Donald Jenkings reflects on the Poetry Exchange between London’s Spoken Collective and Newcastle’s Born Lippy Collective – organised by Social Action Hub organisers Ellen Moran and Moussa Amine Sylla.
The poetry exchange has been an inspiring experience, not only as an opportunity to meet and collaborate with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds, but also as a chance to re-evaluate the power of spoken word. As a result of this project, we believe poetry can be used as a means of spreading positive messages and questioning issues of social justice in our own communities.
This was an excellent process – an exchange where the two respective collectives each organised a programme of activities when hosting the other crew in their city.
Supported by the Selby Centre Social Action Hub, the visit to London in October 2018 helped draw together different poets from the North East into writing with a purpose. Prior to the visit, Spoken – the London collective – set each North East poet a theme to research and write about.
This helped us share ideas on content, but also helped us inspire one another in our approach to writing when trying to convey messages about injustice and oppression; wanting our audience to feel moved by our words. In particular, as a group of white poets we were given the topic of ‘Black History Month’ to write about. The task in itself made us question our own legitimately to write on issues of race when we are privileged not to be affected by it the same way as people of colour. It made us think more about celebrating what influence black culture has had our lives – valuing the impact that black activists and artists have had on us; inspiring and affecting our own identity.
The Spoken event in London was tremendous, a real plethora of talented performers tackling issues from all angles in an amazing venue; drawing in a mixed crowd of all ages. Newcastle, by comparison, has a very small black community, so it was a new experience for me to perform to a largely black crowd in a city like London, which is often so unquestioningly multicultural in its make-up.
It’s made me re-evaluate what Born Lippy is about. The Spoken event bore out issues like the housing crisis and knife crime – issues the organisers wanted to highlight. The Spoken collective have regular monthly events that focus on issues affecting their community; using that as a starting point for having a cultural conversation with their audience. I would like Born Lippy to be more like that – a community that questions and challenges injustice.
Being involved in the Social Action Hub poetry exchange has not only helped me develop as a poet, but also on a personal level as well – getting involved in direct action in my local community!
When Born Lippy hosted the Spoken collective in Newcastle, we felt it was important to stage a political action to focus on one of the themes we had agreed for our part of the exchange – homelessness.
Working in partnership with the ACORN Newcastle Social Action Hub, we held an event at central location in Newcastle. We wanted to raise awareness for the need for landlords to have license to prove their competency, and to safeguard tenants who are most at risk in the private sector from eviction – the leading cause of homelessness. Therefore, we performed topical poetry to engage passers-by into signing a petition – demanding that private landlords become regulated.
It was a great to see such a nice spread of people drawn in by the poetry and speeches. They resonated with the situation of private tenants, including asylum seekers, who are badly affected by substandard private accommodation.
We then ran a writing workshop at Cobalt Studios, which was attended by twenty people – giving them an opportunity to explore the power of definitions; how words are often contested between individuals and groups, which can cause conflict in society.
Working in groups, the participants fused their own definitions of words (e.g. ‘truth’, ‘community’, etc.) to develop jointly agreed poetic definitions which they then performed and got feedback on. The experience was well received by those that attended as it challenged the normal lone experience of writing by encouraging people to create as a collective.
Sharing poetry, culture, passion, words, jokes, and vision was one of the most humbling and inspiring moments I have had on this journey… completely shattering my expectations of the Good that can be achieved through poetry and human connection
I think this approach to writing, could be replicated by poets involved in future exchanges, where artists could use it write and perform collective poems that could be videoed and used online to not only document the art, but also used to inspire people to take collective action.
The Born Lippy event was great, covering a wide range of issues – mental health, the benefit system, Northern Ireland, and sexual politics. The event nurtured a great sense of community, with the poets from the collectives rising to the challenge to write new material and excelling in their performance capabilities.
The overall process had consolidated the Born Lippy collective in Newcastle, bringing together people who share their love of poetry, who want to effect change in their own community. They know that poetry can play a part in changing perceptions in society. It is a much more digestible medium to propagate ideas than just making a speech – it taps into peoples’ love of rhyme and stories.
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