Spread the Word’s Young People’s Laureate for London Momtaza Mehri gives London’s young people a voice through poetry.
The Young People’s Laureate’s mission is to:
• Raise the visibility of poetry in the capital, nationally and internationally;
• Engage and inspire London’s young people with poetry through the issues that affect them;
• Support the development of London’s talented young poets in a tangible way.
Each year an esteemed judging panel selects a poet to become the Young People’s Laureate for London. Momtaza Mehri was appointed the second Young People’s Laureate for London in April 2018. Caleb Femi was the first Young People’s Laureate.
Momtaza, Caleb Femi and young people have co-created a Youth Manifesto which will inform Momtaza’s work as Laureate. You can read the Youth Manifesto 2018.
During her tenure, Momtaza will be engaging young people (aged 13-25) and will be engaging young people across London with poetry through: residencies and commissions; co-curating a Poetry Lab for talented young poets and supporting the Young People’s Laureate Tour taking place in six outer London boroughs: Barking and Dagenham, Bromley, Redbridge, Sutton, Brent and Kingston.
The programme is funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Goldsmiths’ Company Charity and supported by a wide range of partners. The Young People’s Laureate Tour is funded by Arts Council England and the Rayne Foundation.
You can keep up to date with what the Young People’s Laureate for London is doing here, or through social media #youngpeopleslaureate.
It’s an unexpected and thrilling feeling being the Young People’s Laureate for London.
I want to use this role to amplify the voices of young Londoners and showcase their creative potential. I know they will inspire me as much as I hope to inspire them. I am excited by the possibilities we can imagine together, through and with poetry.
doctor says there is something wrong with your thyroid / you are known
to leak everywhere / to take the shape of whatever / wherever you are
poured into / you do not contest his claim / or any other man with his
hands around your throat / before the appointment / you slice a heart /
swallow breath mints to disguise / the miasma of desperation / slide a
ring onto each finger / bejewel a somatic distraction / let the Gulf of
Aden run ragged / from the twinned lakes / of shoulder blades / an
inherited wetness behind the ears / you kiss / the mirror’s cold navel /
with the kind of pride that comes naturally / to those born carrying
history as an extra limb / to the sticky yolk of grief / you do not think
you are a Good Person™ / not with the way you cough up contradiction
/ phlegm thick as Aramco / poverty’s slick jaw / or how you gloss your
mouth with a humanitarian shade of pink / dress each lie in crushed
pearls / but because you remember the names of your brothers / never
your sisters / your sister’s sisters / your sisters who are an occurrence /
never an event / never a shudder when they stop occurring / there is
nothing to mark their arrival / or leaving / Hodan aged 21 / and six
months / who doused herself in liquid surrender / set herself alight / her
second attempt at peace / in the bulletin thumbnail she wears royal blue
/ looks like a woman you would powder / your nose next to / at a
wedding / wrist against cheek / soft wick of her rimmed eyes / banjee
queen / doe-eyed diva / dhow-hearted / what did they do to you / onto
you / at Nauru Regional Processing Centre / what did this processing
look like / OPC1 / where detainees sew their lips together / silence
themselves before they are silenced / where women hoard cloths to plug
their bleeding / hide from both inmates and guards / carry the children
of men who did not ask / infants who did not ask / an island of orphans
/ of what could have been you / but is not you / will never be you / from
across the ambit / oh for fate’s insurgencies / its sweet edge / the
topologies of our lives / their sharpened sighs / soft implosions of flip-
flops/ on airport floors / you dream in eastern time / wait for the hijaz
to collect / the bags under your eyes / for her to warm your pulse / with
her hands / her cratered lap / friends described her as a “gentle soul” who
had been “destroyed” / by her time in detention / you note the
alliterative phrasing / a velvet undoing / there are as many ways to be
destroyed / as there are droplets on the tongue / to describe it / Hodan
rolls in your mouth / draws salt from saliva / you think of the white of
nerve endings / the melting of dermis / grass hissing underfoot / all that
separates her / from / you / me / is a slip of a generation / a fistful of
decades / in another life / the war that broke you / breaks ten years
ahead / and you are the one drowning / you are forgotten / in this life /
you rest on the pillow of abstraction / on your passport / the freedom
papers of this age / your proximity to the bodies that terrorise hers / the
rolled dice of your life / it is what it is / every poem that falls /
chandeliered / is about this distance / its heavy head on your lap / its hot
laugh on your neck / its doll-like teeth marks / you have never known a
/ worse / than / coincidence /
Momtaza Mehri at The Complete Works Poetry 3 launch of the Bloodaxe Anthology, Ten: Voices of the New Generation ( Ed. Karen McCarthy Woolf). Southbank, November 9th, 2017. Published on YouTube on 2 Dec 2017.
our blood has a love affair with drains & sinkholes
even we can’t come between
between the pavement and our teeth the gap is always narrow
& someone is always trying to die
as quietly as possible
possible as it may be i have no time for soft boys with soft voices
wearing a mother’s pay-check on their feet
shoelaces as ragged as their nightly breath
breath as asset seizure you are this & more you are a pop song
that lasts just over three minutes
a hundred & twenty seconds worth of undoing
undoing what the world has done to me is a full-time job
yes i am gassed up & drunk off my own subjectivity
the way women raised on prophets & rappers
are bound to both die young & leave poor imitations
imitations or disappointments both i am used to my little hot oil splash.
meet me in the middle
someplace where the breeze licks at ears
& grief wears something other than a fitted cap
& no-one mentions words that don’t mean anything
childish shit like freedom & safety & eventually
Those days madrassa meant a room above the café. No chairs. Laughter and conspiracy. Sizzled fat to perfume the conversation of men too long in the tooth for niceties. They had no indoor voices. We would impersonate the shoulder pop of the Indian Ocean. A cypher perfected by the baton of the macalin’s stick ruler. Counting down until the break. Our ritual of grape juice boxes and contraband chocolate. We sat on our hind legs like the sun outside the dirty windows. Stained our front teeth with shaani and everything else as imported and pigmented as we were. Doomsday gossip. We swapped the coming signs. How we were taught the world would end. All the major and minor undoings. How the Hour would fall when Bedouins constructed the tallest buildings. We’d been to Dubai that one hot summer and seen this for our young selves. Drew parallels on each other’s palms. Signs like the blinking of years, winters that would feel like summers, the sun’s agonising rise from the west. Our bitten knuckles taut over lips. We wanted a glorious ending. We wanted a movie. We dreamed of a finale to freeze the blood. Each day we’d wake to someone’s world ending. As sure as milk froth and betrayal, we saw our parents and their parents take their cues from the planet and grow indifferent to their own bodies. Too young to understand hooded men balanced on boxes or poverty’s slick-talking jaw, we still knew. The world is a hang-nail. This conclusion drawn from the quantitative analysis of playground spite, imposed bed times and the terror of accidentally walking into our mothers’ silent sobs. Grief sprinkled like rice at a wedding. Born into and out of wandering. Collapse was our way of standing still. Is it selfish to want the world to feel your pain too? To blister the way you do? Forgive the children for their jagged dreams. Forgive those so young and so over it already. They do not mean what they say when they say they will play in the freshly turned soil of a split earth. They will tickle the Beast behind its perky ears. They will ride its back down down down into a land of worms and warmth. Into the only place that will receive them as esteemed guests. As homecoming. As family.
Momtaza Mehri joins BBC Radio 4 Newsday to talk about her new role as Young People’s Laureate for London.
The Young People’s Laureate is both the voice of and advocate for London youth, as well as being an ambassador for global poetry. A dynamic and diverse city demands a poet that can speak for it and help others to find their mouths too – and that is at the heart of why the role was created. Momtaza Mehri brings a rare understanding of transnational cultures that will infuse the role and help create a poetic that is identifiably London.
Funders and partners
Get in touch with Spread the Word if you are interested in
commissioning or booking Momtaza Mehri, Young People’s Laureate for London.