missing out on something there.
Which other creatives and venues are exciting you right now?
Ryan Calais Cameron, the playwright, is really good. I can see Little Simz breaking a lot of boundaries. Rich Mix in Shoreditch does a lot of great stuff.
What else is on your agenda?
I’ve been working on sustainable fashion.poetryhouse.co.uk initially had everything I did on there – my writing, poetry, and fashion. Then I took a step back, spoke to a couple of mentors, I was like ‘something’s just not right’. I thought maybe having it all on one website could be a bit confusing, so I got my own website (jahmar.co.uk) for my poetry and theatre, and PoetryHouse as a sustainable fashion brand which I’m really trying to push.
What else can you tell us about London, Paris, Amsterdam?
I’ve got two poets from Oxford featuring: JC Niala and Tina Sederholm. The night’s going to be a celebration of poetry and spoken word, I hope the poetry community in Oxford come out to listen!
London, Paris, Amsterdam | Saturday 16 July 8pm | Old Fire Station, Oxford