Vale Bobbi Sykes

by anzya

Aboriginal activist, poet and icon  Bobbi Sykes sadly passed away on Sunday.

In a small part of her interview with Wanda Cohen in 1985 Callaloo*, talking about her poetry, she said:

My poetry and that of other black Australians is not “fine art”. It verbalizes
the agony in which we live. Given how many we are, and how few writers
there are, it is surprising how many of our writers are poets. Kevin Gilbert spent
most of his adult life in prison where he taught himself to be literate and published
when he came out. Kath Walker is another well-known poet. Most of the women
poets don’t have a prison background, but most of the men do. That’s similar to
the black situation here in America.

I had no other way to cope with my emotions other than put them on
paper. I’d write things furtively in the middle of the night and shov~ them into
drawers. At the same time I was a political analyst, writing for newspapers all
around the world. For almost ten years I’d been known as a militant activist writer,
critical of the way institutions in our society operate. I published my book of
poetry, Love Poems and Other Revolutionary Actions, in 1979. The newspapers who
covered my book party wrote: “Activist turned poet.”

Her poem “Ambrose” was also published in the Callaloo article, and originally published in Love Poems and Other Revolutionary Acts, in 1979 :


They say you took your life/
with your
own hand.
But I been looking
at your life
these past
four years
and I see other
in the taking
of your life.
Your mother was
to die
your first breath.
You showed me
her picture
taken with you
as a babe.
You lay, pretty boy,
on a table.
Behind you she stood
your bottle in one hand
her bottle in the other/
symbol of your childhood.

Your father helped
by the hole
he left in your life
when he split
only seven months in

Teachers had a hand:
laying hands
upon you
(not in love)
in punishment

for your dirty clothes
& later
for your lies
(your survival kit, haha–

you told me later).
you lived more
a uniformed life
by uniformed men
than in the free air
of which you
often spoke.
I don’t like to talk
how the ‘helpers’

moving you closer
& closer
to your inevitable fall
(or were you pushed?).

Helpers who
let you know so soon
that vour best .
wasn’t good enough/
for them.
‘There is no place
for me here’
you told me/
already 17
and floating now
in the only space
you could see open.
There were handmarks
& fingerprints
all over you
when they found you;
but you died
by your own hand
they said.

* Callaloo, No. 24 (Spring – Summer, 1985), pp. 294-303