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Ben Connors illustration
Illustration by Ben Connors

Dean Atta – British Citizenship Test

London-based wordsmith Dean Atta shares his musings on life as a Brit in this exclusive poem written for Dazed

TextDean AttaIllustrationBen Connors

Poem below taken from the spring/summer 2015 edition of Dazed

Dean Atta is a writer and performance poet based in London. His debut collection of poetry, I Am Nobody’s Nigger, was acclaimed for its powerful take on themes concerning race, identity and sexuality. The book is named after a poem, written in response to the trial of Stephen Lawrence’s killers, which sparked worldwide debate when Atta uploaded it to the web via his iPhone. He is currently developing a poetry and art collaboration with artist Ben Connors. For our Spring-summer issue, he's contributed our regular creative writing column. Read British Citizenship Test below and, underneath, check out a short interview with this astonishing voice. 

British Citizenship Test

The Guardian ran a sample online

I got nine out of the ten questions right

It didn’t say which one I’d got wrong

But it was of no consequence to me

My passport burgundy and well used

Border Control is merely a formality

Never afraid of being refused entry

Britain has always been home to me 


Britain is my cluttered Wembley home

It needs a lick of paint in most places

It needs cleaning a little more often

The television stays on a bit too long

Broken things have a unique charm

You find a way of getting used to them

A way to shut the door or turn the tap

That most visitors would find bizarre 


I imagine what the questions would be

If my home had its own citizenship test

What year did the toilet seat break?

How many games consoles in the loft?

List the books in all four bookcases?

I would be impressed if you did know

But more concerned with offering you

A cup of tea, ask if you were hungry. 

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How did you first discover poetry?

Dean Atta: You can’t be a child in Britain without being exposed to poetry in school.  I liked poetry because it was short and to the point. I enjoy what people can do with this language. In poetry you find a concentration of linguistic devices commonly found in many other forms of communication, such as analogy, augment, metaphor, rhetoric. If you read enough poetry you can break down advertising, journalism and political speeches and how often the linguistic devices used are more powerful than what is actually being said.

What is the inspiration behind this poem?

Dean Atta: You guys asked me to write a poem about what Britain means to me or what it means to be British. I remember a friend from Zimbabwe telling me she had to take a test to gain her British citizenship and it made me wonder how many people born in Britain would pass that test. Would I?

Do you feel that poetry (and the arts in general) are still a powerful political tool?

Dean Atta: The arts make people more empathetic and provide a way for people to engage with issues they might otherwise shy away from discussing. Poems, visual art, songs, films and stage productions connect with people more deeply than a news item or political speech. Artists with the desire to influence opinion can definitely do so, especially using online platforms. I am often invited to perform and lead workshops in schools to unpack really big issues like homophobia and racism and everyone seems to trust the art of poetry as a safe space to do this.

What do you love about Britain?

Dean Atta: Wide open green spaces / Train rides through the countryside / Rivers, lakes and canals / Brighton beach / London's South Bank / Film / Theatre / Dance / Music / Poetry / Museums and galleries / Diversity / People / Culture / Food / Fashion / Freedom?

What do you wish you could change?

Dean Atta: Imperialism / White Supremacy / Capitalism / Patriarchy.

What advice would you give first-time voters today?

Dean Atta: Vote with your heart. 

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