About Steve Tasane
Steve has been an energising force in spoken word since staging Apples & Snakes events in the mid 90s. As well as being a multiple slam-winner and mentor for young poets at The Poetry Society’s SLAMbassadors project, he is the author of 3 children’s novels. The latest, Child I (Faber & Faber) recently won The Alexandra Palace Children’s Book Award and is published in 10 different languages, available from good bookshops (preferably) or bad Amazon. He is presently poet-in-residence at London’s Chocolate Poetry Club (Third Monday of the month – Upstairs at The Camden Eye, Camden Town)
“Full of hope and sure to move young readers, while educating them about this important topic”
Tes (Times Educational Supplement) – This Summer’s Hottest Books For Children
“Heartbreaking, moving…impossible not to be deeply touched while reading it”
“A sad and beautiful story about survival, friendship and hope. A book for children that all adults should read”
Why I wrote Child I
I am the son of a refugee, but that it not the only reason why I wrote Child I.
When I was a child I was a recipient of free school dinners, and charity bags full of toys and suchlike at Christmastime. We were a charity case and I had a foreign-sounding name – Tasane. But in some ways, the worst thing of all, was that my father then deserted me, my three brothers, and my mother. We were a broken home. I hated being a broken child.
My father fled Estonia in the aftermath of World War two, alternately oppressed by the Nazis and by Stalin’s communists. His brother was shot by Russian soldiers, and the family farm seized. The violence and terror was of such intensity that after he fled Estonia he never dared return, and he cut all ties with his family.
The fact that he was then so able to desert his new British family, his four sons, myself the youngest at 4 and a half, the eldest 11, was something I never fully understood. I suppose that he had developed an ability to cut himself off from emotional connections, and do whatever he felt necessary in order to continue surviving. In other words, once a refugee, always a refugee.
I grew up intensely envious of my friends who had a father. I grew up feeling the same otherness that my father must have felt as a refugee arriving in the UK. My home was broken, and I had a mysterious absent father. But my mother brought us up, and it was for my mother that I developed a deep love. Despite her struggles, her sense of shame, and our need to rely on charity.
But I had no idea about my name. About the country my father came from. My name Tasane had become Anglicized in its pronunciation, and I felt as if I had no cultural sense of who I was. I was just Tasane and knew that there was shame in that name. It was defined by free school meals and the knowing, sneery questions of my fellow pupils. I had no father, but the name I’d inherited from my father was alien. Was I, in fact, just foreign, with a mother who was not able to afford to feed us.
So, when I saw a video of a brother and sister celebrating their discovery of breadcrumbs in the mud in a refugee camp, I was compelled to write their story – my story – about losing family, losing identity, and how – anywhere at all in the world – children continue to seek out familial security and warmth, in whatever form they find it.
It can sometimes feel as if we live in a world without compassion. I was struck by how the children in the video had nothing but compassion, how they had no ill will towards others, how they simply wanted to survive and find their family.
Child I is not my story. But it draws together the links between my own shattered upbringing and that of young refugee children growing up in today’s crisis-defined world. Nothing has really changed. We just want to belong. We just want to not be hungry. We just want to be able to laugh and play. We want to be.
And that is why I wrote Child I.
“Save The Libraries”
This is the continuous protest poem to Save The Libraries from ongoing cuts and closures.
‘Cept for my dog, Sabretooth, I got two best friends – Mustaph (who totally crazy) and Sis. At school we had a lesson about heroes, and someone said there weren’t too many women heroes through history, so we made a list. Then it got me a thinkin’ about Sis, and how she is probably the only real hero I know. So it got me to writin’ this:
World full of heroes, great names to discover –
Mandela or Beckham or another such brother.
Famous women ought to be no mystery.
So take a look at Sis, through sisterly history:
You really ought to see her, she beats Boadicea,
with a lot more stature than Cleopatra,
and the same sort of spark as Rosa Parks.
You better believe her, she’s the soul of Aretha.
She’s twice as fly as Lady Di.
She’s comin’ atcha like Lady Thatcher.
She’s as fine a sight as Ms Dynamite.
She ain’t no nice girl, she’s the last Spice Girl.
She’s Jessie J, J-Lo, wears no halo,
is more explosive than a live volcano.
With more athletic menace than Jessica Ennis,
she don’t break no sweat, she’s a real suffragette.
She’s Michelle Obama, Angelina, Rihanna
(but she don’t stay dumb when the boys try to ban her.
There’s no bruises on her – she kicks like Madonna.
You go down once, you know you’re a goner.)
Though she raises Hell like Mary Shelley,
if you please her, she’s Mother Teresa.
She’s pure diamante, she shines like a Bronte,
with more wannabe fiancés than Britney or Beyonce.
She ain’t no Barbie, she practises karate.
She’s the radical heart of Shami Chakrabarti.
She’s the spiritual daughter of Alice Walker
and she will handle you like Maya Angelou.
But if you mess with Sis, you’ll never recover.
On a road this rough, we must watch one another.
She might be sweet, but she’s one mean mother.
I tell you this, I don’t need no brother –