This year for World Poetry Day I was fortunate to be in Leeds, England, a place I called home for over forty (40) years. Just by chance I picked up a flyer announcing the appearance by the renowned poet/wordsmith Lemn Sissay at a local youth word slam. The youths (City of Leeds Slammers) are part of a project that has operated in three city schools – Leeds City Academy, Ralph Thoresby and Lawnswood High Schools – for the past six years. Run by Ms Michelle Scally, the project is designed to allow pupils 16 year-olds the opportunity for self expression through ownership of a voice – the young persons develop the skills of writing, debating, organising and performing.
The evenings performance was an explosion of talent. Talent such as Donatella who sang her poem “I know this girl” to rap beat and Jawara whose poem Addiction has lines such as “ the world is my addiction” and who also sang “Queen”. And Courtney whose poem “Why?” asks “…why should a mother have to have sex with a stranger just to put food on her baby’s plate?” and Muzzy’s “…. all kids should live in a place full of happiness with a mother and father” and the audacious Mamma “I’m like a hot cup of cocoa, I am a peacock in a rainforest..”
Mikaela’s poem “Who am I ?” explored issues of identity and race, “… am I one or the other?” and Sadja’s “ Something only I Know” “…a place where we could all live happily” Three students from Ralph Thoresby also took part; Amber whose writing was a total change from the others and was more like a soliloquy than a poem and dealt with reflections of a very disturbed individual who had been institutionalised for a murder she committed.
Antonio hosted the first half also performed a very funny poem “Is there a meal greater than foofoo?” while the second half was hosted by Sadja and her sister Hadja who also performed both individually and in a duet.
The performance closed with a short performance by Lemn Sissay. He was full of praise for the young performers and encouraged them to continue in their efforts. He performed several poems dealing with culture and race. One poem “Whale Translation” was a departure from the others in that it dealt with a natural phenomenon.