Teach Like A Poet

Extracts from the essay, “Teach Like A Poet” commissioned for Jennifer Webb‘s book “Teach Like A Writer” published by John Catt, 2020.

Poetry for the People.

On walks to school and nursery, my sons remind me that poetry is found everywhere and anywhere. Skipping from one gas, water, and electric plate to another they point out the poetry of drains; the rhythm of footsteps; a cluster of ladybirds huddled on a wall. Nonsense noises, babble, silly songs. Things my cynical adult eyes and ears would not normally be attuned to on my daily rush.

Wordplay, rhythm, and rhyme is innate. We learn language through poetic method – repetition, nursery rhymes, counting, song, play. It is perhaps only when going through Primary to High School to Higher Education that we become divorced from this initial fluid elemental learning and the emphasis switches to the rigidity of grades, correct answers, curriculum, examinations.

Engagements facilitating poetry workshops with a mental health arts charity1 also taught how those who have been stripped of the ‘mind-forged manacles’ can naturally produce poetry closer to raw unfiltered human expression. Re-membering and re-kindling this love of language and wordplay is at the root of my facilitation work. Reminding that poetry is not to be feared, that it is accessible, something we are born with, and that we have a right to claim it, mould it, adapt it to our tongue.

In one memorable commission at a hostel for homeless youth, the anticipation of poetry-phobia resulted in the dreaded P-word being omitted from any description of the advertised sessions. Instead, I was asked to deliver “lyric writing” workshops. However, when able to engage the young people with their own understanding of lyrics, we were soon able to gain an appreciation that the best lyric writers – whether they call themselves so or not – are in fact poets. Poetry was re-introduced back into the room and we could confidently affirm the backronym ‘RAP = Rhythm And Poetry’; that poetry is not just about pretty flowers or that, if it is, it can be about dusty discarded dandelions or, in Tupac’s poetry/lyrics, about “The Rose that Grew from Concrete”.

Poetry is an art form of and for the masses. As Audre Lorde recognised2, “poetry has been the major voice of poor, working class, and [women of colour]”:

Of all the art forms, poetry is the most economical. It is the one which is the most secret, which requires the least physical labor, the least material, and the one which can be done between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway, and on scraps of surplus paper…

Or indeed on the school bus, on the walk home, on your phone, tablet, Android/IOS notes app, dictaphone, voice notes… In contrasting the accessibility of poetry with prose, Lorde develops Virginia Woolf’s arguments for gender equality to also include class and racial privilege:

A room of one’s own may be a necessity for writing prose, but so are reams of paper, a typewriter, and plenty of time.

Poet Gloria E. Anzaldúa similarly implores:

Forget the room of one’s own – write in the kitchen, lock yourself up in the bathroom. Write on the bus or the welfare line, on the job or during meals, between sleeping and waking. I write while sitting on the john.3

Poetry then is effective both in terms of being a ubiquitous natural communicator but also in being an immediate accessible art form. We can all do this. It is not something we are supposed to simply revere, study, and admire from afar.

Poetry for Change.

Poets (the unacknowledged legislators of the world4) have always been at the forefront of positive social change. Periods of upheaval and struggle always produce resistance. And flowerings of art. From Ancient Egypt to Greece to China; across Islam, Judaism, Christianity; through revolts, rebellion and revolutions; via the Harlem Renaissance, the Beats, the Caribbean Artists Movement; to Ken Saro Wiwa to Nawal El Saadawi, to us, today.

As we near an apex in human history with the prospect of planetary destruction having never been closer (nuclear war, pandemics, and not least environmental devastation) there is a need for poetry. Continue reading

Teach Like a Writer

I was recently asked to contribute to Jennifer Webb‘s new book Teach Like A Writer – a call to action for teaching students to write with purpose and integrity, to write themselves into this society, into history, and into their own futures.

I’ve worked with Jennifer on a number of educational projects and her enthusiasm and passion for all things pedagogical shines large, as well as her ability to transmit this enthusiasm to her students and fellow educators (check her website Funky Pedagogy for a treasure trove of FREE learning resources).

From the Introduction, Jennifer locates the book in her identity as a woman of mixed Carribean and Leeds heritage and coming from a low income, single parent household, Oxford-educated and with a decade teaching in a range of West Yorkshire schools. From experience, she speaks of the need for educators to acknowledge their own cultural bias, their priviledge, and to be conscious of other codes which exist outside of, and alongside, the supposed superiority of English.

“Our ambition must be to enable all students, regardless of background, to be the best academic writers and speakers they can possibly be, but this must be tempered with a mature understanding of our own cultural bias and the way we see our students… teachers should aim to teach the knowledge and skill students need to exist, write and succeed in the real world”.

In the spirit of acknowledging real world challenges, and not erasing labour, it should also be highlighted how Jennifer compiled this book during the months when she was heavily pregnant, and managed to deliver on schedule before the birth of her second child.

Jennifer has roots in Chapeltown so it was a joy to also be featured in a book that compiles thought from CPT-residents Jacob Ross, Zodwa Nyoni and Saju Ahmed. Jacob (the Don) has been one of my key writing mentors over the years and his workshops on narrative craft are renowned for developing many a prize-winning writer (as well as being renowned also for his strictness and adherence to discipline). A published collection of Jacob’s unique insight into storying will be welcome indeed but for now, it is great to see some of his story philosophy reproduced in these pages.

Extracts from my essay are here and the full list of contributors, together with the mission for the book is below:

All resources from ‘Teach Like A Writer’ are available to download for FREE from here and you can purchase a copy (from places that pay tax, do not exploit their workers & which aren’t Amazon…) direct from the publisher John Catt.

 

 

Testimony to the Leeds Climate Change Citizens’ Jury

In October 2019 myself and Peninah Wangari-Jones (director of the Racial Justice Network) were asked to present testimony to the Leeds Climate Change Citizens’ Jury.

Our theme for this testimony was the need for an international perspective to be considered in all thoughts, recommendations and action.

The 15-minute presentation is below (from 13mins 29):

And responses to further questions we were posed around the need to consider climate change from an international perspective also available here:

We look forward to hearing the recommendations for the city of Leeds and will continue to engage with our local and global communities to push the agenda of climate justice, recognising the climate debt owed to the majority world from exploiting countries (such as the UK) and striving towards the goal of holistic, economic, spiritual, environmental and cultural repairs to address legacies of colonialism and to end racial injustice.

Why Write?

I was aksed to answer this question by First Story for National Writing Day.

Here’s my musings:

“It’s important to tell your story, to express who you are… If you don’t do that, then someone else may do that for you…and write you out of history…”

And here’s some other writers on the same question:

+ lots of resources on the NWD website to help get the writing flowing:

https://www.nationalwritingday.org.uk/resources/by/write-away/

TLC Showcase Writer

This month I’m featured as The Literary Consultancy Showcase Writer for my in-progress-forthcoming-hopefully-completed-sooooooon novel as memoir, Ad-Break.

It’s been a journey writing this manuscript but definitely feeling closer than ever to finishing it after receiving an insightful and encouraging report from TLC reader Jonathan McAloon. An extract of the middle part of the novel is included to download here as well as an introduction for context:

The manuscript for Ad-Break has gone through many guises. It began life intended as an illustrated coffee table book entitled 57 Creative Ways to Kill Yourself (influenced by the comedian Bill Hicks’ sketch: “if you work in advertising or marketing, kill yourself”). After attending writing workshops with Yorkshire Art Circus (2003-2005) then joining the Inscribe Writer Development programme (2005) the present form began to emerge as a semi-fictionalised account of my own experience in the advertising world. In 2008 I had enough words to publish an early version of the opening chapters, with Inscribe, as the novella Kill Myself Now – The True Confessions of An Advertising Genius.

More soon come.

 

Launch of Black Cultural Activism Map

Excited for this #RepTheRoad collaboration with Voices That Shake! family  coming up Sat 13th October. Shake!’s multi-artform theatrical performance has been developed out of ‘reparations dialogues’ between marginalised youth, artists, respected community elders and activists and will feature song from Nawi Collective, poetry from Globe Poets, film from Dhelia Snoussi and improvised dance from Akeim Toussaint-Buck, weaved together using audio interviews and soundscapes.

 

 

Sat 13th Oct 2018 at 3pm at Platform Theatre, London

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Time To Write: Making Room, Moving Body

First thing in the morning. In bed or at my desk. After just leaving the dream state. Before the distractions of the day interrupt fresh-brained consciousness. Before turning on the internet, mobile phone, email, “social” media. Before turning on the news… Over the years this has proved my peak productive writing time. Attempting to implement this regimen for at least one day a week I have organised a dedicated writing space, negotiated home-life, juggled paid commitments into afternoon and evening slots – and learnt to thrive on a relative lack of income. At my most prolific, being able to blast out a couple of thousand words a day.

This deliberate, calculated routine is now interrupted: we have kids. Full nights of slumber in our household are thankfully now the norm (following many months of some colic/reflux/still-as-yet-undiagnosed sleep-depriving annoyance) but early morning wake ups, school/nursery drop-offs/pick-ups, and other such parental duties and distractions remain. These are of course necessary, usually a joy, and often provide a poignant reminder of life priorities. But still, I do yearn and hunger for that writing time and head space. A militant restructuring of my days has thus been necessary and I have had to become much more discriminating in accepting commissions and in saying no to opportunities outside of my immediate focus.

I began the year, then, with a needed investment in my creative practice on the Numbi artists retreat in The Gambia. This proved the richly fulfilling and rejuvenating experience I had hoped: an opportunity to collaborate with other artists from the diaspora and on the continent, and to connect with heritage, global family, the land, and people. This valuable connecting, thinking and writing time was also supplemented by workshops and lectures in Kemetic Yoga with master instructor Yirser Ra Hotep bringing original research into the Afrikan and Ancient Egyptian origins of yoga. This proved revelatory in many ways and on many chakra/spiritual levels.

A fourteen-hour road trip to Senegal squashed in the back of a minibus provided further opportunity for meditation and Zen focus, but such trials were always placed into sharp relief when talking with Senegambians about their everyday struggle. Continue reading

Writing and Repair – A Healing Justice Conversation

Ahead of the first in the series of Healing Arts workshops, run by Voices That Shake!’s Healing Justice collective, here’s some nourishing quotes from writers on the healing power of writing: a conversation between Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, bell hooks, Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Junot Díaz and others.

And a link to the essay that derives one of my favourite go-to quotes (which I’ve possibly mentioned on every single Shake! course is also up here: “Creativity is the Immune System of the Mind…”).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


bell hooks:
Writing is my passion. It is a way to experience the ecstatic. The root understanding of the word ecstasy—“to stand outside”—comes to me in those moments when I am immersed so deeply in the act of thinking and writing that everything else, even flesh, falls away.

Arthur Koestler: There is no sharp dividing line between self-repair and self realisation. All creative activity is a kind of do-it-yourself therapy, an attempt to come to terms with traumatising challenges

Toni Morrison: There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

Maya Angelou: When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that. But I’m also trying for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound. I really love language. I love it for wate it does for us, how it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and delicacies of our existence. And then it allows us to laugh, allows us to show wit. Real wit is shown in language. We need language.
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Continent Chop Chop doc doc

Here’s the freshly released documentary from Virtual Migrants touring theatrical performance #ContinentChopChop.We laboured, loved and learned long and hard on this project and will be taking the essence of this theatre-film-poetry-music-digital-arts-community-engaging-connecting-politics-intervening stylee mash-up forward in new ways over the coming years. More ripples soon…

[repost from http://virtualmigrants.net/film/continent-chop-chop-documentary/%5D

Continent Chop Chop documentary re-launches critical climate justice creativity by Virtual Migrants

At the end of 2015 Virtual Migrants toured Continent Chop Chop, an innovative theatrical performance which is now the short film – the Continent Chop Chop documentary.  This film exposes the complex process involved in making an authentic artist-activist statement that avoids being didactic, doesn’t pull punches, and steers away from the common trappings of climate change art and performance.

Here it is, please leave comments below or watch it directly on YouTube and leave comments there: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAPKS3IobTk.

Background to the Continent Chop Chop Documentary

‘Continent Chop Chop’ is a touring transmedia production linking narratives of climate change to the broader issues of poverty, race and social justice. Using interwoven narratives portrayed through music, poetry, and projected imagery, it will ask:

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Creativity is the Immune System of the Mind…

Continent Chop Chop director Amanda Huxtable recently invited contributions for her Pearl’s Project with Huddersfield Literature Festival. Inspired by Maya Angelou, Amanda’s call was for people to share their pearls – “something you have kept with you ever since you first read it… a line from a novel, a poem or non fiction. It’s precious, it’s powerful. It leaves nothing unsaid in only a few words. Words powerful, strong and as precious as any pearl could be”.

Here’s mine that I hold dear from good friend, writer, artist and founder of Artists in Mind, John Holt:

 

Creativity is the immune system of the mind and the source of the mythic.”

 

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