Roger Robinson aan Babs Gons: 'embracing rest as a radical act of self-care'

In ILFU Corresponding Stories vragen we schrijvers en denkers van over de hele wereld om elkaar te schrijven over de grote thema’s van onze tijd. Onze penvrienden van maart en april zijn de Britse dichter Roger Robinson en onze Dichter des Vaderlands Babs Gons. Vandaag de tweede brief van Roger Robinson, waarin hij de noodzaak van rust laat zien: 'within that rest will come the ideas of deep thought that can change the lives of generations'


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Van: Roger Robinson
Aan: Babs Gons
Datum: 11 april 2024
Onderwerp: Corresponding Stories

Dear Babs,

It was good to receive your letter, and yes, I am familiar with the guys that started the movement towards decolonising bird watching. I completely understand your sentiment regarding the solace found in observing birds during moments of slowed-down life. Many writers from the global majority, myself very much included, often find ourselves caught in a frenetic pace that, as I'm sure you can possibly relate, is often unsustainable, especially as we age.

It occurred to me that how we move and how we decide to be still can determine the quality and at times, the value of our living. For me, they are both different versions of awareness and focus. The differing qualities help us to determine what is the most important thing at any given time. Guiding us to discern the importance of each moment—when to hold on and when to let go, when to resist and when to yield.

Rest as a means of liberation from oppressive structures

Several years ago, I came across the work of Tricia Hersey and the Nap Ministry, a movement advocating for the recognition of rest as a fundamental human right rather than a luxury. Hersey emphasises the necessity of rest as a means of liberation from oppressive structures such as capitalism, racism, and patriarchy. She sheds light on how marginalised communities, particularly Black individuals, have been conditioned to embrace grind culture—a relentless pursuit for productivity often at the expense of their own personal and communal well-being. This movement challenges the notion that success is contingent upon perpetual labour, offering a pathway toward healing and reclaiming agency over our bodies and minds.

Growing up, I never received lectures on the nuances of economic planning, savvy investments, or the importance of generational wealth. Instead, the prevailing message was stark: survival meant working harder and longer to evade poverty. This sentiment permeated not just my family but countless other Black households I encountered. Economics became a relentless battle, a constant struggle to stave off homelessness and ensure basic necessities like clothing and food.

However, I reached a pivotal moment where I had to buck the trend and acknowledge that I needed to break free from this cycle. I had to defy the ingrained patterns of my upbringing and confront the familial narrative that equated self-worth with productivity. Embracing rest became a radical act of self-care—an acknowledgment of the trauma I had long endured. By prioritising sleep and relinquishing the identity of a mere capital-producing machine, I embarked on a journey towards holistic healing and self-discovery.

Tricia Hersey's work inspired my wife and me to establish a restful space for Black writers called The Rest Residency. The premise was straightforward: we would send Black writers to a cottage in the Welsh countryside in partnership with The Nook, where they would have no expectation except to rest. The feedback we've received from writers thus far has been inspiring, with many expressing how it has transformed their personal capacity and approach to work.

Saidiya Hartman delves into the haunting legacies of slavery, where the primary objective was to extract maximum physical labour from the Black body while leaving little room to ruminate on free thought or aspirations of freedom without the fear of deadly repercussions. Hartman highlights the pivotal role of imagination as a survival mechanism for Black individuals since the era of slavery—a means to transcend the confines of oppression and envision a better future. She references moments like Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic "I Have a Dream" speech and Olaudah Equiano's contemplations of freedom, even finding pleasure in the mere thought of its possibility.

Imagination serves as a push against the limits of their oppression, offering a refuge for our rumination and introspection. However, for many within the global majority, the death of imagination looms large. The relentless pace of survival leaves little time or energy to ruminate and uncover the extraordinary within the ordinary. Imagination, once a beacon of hope and liberation, becomes stifled by the demands of daily life, denying individuals the imaginative space necessary for true liberation.

If we are busy grinding, how can we be even aware of the real needs and the real concerns of communities we seek to serve? How can we start to revive, rebuild, and spark a renaissance in oppressed, under-resourced communities?

Part of the answer is the need to rest. We need to be still, and I can guarantee that within that rest will come the ideas of deep thought that can change the lives of generations.

Perhaps that is where poets come in. Perhaps poets possess the ability to use the concise space of a poem to illuminate a sacred moment of life. Perhaps through poetry, people can be gently slowed down, granting them access to their imagination. Perhaps poems can serve as an emotional antidote to the rigours of grind culture.

Let me conclude with a poem about my father and the constant work he had to put in to raise our family.


It becomes clear to you
the night your father asks you
to wake him up to see
his favourite film on TV,
and despite cups of coffee
bright lights and company
he is asleep
with his dark rimmed glasses
tilted on his face
before the opening credits.

And there
hearing the drag of his snore
and watching the uncomfortably
crooked angle of his neck,
you see him at nineteen,
taking care of his four brothers
and one sister and studying
for a scholarship while working
nights pushing dead bodies
at the local morgue, and he’s tired
but he can’t stop because he’ll
be the first in their family
to go to university and he can’t let them down.

At twenty-one
he’s in class at Stirling University
wondering if he can afford the batteries
for his warehouseman’s torch
so he can study on the job tonight.
Nobody told him Scotland
would be this cold, and it’s
so lonely sometimes but he
has to pass these exams
or he’ll be out.

At twenty-two you’re born.
Your mother works the night shift
at the hospital, and he tries to read
between your two a.m. squeals
and he picks you up
in the hand not holding the book
and smiles and rocks you to sleep.

Twenty-five now,
and working late five nights a week
trying to snatch a few promotions,
and somehow he thought
it might be a bit easier with his degree,
and he really needs
to move his wife and kids
into a place of their own.

And for the next twenty year
she battles on his job every day
just so you could be comfortable
and have the space to be what you want.

And then you know
that he’s never had much time for this
for rest, for sleep.
You prop his head with a pillow,
gingerly pull off his glasses
and stare at him
snoring, loudly,

I think I might need to take some of my own and Tricia Hersey’s advice and lay down to rest. I hope you're finding time to do the same.

I look forward to your reply.

Your poetic comrade,