Poetry for change

After many months of discussions, the day had finally arrived, when a bunch of poetic Geordies descended on London for a day of making new connections with their equally creative counterparts to change the world, one poem at a time.

Taking the train from Newcastle to King Cross and making our way across to Tottenham on the Underground it was glaringly apparent how much the pandemic had impacted the volume of people seeking to get from one place to the next. On one level I thought it was sad to see how ghostlike some of the services were.  Yet at the same time, it was refreshing to arrive in the capital and not feel immediate mobbed by the swell of people rat-racing each other and cramming into the confines of the Underground.

Arriving at the Selby Community Centre, we were met by our first partner poet- Andreena from host organisation- Spoken, whose warm smile set the tone for what was a great day of building relationships with artists from different cities.

Project coordinator Moussa Sylla-Amine greeted us and made every effort to make us feel at ease by providing a great socially distanced space for us to meet, topped off with some fancy snacks and refreshments. He was a truly great host, providing us with all the details of the centre and groundrules for the space.

Following that, I played as series of icebreaker games, getting people to introduce themselves. This ended up being a bit of team effort as I stupidly forgot some key instructions when leading an avctivity Thankfully, Spoken poet – Mark Thompson, who like me, has a background in teaching was able to correct my mistake, meaning that we eventually did have a winner in the game we were playing.   

We were also joined by Born Lippy poet – Sara Zafar on Zoom, who had sadly been unable to attend the session in person. Thankfully Moussa had set it up for her to be projected onto a big screen so that every participant was able to talk to her in the space at the Selby Centre.

People talked through their thoughts for the day which included things like:

  • Excited as it was their first time collaborating in this way.
  • Looking forward to the process.
  • Great opportunity to motivate them to write something new.
  • Looking forward to changing opinions through poetry. 

To get people in the mood I led a few warm up writing exercise where poets had to write a quick manifesto poem using letters of the alphabet. We are then shared our favourite line from the poem we had written.

Haylee Venus from Spoken collective had gone out and had some amazing Poetry Exchange t-shirts printed, which she handed out to all the poets. This exchange of t-shirts has become a tradition for the poetry exchange where over the last three visits the host collective has had t-shirts printed for all the poets involved in the Exchange. This time, Spoken excelled themselves by getting an epic holographic like print of the Born Lippy logo alongside the Spoken logo on the shirts. They have definitely raised the bar, so Born Lippy needs to come back with something extra special for their t-shirt design when Spoken visit Newcastle in February 2021.

Poets were then paired up as such

  • Jayda David (Spoken) & Sara Zafar (Born Lippy)
  • Mark Mr T Thompson (Spoken) & Ellen Moran (Born Lippy)
  • Haylee Venus (Spoken) & Tom Conway (Born Lippy)
  • Andreena Leeanne (Spoken) & Andi Talbot (Born Lippy)
  • Tim Anthony Forde ‘Passion’ (Spoken) & Donald Jenkins (Born Lippy)

They then set out for several hours of discussion and brainstorming ideas to work out what they wanted to write about. To help guide them I offered them an optional framework of questions to consider:

  • What do you want to say?
  • Who do you want to hear it?
  • What do you want them do to?
  • What do you need to research and where do you need to get it?

As some passionate discussions were underway we were invited by Moussa to visit the boxing ring located in the belly of The Selby Centre. Moussa has long had an ambition to host a spoken word event inside the boxing ring so as to give it a rap battle feel. Though this wasn’t possible due to Covid-19 restrictions, he thought it was still worth while allowing poets to express a few words in the ring to each other.

When we arrived in the boxing gym, we took some photos as the pairs posed in front of the punch bags before going inside the ring.  A heated discussion arose around the use of facemasks and whether or not they were important to wear for personal protection or of they were a barrier to human connection. This moment sparked some interest from a local boxer who was sparring in the gym at same time who gave his own response to what he had witnessed. He was appreciative of spoken word and explained that he was also a writer and really valued the power of written communication.   

Poets returned to their group discussions and mapped out their thoughts on flipchat paper on what was a great afternoon of creative synergy.

We all took a break to have some amazing Carribean takeaway food that Haylee and Moussa organised. This allowed the poets to relax and chat with food being so central to the experience of breaking down boundaries, sharing ideas and culture. As we chowed down on jerk chicken, saltfish, callaloo and plantain, I was really happy to eat these treats as good quality Carribean food is hard to come by in Newcastle.

As the conversation continued, some poets took advantage of using the Levi Music Studios, located at the Selby centre to record some of their previous work. This was a great little addition to the project that Spoken had arranged, enabling us to use this great community resource that was set up by grime rapper – Skepta. The famous emcee used to come to the Selby Centre when he was younger to make and record music so reinvested into the building by offering an affordable community recording space. It is really important that we give credit to Sami- the studio’s soundman who had the patience of a saint, and was great at working with us all to record our rhymes. 

It was a lush day to make some new friends, share thoughts and and start formulating the responses to issues we want to affect change with our writing.       

Written by Donald Jenkins (Born Lippy)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s