Birmingham has an amazing creative vibrancy and it seems that poetry is at the heart of it. Nyanda Foday is currently Birmingham’s Young Poet Laureate. I was lucky enough to see her perform recently and managed to chat to her about her love of spoken word.
Where does your love of poetry and spoken word come from?
It’s hard to say. I’ve been writing poetry since I was very little, but up until somewhere in secondary school I definitely preferred prose. I made the switch when school-work and my extracurricular ramped up, and I had less time to write. I enjoy it because I find there’s something very satisfying in stringing together some words in a way that viscerally affects you and others. I enjoy spoken word because I like to perform and I feel that there’s more of a poet-audience connection than in page poetry.
How did you get involved in performance poetry?
I went to Beatfreek’s Poetry Jam with my friend and that was when I started to really make the switch. When I first watched established spoken word artists perform I suddenly just needed to one day be able to do that, and I went to a lot of poetry nights, meeting more artists and developing my poetry in the process.
What do you like about performing?
I very much enjoy the interaction with the audience- the whole mood of the piece changes depending on the audience you have. I’ve also always enjoyed performing, so it was already something I did before I took up poetry, but it’s definitely a different experience when you’re performing your innermost thoughts as opposed to someone else’s writing.
You’re currently Birmingham’s Young Poet Laureate. What an amazing achievement. This must keep you busy. What’s it like to be a Young Poet Laureate?
It’s amazing- the opportunities it has presented have been incredible, and the kinds of things I never would have been able to do without the laureateship. I’ve been able to perform at National Holocaust Memorial Day, the National Writer’s Conference, and it was how I got involved with Random Acts and ended up making a short film.
I recently saw the film of your poem Listen, and think its an amazing and effective piece. The combination of sign language, film and spoken word works so well. Can you tell us about the background to this?
I’ve always found sign language to be particularly beautiful, and when I was approached by Random Acts I figured I could just try to create a concept that would allow me to work with sign language. I decided that the most appropriate topic was expression outside of the voice, as I felt it would compliment sign language and add value to the use of sign language. It worked out really well, and getting to work with Mary-Jayne de Clifford, the translator, was an incredible experience.
Who or what inspires you to write?
I am a very inward-facing poet- I tend to write about how I’m feeling and things that happen in my life. However, I am also incredibly inspired by the poets I see perform- like I said, watching an incredible performance fills you with the need to perform something that makes other people feel the way those poems made you feel.
What’s next for you? Can you share any details of projects you’re currently working on?
Well, I’m coming up to the end of my first year at university, and the end of my two years of laureateship. What’s going to happen next is very much a grey area. With the move to uni, which meant a different lifestyle and a different geographical area, almost all of my poetry this year has been going back to Brum for laureate requests. I imagine I’m going to be doing a lot less poetry unfortunately, but I would like to make more of an effort to break into the scene where I’m now based. I would love to carry on doing the same kinds of performances, but I don’t think I’ll be asked to do them as much without the laureateship. I’m honestly not really working on any projects at the moment, things are kind of winding down for the year, though they might increase again in the Summer.
Who would you recommend that we read or see in performance?
I definitely cannot provide an extensive list because there are so many incredible artists- especially in Birmingham. First things first- go to an established open mic night (Poetry Jam, Howl, Stirchley Speaks, Hit the Ode, etc.). The talent will vary depending on the night a lot of the time, so I would recommend trying each night at least two or three times. This will introduce you to some of the local poets, and you’ll get to see some different types of poetry.
Individuals: (please remember that this is in no way extensive) Amerah Saleh, Case Bailey, Aliyah Hasinah, Jasmine Gardosi, Jess Davies, Leon, Bohdan Piasecki, Sean Colletti, Carl Sealeaf, Wuzza Razz and so so many more can all be found in Brum. Two poets I’ve performed alongside who I really enjoyed but aren’t based in Birmingham are Raymond Antrobus and Kaveh Akbar.
Do you have a poem you would like to share with our readers?
I wrote this poem walking home in the snow and just taking some time to enjoy the calm of the night
Abominable Snow Woman
Snow hitting the inner corner of your eye feels like it should hurt, but it doesn’t
The snow simply sits there
Cries itself out
Curves down the contours of my face
Tickles its way into crevices and faults and flaws
As its cold seeps into my skin
And I can’t feel my face
And it’s better that way.
The snow is clinging to my hoodie
I stopped shaking it off maybe ten minutes ago
It is persistent
Clings to itself
The first thing it covers is my breasts
I become an abominable snow woman
And as I walk back in,
I am amazed by how long it takes for the snow to thaw
It is nothing if not persistent.
And when I am changed out of wet clothes
And my toes are now dry
And I am inside
I am still frozen
Do you have any advice for new writers?
I always highly recommend going to see poets perform, because in my opinion, it’s the best way to develop as a spoken word artist. Try to explore a variety of styles so you can work out what affects you the most, and what you would like to perform. You’ve got to be patient with yourself- at first you might not think your poetry is that great, but you’ve got to keep going and just keep trying to write the kind of poetry you want to read/see. Also remember that poetry is very subjective, and affects everyone differently. I’ve had some poems that I’ve been unhappy with that other people have really enjoyed. Most of all, just do your best to keep writing and keep enjoying writing.