BNV Friendship Bracelet
Brave New Voices is the National US Youth Slam Team Championship. 44 teams from all over the US, plus one from Toronto and one from Capetown, gathered in Philadelphia last week to meet, compete and bask in the community that is Youth Slam.
The 4 days of the festival were, truly, some of the most inspiring of my life. The standard of literacy among the competitors (all aged 13-19 years), the emotional honesty of the poetry, and the overwhelming sense of shared purpose, communal support and love among the people here were so tangible and strong I have come away from it with a renewed sense of purpose to firestart a Wales Youth Slam Movement. I can feel the support of the BNV community in my heart as they wish us all strength and inspiration in our journey to creating a team that will represent Wales at BNV one year (Atlanta 2015 anyone?)
Youth Slam is an incredible resource for developmental work with young people. In addition to the benefits I regularly see in the workshops I facilitate, Youth Slam offers a coherent structure for establishing a creative community, both on the micro and macro scale. The organisation behind BNV – Youth Speaks – began in the late 1990′s organising youth poetry events in the San Fancisco Bay Area, and have now grown into an international organisation with a turnover of $4 million p/a. I’m very pleased to say that the business model of Youth Speaks is Non-Profit Social Enterprise; they are now starting a grant scheme where they are offering small, medium and large scale cash grants (an organisational support) to community groups developing Youth Slam in the US. I love the way that they are using their surplus income to develop the wider community and enable people to empower their own communities on their own terms.
I was there as part of a Creative Ambassadors Wales Award from Arts Council Wales, researching how to develop Youth Slam in Wales. Thanks are due to them, to Literature Wales and to Urban Word NYC for supporting my journey to Philadelphia, and these first few steps in starting the movement back home.
Over the next few days I’m going to post video clips of pieces from BNV. Please, share the links and help us to start the ball rolling here in Wales.
The first ever Peace is a Lifestyle Annual Conference – I was there! Facilitated by Building Knowledge in Association with Fordham University, Peace is a Lifestyle creates an excellent forum for organisations and individuals concerned to reduce violence and increase Peace in the USA.
I was invited to the conference by the President of Building Knowledge, Brother Kevin Powell. Kevin is a leading activist for Social Justice in the US. Kevin began his career as a poet, and has now focussed his oratorical skills on activism for Social Justice. bknation.org
The Spoken Word Poetry scene and Social Justice are integrally linked in New York. The subject of virtually all the poems I heard in NY, and the source of much of the emotional content, is the battle for Social Justice. Most of the poets I saw chose to interpret their personal struggle for Social Justice as a crucible for wider commentary on the injustices and tragedies of inequality in the USA.
Its a powerful muse, and one that provokes an intensity of emotion that leaves me wondering whether sometimes poets create a verbal violence that is actually at odds with the movement for Peace.
people getting serious about Peace at the first Peace is a Lifestyle Conference
The day I went to Peace is a Lifestyle illustrated this tension. Following the conference I went to The Nuyorican Poets Cafe to see the East Coast Regional Youth Slam. It was thought provoking for me to move from the conference to the slam as I was still processing the Speakers on Peace as I heard the poets in The Slam. It was in this context that I received a poem that told of how the poet slashed another woman’s face with a boxcutter in a violent response to racism. Another poem graphically depicted a girl who takes the gun from a man raping her and smashes his face in with it. Both these pieces were incredibly powerful, delivered in the first person hysterical as testaments to righteous rage and the extremity of survival in an unjust and victimising society. Still, I was left with questions: When does catharthis end and resolution begin? If a violent society produces a violent poetry, would a Poetry of Peace help lead society toward Peace? Are we allowing the impact of trauma tales to create a genre of poetic violence? I don’t have the answers, but Peace is a Lifestyle and the East Coast Regional Slam have deeply inspired me to pursue them.
Quote of the day, by Peace is a Lifestyle’s Erica Ford
Violence is a disease
Peace is a Lifestyle
On Friday 27th June I was a guest speaker at Nelson Madella House, a boys group home in The Bronx. Nelson Mandella House provides a home and a wide platform of support for 7 young men from The Bronx and Harlem while they await trial in the US legal System. The event on celebrated the achievements of a creative writing project delivered by Brother Earl Majette for the Bronx Writer’s Centre http://www.bronxarts.org/bwc .
It was a great pleasure to meet everyone involved, and to share some poems. Before I performed, I presented a copy of my book/cd “Skintight the Sidewalk” to Nelson Mandella House. The boys were straight onto the cd at the back and put Black Jesus Prayer on the stereo. I must admit, it was a little shy making to hear myself speaking from the cd – I would have preferred perfoming it live – but the bonus was that the end of the recording has a chorus of 5 voices calling the outro chant of “Black Jesus / Black Jesus hear our prayer / Give Thanks.” What had begun as an embarassment turned into a really proud moment for me as the 6 young African American men in the group joined in the chant, and one of them played a drum beat in time on the arm of his chair. The value of poetry as an educational resource was then demonstrated expertly by Youth Worker Martinez who led a discussion on the Eurocentric representations of Jesus Christ as a blue eyed Norhtern European. I was then able to give my explanation of the message behind the poem being my gratitude to the musical culture of the African Diaspora which has been a redemptive force in my life. Then we went live with a performance of my piece “Together“. Once I established the t-t-together rhythm the young men began stomping their feet on the one and the armchair percussion started up again and we had a VIBE in there!
Taking my poems, so deeply inspired by Hip Hop to The Bronx is a great honour and I was definitely moved because when I went to deliver the final word of the final line (together) my voice dried up and I could only quietly croak it out, despite trying three times. I think the weight of the whole Bronx experience was weighing on me. After that Martinez got his phone out and read off a DOPE lyric of his own composition, then Brother Earl stepped up and dropped one of his pieces in a old school style. I asked him when he wrote it and he said 1981! I was buzzing to meet a first generation B-Boy. He blessed us with some of his reminiscences of the origins of Hip Hop and I asked him if back then he had ever imagined that Hip Hop would become a global culture that has spawned the most popular music genre (Rap) in the world, he said “No, I just knew that we loved it.”
Brother Earl Majette
Some people may say that The Funk is dead, that rap has killed Hip Hop and even that THE SPIRIT has left us, but on the evidence of last night I can categorically state that THE FUNK is alive and kicking and is now writing a fresh anthology of kick ass poems; HIP HOP will never die its just got slower; and THE SPIRIT has no intention of even going to the bathroom let alone leaving the building.
I was at the Wednesday night Slam at the Nuroican Poets Cafe (for my personal history with this place check http://youngpeopleslaureate.org/?p=465).
Before the jam started the beats were fat and the staff were getting down. Then the Nuyorican National Slam Team 2014 walked in – fresh from their rehearsals in the basement – and they started getting down too. Everyone was getting down, and the doors weren’t even open yet! On the hot plate of the boogie the people poured in sizzling NY summer heat and expectation. The contestants for the slam lined up to sign up at the front – 15 of them – and we were ready to go. The host, Jive Poetic stepped to the mic and said
We havin’ a Poetry Slam in here tonight
Make some noise!
The following 2 and a 1/2 hours of Spoken Word Poetry was nuts. We went deep. A strong theme of Ethnic Assertion developed: From the Black woman pleading to know what her White mother’s experience of ethnicity felt like, to the mother of an 8 yr old Black girl exploring the self image society creates in her daughter. Add to that a strong voicing of White Boy angst that ended with the jump up couplet
I’m stuck in this society so malignant
All cuz my skin has got the right pigment
and you get a picture of the diversity of voices in the forum we were all creating. The Spoken Word Poetry Scene is a form of sanctuary where the differences between people(s) can be shared and healed. This is a prime function of oral tradition, to create dialogues between people enabling the community to function. Given the continuing tensions, inequalities and unresolved crimes of US Racial History its telling that the point of identification the majority of the poets asserted themselves from was one defined by their ethnicity.
The slam was won by Miss Pinky, whose first round piece about being a woman of fuller figure was a stand out moment. The first round was also distinguished by another poet who had brought a huge crew with her. They went nuts when she got up on stage, and they made up about a 1/4 of the audience. It took a few minutes before their poet could start her piece as her crew were still jumping up and down and screaming for her. It was crazy. I looked at the guy next to me and said “Woe betide the judge who doesn’t mark this poet high”.
Recently, I’ve written a piece for Letter to An Unknown Soldier. It’s a living war memorial for the centenary of declaration of World War One. The project asks writers to respond to the statue Letter to An Unknown Soldier on Platform 1 at Paddington Station, asking us to write the letter that he is reading.
Letter to an Unknown soldier by Charles Sargent Jagger
Phase one of the project opened with 50 writers commissioned to write a letter, notable among those involved are Stephen Fry and Andrew Motion. Phase two opens the project to the public, asking us all to write a letter and contribute to creating an epic living memorial to the human tragedy of WW1.
BBC Wales Online published a nice article on the three Welsh writers commissioned by the project at http://tinyurl.com/ns4qyo8
To read some of the letters and to get details of how you can get involved go to www.1418now.org.uk/letter
I wrote a letter from the unknown soldier’s daughter.
The Day Daddy Went to War
I remember the day you went to war. The cockerel was crowing all day, setting the hens to fuss. I had to calm them, Mam shaking her head, saying we’ll never get them to sit.
I could tell how far down the lane you’d got. I heard you go by Rose’s dogs and then the crows lifted up out of Kings Copse and I thought it was you.
One of Rose’s dogs got loose last week. I could hear shouting from up the lane and then one of his collies tore into our yard and flew straight into Jenny. She squawked when he hit her. All the cluck and loveliness come out of her at once. He looked at me then, just to check I understood the rules, then he grabbed her up and set off across Pikes Field.
That evening Rose came round with the dog on a short rope and said we should see it killed. He pushed the dog down onto the lane with his boot on its neck and pulled the rope tight until it couldn’t breathe.
I could hear Rose grunting as he pulled the rope tighter and the dog started whining through his nose and his eyes fairly popping out. When it was done Rose asked if we wanted the dog’s body.
Mam said, no, thanking you, Mr Rose, but we’d be happy to take one of your chickens to replace the one we lost.
I don’t like Rose. I wish he’d taken the King’s Shilling instead of you, and then I got to wondering, if you offered the King his shilling back do you think he’d let you come home sooner?
Following on from the Writer’s Walk at Felin Fawr and Lon Las Ogwen last Tuesday (see blog below), I did a follow up session with the same 54 year 5 pupils from Ysgol Pen y Bryn, Colwyn Bay.
In the workshop we chose words that we had collected on Lon Las Ogwen last week – each pupil had collected 6 x Nouns, Adjectives, Verbs, Sounds, Colours, Textures of Touch, Emotions and Memories – and composed them into a poem.
The theme that evolved was the Valley of the Ghosts section of Lon Las Ogwen, where the river is buried by the Rubbish Tips and there is a cold bank of air.
Seeking to construct a quality sequence of words with a strong symbolic image at its centre, we wrote;
Ghosts half hidden in the cold damp air
floating in the darkness
trapped under the slates
shot by the light we gift
a simple innocence
a subtleness of empathy
born of our emotions
bitter in a taste of redemption
The standard of literacy in Ysgol Pen y Bryn is exceptionally high. It has been a great pleasure to work with the staff and pupils and I would like to commend them on the excellence of their work in Literacy.
At the Snowdonia Arts Festival in Betws y Coed this weekend I ran a poetry drop in for young people in association with the Royal Cambrian Academy. We all did a Meaning Machine exercise, but also everyone contributed a line to “Our Exquisite Corpse”.
Many thanks to everyone who took part. It was a really nice atmosphere at the festival, and also a great warm up for my YPL Workshop at Dinefwr Literature Festival next weekend.
Info on Snowdonia Arts Festival is at www.snowdoniaartsfestival.org.uk/
Info on The Royal Cambrian Academy is at www.rcaconwy.org/
Here is the “Exquisite Corpse”.
A feeling framed in time
a thought around a rhyme
is it a taxation on your time?
where earth and sky divide
where everything is divine
floating on marshmallow clouds
sticky marshmallow melts in your mouth
sipping hot chocolate on Grandmas’s knee
after she sewed a pencil case with me
and sometimes my rubber disappeared
and my pencil too
the page drawing away
dissolving into dust
Literature Wales’ Developing Dylan Programme has coordinated a series of fun workshops pairing a writer with an artist from a different medium. I was lucky to be paired with visual artist Maria Hayes.
We worked with Tyler, Ryan and Darcy, 3 pupils from The Conway Centre, Ynys Mon, to create a beautiful Concertina Book of Art and Poetry inspired by Dylan Thomas. Video of the book is here is here: Dylan Thomas
We began the work with a line of Thomas’ poetry
Remember the procession of the old young men
and then played a writing game called Exquisite Corpse, where we wrote down a line to respond to the previous line on the page and then passed it on.
An exquisite corpse inspired by Dylan Thomas’ poetry
After an edit and some line juggling we have a completed collaborative poem:
Remember the procession of the old young men
how can they be young and old at the same time?
what have they seen and done to shape them that way?
Chasing blind trying to work together
tripping over the years yet to live
flying through the air looking down from space
so strong and bold and brave and smallshivering memories
dreaming of different skies
looking ahead and looking back
seeimg tomorrow through the past
this land of earth and mountains and streams
innocent until proven guilty
Then we did an Art exercise where we listened to music and interpreted the sounds we heard in colour and form using a variety of inks, charcoal, brushes, pens and quills. Working through this we incorporated some of the words we had written and then curated the work into a beautiful A3 sized Concertina book.
As Young People’s Laureate I work away from home a lot – from Bridgend to The Bronx and Hawarden to Helsinki – so it was a HUGE pleasure to bring my work back home today and deliver a Writer’s Walk in my own backyard at Felin Fawr Works, Bethesda.
Felin Fawr was the Industrial Complex for the production of Slate Tiles from the Penrhyn Quarry from 1801 to 1965. After it closed it fell into disrepair, but is now being regenerated by Penrhyn Quarry Railways Ltd.
54 pupils from Yr 5 at Ysgol Pen y Bryn, Colwyn Bay explored the works, the Rubbish Tips of spoil slate, saw a demonstration of how blocks of slate were split and dressed in the traditional way and took a ride on the narrow gauge railway in one of the open carriages that transported the quarry men to and from work. We learned about the geology of slate, the history of the Penrhyn Quarry, and engaged in a word search inspired by the Rubbish Tips.
2 young writer’s engaging with the environment on Lon Las Ogwen
Splitting slate the traditional way
We took our new learning and the words we collected to Llys Dafydd in Bethesda and had an interactive poetry performance by myself and fellow Bardd o ‘Pesda Rhys Trimble. We then did a Meaning Machine (oooooh!) and drafted poems inspired by our experiences at Felin Fawr and on Lon Las Ogwen by the Rubbish Tips.
Working on our poems at Llys Dafydd
Info on Felin Fawr is at http://penrhynquarries.webs.com/
Dr Maya Angelou
April 4th 1928 – May 28th 2014
In Your Words of Wisdom’s Love (Dr Maya Angelou)
I pin your picture to the morning
say grace in your name
spy my bright upon the dark
you are a reminder to believe in me
and let the lost heart go
These are words of your wisdom’s love
I find inside my reverence
remember your smile to break the day
a hope always for future
there is life in this – its true
My givens – liberal guilt and all -
line up against your back
between your shoulders
- there’s my riverside -
your spine from source to sea
baptise my man inside his tears of you
sing your light into my whiteness
sympathise the breath back in me
break my heart upon the day
You have defined me by forgiveness
in your words of wisdom’s love