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What is a Metic Poet?

The question most writers ask me at the beginning of a Metics workshop is ‘What is a Metic?’.  

The simple answer usually is: You are! A fish does not know it’s a fish until it leaves the water.

The term ‘Metic’ means a foreigner whose allegiances are split between their homeland and their new country. Metic is a Greek word, which we might usefully read as a cognate of today’s bureaucratic term “resident alien”. It comes from the word metá, indicating change, and oîkos meaning dwelling. In ancient Greek city-states, Metics held a lower position in society. Being a citizen was a matter of inheritance. Metics did not become citizens unless citizenship was bestowed upon them as a gift, which rarely happened.

But once we have got past the understanding of the Metic, what next?

In preparation for my Metic Poets workshop with the Poetry School, I have been studying the Metic Experience of poets; as a Creative Entrepreneur at Goldsmiths, I am developing an in-depth digital archive of Metic poets that will be a permanent fixture at The Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre.

So far I have been investigating how black writers in exile – like myself – are differentiated from natives and I am using this Metic Experience as a method of explaining the phenomena experienced by black writers in the UK and the US. The poets interviewed include seven African Americans (Chris Abani, Elizabeth Alexander, Gregory Pardlo, Danez Smith, Nate Marshall, Rita Dove, and Terrance Hayes) and four Black British poets (Kei Miller, Kayo Chingonyi, Malika Booker and Anthony Joseph).

The Metic Experience was the model I created to help me write Kingdom of Gravity (Peepal Tree Press 2017). It was in this discovery that I started to formulate ways of writing about Uganda. I wanted to avoid being imitative and predictable. I wanted to speak with urgency and grace about difficult things. It helped me deal with my shame. I had to get over my resistance to looking at my origins in Uganda and dealing with the trauma of fleeing the country, because of the civil war during the Idi Amin dictatorship. I had to find a way to give myself permission to look into my past, to feel comfortable with my story.

Story is how we group the patterns of lived experience and explain our lives through personal and emotional truths, and is also a vehicle to search reality. I see the poem/story as a journey in time, memory and myth told through connecting images. It is a dialogue between reader and the mind. We allow words to echo. This image-creating facility heightens our level of communication through rhythm, tone, description, and sound.

I look forward to seeing you at the workshop on Saturday, 19th May. When you come, bring your stories. The ones you are working on and the ones you keep tucked away. This will help us map your Metic fingerprint.


Nick Makoha’s one-day workshop ‘Metic Poets‘ will take place at the Poetry School, Canada Water, on Saturday 19th May. Learn more

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abstract by Kirandeep Atwell. This image has been filtered and cropped. Licence.