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Friends at Bologna Book Fair

It was a real bonus meeting up with my friend Sarah Edmonds at Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Sarah was at the fair with fellow illustrator Nanna Koekoek, freelancing their illustrations to publishers and agents. Sarah has posted her own blog on the Book Fair, full of beautiful shots of her sketchbook, at http://sarahedmondsillustration.tumblr.com/

 Sarah Edmonds with fellow illustrator Nanna Koekoek

Hanging out with Sarah has always been a pleasure, but it was especially rewarding to share the Laureates trip to Bologna with her, as Sarah was the project coordinator for YPL back in April 2013 when I began working in the role.

When I started as YPL Sarah welcomed me into the role with her characteristic mix of intelligence, laughter, kindness and acute strategic insight. It’s no surprise that she is doing so well through bringing those same qualities to promoting her work as an illustrator with the added bonus, for her, of it being her own work she is promoting, rather than other people’s.

Sarah’s amazing fold out portfolio and Nanna’s beautiful business cards

I feel very fortunate to be a professional poet and educator, and it gives me happiness to share the journey with friends who resonate my passion and commitment for creativity. Sometimes it can be lonely travelling so many different places, but sharing Bologna Book fair with old friends like Sarah, new friends like Nanna, and comrades like Aneirin, helps turns the happiness to joy.

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YPL & Bardd Plant SAS the Bologna Book Fair

And then I was standing in the huge dining hall of a medieval palace in the middle of Bologna’s dreamlike city centre. The hospitality would not have embarrassed the grandees of any era, and can only be described as lavish. It was the Bologna book Fair bash by Scholastic Books, a big publisher who put on a cracking spread for the assorted great and good of children’s publishing. Grateful as I was to my hosts, in truth, I was feeling a little outside the book industry professionals discreetly grazing the anti pasti, gently burnishing the chandeliers with book network chatter.

Not one to prop up the wall, I resolved to get my extrovert head on and meet some people. The crowd were grouped up into small copses that felt like guest list only so I went looking for someone standing by themselves, someone who would return my eye contact with a smile. So I got talking to Tim, a literary agent from London. I asked him whether he represented any poets and Tim was refreshingly businesslike and honest

No offence, but I’m really not interested in poetry at all. Even if I thought I might be able to sell it, I wouldn’t be able to get behind it properly because I wouldn’t have a passion for it.

 

It’s no surprise then that among the Children’s Laureates at the summit Aneirin and myself are the only poets. Practitioners of the craft of the bard are always gonna be pretty thin on the ground at an industry fair like Bologna where the main drive is to sell books. I can name four poets who are here; the coordinator of the Irish Laureate na nOg programme is poet Nessa O’Mahoney, and I also met Stina Kokum, a Swedish poet who was working at the fair as a translator, and that’s about it for the poets – but like I always say, it’s about quality not quantity with poetry!

 

3 lesser spotted poets flocking at the Bologna Book Fair

I was at the Scholastic do as a result of having bumped into the Irish Children’s Laureate na nOg, novelist Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl), and him then inviting Nei and myself to tag along. The disparity between our book sales could not really be more extreme. My poetry anthology ‘Skintight the Sidewalk’ has sold about 500 covers, mostly at performances I have done in the UK. Not much, but about average for a decent book of poems. By contrast Eoin Caulfer has sold in excess of 20 million books worldwide! It’s a testament to his character that he is putting so much of his time and energy into promoting reading and creative writing among the young people of Ireland. Chwarae teg Eoin.

The UK Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman is another best selling author who has chosen to put her time and energy into supporting literature, reading and writing among young people. I have genuinely found these two super talented, huge selling authors to be some of the most intelligent, articulate and down to earth people I have had the pleasure of working with. It’s inspiring to find that we share the same passion for culture and it’s power to socially engage young people.

 

luminous & estimable UK Children’s Laureate & Irish Children’s Laureate na nOg

At present my conversations with Malorie seem to gravitate towards political discussions of her experience of speaking with Government Ministers about education policy, and my experience of Teachers telling me that creativity is being squeezed out of the curriculum by government. It’s hard to keep smiling when you’re talking about library closures; about teacher’s not having any curriculum time to teach creatively; speaking of children being educated in increasingly rigid and statistically driven ways. I guess it’s hard to statistically measure the success of creative activities, but I believe human’s have always defined, maintained and refined their communal and individual identities through creative cultural practice – so I wanna ask a minister

why are you rejecting all those millenia of wisdom when you create our communities of learning?

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Represent! Represent! YPL Wales at Children’s Laureate Summit – Bologna

Y Bardd Plant Cymru Aneirin Karadog and myself are in Italy to contribute to the Children’s Laureate Summit – a meeting of children’s laureates from all round the world at the Children’s Book Fair 2015 in Bologna. The countries representing alongside us at the summit are Australia, Sweden, Mexico, Finland, Ireland, UK/England, Netherlands and New Zealand.

It’s a HUGE honour to represent Wales at International meet ups like the Children’s Book Fair 2015. I’ve been YPL Wales for 2 years now, but sometimes I still have to pinch myself when I find myself sitting in conversation with World Famous Authors – people whose books I’ve read and loved – and these same people take a genuine interest in my work, and the more importantly the wider work YPL Wales and Bardd Plant are doing to engage our young people in their creativity.

Children’s Laureate Summit 2015 (Malorie Blackman second from left)

One of the highlights of the summit for me has been meeting Malorie Blackman – the UK Children’s Laureate. Malorie is a great advocate for young people, for reading, writing, and empowering young people to create a strong representative voice for themselves. It’s very affirming to meet such a strong, intelligent, person who has drawn so many of the same observations and conclusions as myself on the value of literature, spoken word and cultural engagement in young people’s lives.

IT’S OBVIOUS – USE THE ARTS TO EMPOWER YOUNG PEOPLE TO DEVELOP THE SKILLS THEY NEED TO ENGAGE WITH THE SOCIAL ANS EMOTIONAL DEMANDS OF EDUCATION SO THEY ARE BETTER ENABLED TO ENGAGE WITH MORE FORMAL AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS.

 

That’s a quote from me, not Malorie, and sorry about the caps lock shouting – but sometimes it’s hard to be heard over the grinding machinations of government edu-speak and the clanging of taxi doors as disenfranchised teachers leave the profession. Here’s a quote from Malorie:

You don’t like reading? You just haven’t found the right book for you yet!

 

Aneirin also pointed out the value of himself and me being here in representing Wales alongside the UK Laureate. The mainland UK would have been represented solely by English voices if we hadn’t been here, and that in itself has made it worth the journey.

On the Road with Hay Festival Scribblers Tour

Scribblers Tour in effect

This week I’ve been working with Hay Festival on their Scribblers Tour at Swansea University. I delivered two writer’s talks on the Scribblers Tour 2014. This year I’m on the road with them for the whole 14 date tour. I’m hosting the events and delivering one of the 3 x 50min workshops that happen each time. In Swansea we were joined by authors Siobhan Curham (Finding Chrokee Brown) and Laura Bates (Everyday Sexism), and Phd Reader at Swansea Liza Penn-Thomas who shared her research into villains in fiction under her hashtag #topvillainy.

I enjoyed all the talks by the writers. Siobhan Curham gave us all the formula for a great story: character+goals+obstacles+determination+imagination=great story, and then got us to substitute our name for character and great life for great story. Then we worked through the equation. It was beautiful to see the young people engaging with such a positive narrative plan. I’ve been using the formula to help me plan a longer writing project – it’s really useful.

Laura Bates spoke how she came to start the Everyday Sexism project, and got us to examine gender representation in the media. It was also very constructive.

The young people loved Liza Penn-Thomas’s top three of villainy. I’m glad she added Professor Moriarty in as an also ran – he’s a personal favourite of mine.

Radio Wales came down and recorded a feature. You can hear it at 1h:42 http://tinyurl.com/m6eqr9u 

I did Meaning Machine’s with some excellent results.

I wrote a poem in the sessions as an example of each step. My poem for Wednesday’s talk was inspired by the events in Baga and Paris last week, and also this Ted Talk I’d watched the night before http://www.ted.com/talks/william_ury?language=en

Heartful

An unlocked door
Step inside
Be welcome

In the name of Father Ibrahim
Abraham of the Sands
Iesu Grist
A Buddha born into our Breath

Lets sit
Kneel
Share a prayer into the darkness

Here holding your hand
like an unlocked door

 

YPL 2014 is like…

A Good Question from the Family Arts Campaign

 

2014 has been exciting, challenging, inspiring, thought provoking, developmental, progressive, difficult, beautiful, exhausting, energising, gracious, ugly, bountiful, convivial, lonely, strengthening, grounding, lucky… please, add your own adjectives (or verbs, nouns, phonetic sound scapes, whatevers).

I’ve been using the word LIKE to create symbols, analogies and metaphors in workshops this year.

2014 IS Like…

exciting like downhill at the edge of control

challenging like uphill the long drag before us

inspiring like brilliance – the stars in your eyes

thought provoking like silent invisible mirrors

developmental like I’m learning to speak Welsh

progressive like pledging a pilgrimage to myself

difficult like barefoot walking on Yr Wyddfar

beautiful like children’s play

exhausting like all night days before yesterday

energising like first steps of freedom

gracious like kindness giving of the heart

ugly like twisted lips snarling in fear

bountiful like love that knows no bounds

convivial like belonging to more than I am

lonely like forgetting that there’s a way home

strengthening like practice repeating the same skill

grounding like woodland deep rooted in our past

lucky like life – to be here a blessing

 

So, it’s been just like any other year, but more so in each of its qualities. when I first took on the role of Young People’s Laureate my vision was of working to generate a wide scale excitement about poetry and spoken word among young people in Wales. I didn’t realise how much personal development I would get from the process. I’m wiser and stronger for the experiences, and ready to step up to the challenge of fire starting a youth poetry movement in Wales.

Thank you.

Good luck.

md

 

Brave New Voices 14 #1

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.

Peace is a Lifestyle

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

From Bethesda to The Bronx Writers Centre

 

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

Wednesday Night Slam at the Nuyo

 

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!

 

Jive Poetic

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”.

 

Letter to An Unknown Soldier

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?