Poetic Unity On Community, Spoken Word And Creating Space For Young Black People To Be Heard.
By Ada Kalu
April 21, 2023
March 14th marked the 26 year anniversary of love jones. Brother to the night (A Blues for Nina) remains a unique marker of the film, a seamless stringing together of words combined with the jazzy blues and hues of 1997 Chicago. Poetry has always existed. The language of love, the heart of art, A Blues for Nina is just one example of how poetry functions. It stirs the soul into action, stills the chaos of the everyday and remains a reminder of how vast the experience of life can be even when it doesn’t feel that way. Spoken word carries with it not only the passion and direction of its subject, but a crucial use of voice and cadence – I will be heard.
The importance of spaces to speak and be heard are evident in Poetic Unity. A Brixton based charity that fosters space and agency for young Black people through spoken word and creative programs. ‘We want to see a world where young people have a voice and can reach their full potential.’ With a specific focus on the marginalized identities in the U.K, Poetic Unity engages with the realities of its workers and attendees through ‘supporting young people’s mental health, education, personal development, community cohesion.’
Speaking to founder, Ryan J. Matthews-Robinson, a safe space for performers, poets and workers is key. ‘Poetry is very personal and I think creating a safe space is very important.’ Intentionally working towards a comfortable environment for all serves as a reminder – particularly to young people – that our boundaries, voices and safety are paramount. This is a fostered community that reinforces the validity and lives of young Black people in the U.K. The ties to community and the commitment to opening doors means Poetic Unity thrives particularly as a space of growth.
The pandemic robbed many young people of their opportunities and spaces to discover self. This, combined with continuous cuts to arts funding and momentous strikes in U.K. history means places and spaces that existed are no longer functional. There’s a huge gap in nurturance being filled by volunteers and fundraising efforts to ensure personal development is not a by the way. Particularly in education – staffing shortages, underpaid teachers and a constantly changing (and difficult) curriculum – mean everyone is being left for worse and young people particularly are left without. The Poets Corner, a fortnightly open mic night allows guests to build their confidence, engage with the community and ultimately listen and be heard. These sentiments are echoed by Jayda David, a spoken word artist and youth worker. ‘I definitely think it’s been instrumental in my journey as a poet and a person. I was very shy and I think I’m still quite shy but it’s growing me as a person.’
The support Poetic Unity provides is crucial, particularly reminding us of the space and time to come to self and the many places poetry comes from. For Jayda, her connection to poetry started from young. ‘I was like 7 or 8. Even at that age, I was very interested in politics and stuff. So I’d write letters and poems and stuff to like governments around the world.’ The use of music in her craft shows the connections between art forms. She names Akala’s The Thieves Banquet as a source of inspiration. ‘It kind of rebrands me and it’s all very political’. This outlet means ‘I actually have this time to just say what’s on my mind and speak. There’s not really anything else in my life that gives me that kind of feeling of freedom.’
For Ryan, his inspiration comes from movies. ‘I’m a big fan of Christopher Nolan’s movies and just movies in general. Film scores really, like, inspire me to write.’ While poetry was relegated to school, it wasn’t until his mid 20s that his poetry came to. The relationship between film and poetry means the stories of film are rooted in the everyday. ‘It’s the stories told within movies and also just my life in general. I feel like just growing up in Brixton, seeing everything around me.’
The programs offered by Poetic Unity highlight the need to make poetry accessible.There is a range that covers vulnerability and masculinity to mental health and the relationship between poetry, music and culture. They recently launched their ‘No Cost in Giving’ program which provides a cost free opportunity for young Black and Black mixed people to experience events in London for free. The next Poets Corner, a bi-weekly poetry evening will be taking place on Friday 5th May at the Black Cultural Archives.
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