Young People’s Laureate for London Theresa Lola November Blog

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Theresa Lola is Spread the Word’s Young People’s Laureate for London, working to engage young people in poetry throughout the capital. In her latest blog, she updates us with news about her residencies and shares her thoughts on what poets and books she’s currently loving. 

My first two residencies, at Free Word Centre and St Paul’s Cathedral, have come to an end, and I am delighted that they were nourishing not only for me but for the young people that participated.

The residency at the Free Word centre ended with an event on 18 November ‘With Love (and Rage), Generation Rent’, an evening of poetry and sound recordings accompanied with Illustration by Olivia Twist, on the future of private renting, social housing and our perspective as young people. Other poets who read were Seraphima Kennedy and Amaal Said, joined by two young poets who participated in the poetry workshop I facilitated prior to the event, Gabriel Akamo, and Mayura. In the workshop we discussed in greater detail the case studies by Shelter on private renting and social housing and read and wrote poems on the themes. Sections of our conversations were the sound recordings played at the event.

The St Paul’s Cathedral residency focused on the theme of ‘hope’. Through a series of poetry workshops and a tour of the cathedral we discussed ways the cathedral represents hope. Each school had a different focus, with Archbishop Tenison we focused on ‘Hope of Equality’; looking at monuments at the cathedral of people who have fought for or become a symbol of equality, and West London Free School explored ‘Hope of Heaven on Earth’, looking at the heavenly architecture of the cathedral and the memorable services of comfort that make it a place of refuge. The residency ended with an event on November 26 at the cathedral where the students from both schools cane together to read their poems.

A book I have been digging into in my free time and would recommend is Fiona Benson’s striking poetry collection Vertigo & Ghost. The first part of the collection uses Greek Mythology to interrogate sexual violence against women. Hearing Fiona Benson read at the 2019 Forward Poetry Prize ceremony in October was even more thought provoking, and she went on to win the Best Collection prize. Stand-out readers at the award ceremony were Ilya Kaminsky (The Deaf Republic), Raymond Antrobus (The Perseverance), and Liz Berry (The Republic of Motherhood).

Another stellar event I attended was also hosted at the Southbank Centre, the anticipated launch of the anthology Un Nuevo Sol, the first major anthology of British Latinx writers in the UK. Nathalie Teitler is responsible for bringing the Latinx writers together to elevate their unique voices. The anthology is co-edited by Nii Ayikwei Parkes and published by Flipped Eye. Included in the anthology are Leo Boix, Juana Adcock, Maia Elsner and more.

The Young People’s Laureate for London role also involves international engagement. Meeting new people around the world through poetry has been wonderful and insightful. In November I attended the Singapore Writers Festival and read alongside Danez Smith, David Wong and Jacob Sam-La Rose. In August I travelled to Abuja, Nigeria with Save The Children to run workshops for young women exploring conflict, gender inequality and poverty. The project was released on International Day of the Girl on 11th October 2019.

Only one month to go to the end of the year and I am looking forward to what December brings, and perhaps more excitingly, Christmas. In 2020 I am looking forward to working with Wellcome Collection and Bethlem Museum of the Mind, exploring their exhibitions and creating work with young people in response. Happy holidays!

Theresa Lola, Nigerian/ British poet, and current Young People’s Laureate for London, led a poetry workshop in Nigeria. The participants included girls aged 14 – 17 from conflict-affected states in northern and northeast Nigeria.
Save the Children’s girl champion for Nigeria, Maryam Ahmed, co-facilitated the workshop.
Over the course of the workshops, the girls analysed poetry and wrote their own work exploring themes of conflict, education, gender, wellbeing and discrimination. They experimented with metaphors, similes and personification, and worked together on their own pieces. Those who wished to, shared their poems.
Image from Generation Rent at Free Word Centre
Image from Generation Rent at Free Word Centre
Image from Generation Rent at Free Word Centre
Image from Generation Rent at Free Word Centre

Theresa Lola is on Twitter and Instagram @theresa_lola and her debut collection, In Search of Equilibrium, is published by Nine Arches Press.