What is a Metic?
by Nick Makoha


On 31 May, Nick Makoha will be facilitating a one-off evening workshop on exploring Black Metics. But what does this mean and why should writers sign up to get involved? Nick answers these questions and more in his blog post…

The question most poets and writers ask me often at the beginning of the workshop is What is a Metic? The simple answer is: you are! A fish does not know it’s a fish until it steps out of the water. But once we have got past the understanding of the metic, what next? I am not trying to prove to you that you are a fish. I am more interested in what type of fish you are. The ocean is not just a bucket full of salmon. If the ocean is literature and the fish is the poet, how can we identify your unique Metic experience?  Further, what agency does that give us access to in our writing?

As part of my role as a Creative Entrepreneur at Goldsmiths University, 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 are differentiated from natives, which I am using to explain the phenomena experienced by black writers in the UK and the US. The poets interviewed included seven African Americans (Chris Abani, Elizabeth Alexander, Gregory Parldo, Danez Smith, Nate Marshall, Rita Dove, Terrance Hayes) and four Black British poets (Kei Miller, Kayo Chingonyi, Malika Booker and Anthony Joseph).

To go back a little, the word itself – ‘Metic’ comes from the word metá, indicating change, and oîkos “dwelling. In the ancient Greek city-state metics held a lower position in society. Being a citizen was a matter of inheritance. Metics did not become citizens unless the city chose to bestow citizenship on them as a gift, which rarely happened. Their political role was revoked. The term Metic means a foreigner or resident alien 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”.

From this I created the Metic Experience model, which I used to help me write The Kingdom of Gravity (Peepal Tree Press 2017) It was from 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 difficulty 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 Uganda, 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. Indeed, a story is how we group the pattern of living, the explanation of life through personal and emotion truth and a vehicle to search reality.

Those coming to the workshop are invited to bring their stories: the ones you are working on and the ones you keep tucked away. This will help us map your Metic fingerprint.  Throughout the session, I hope to help you with expanding your powers of imagination and expression. I see the poem/story as a journey in time, memory and myth told through connecting images. It is a dialogue with a reader and the mind. In this field of the reading mind we allow words to echo.

This image creating facility has a rhythm in its tone description and sound. It is a form of story that heightens our level of communication, with ourselves as well as with each other.

Want to know more? Book your ticket to ‘Exploring Black Metics with Nick Makoha‘ here. Members of the London Writers Network get discounted ticket rates.