The Poetic Debaters Project

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Young Poets from the Barbican, SHAKE! and Slambassadors‘ mentees with Sam Berkson, PDP facilitator

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Castleview and Cornelius Vermuyden School with judges 4i2i at Pop Up Festival of Stories in Essex

PDP Ackland Burghley

Acland Burghley School with poet judges  Jasmin Cooray and David Lee Morgan at Pop Up Festival of Stories Swiss Cottage, London

I have been a-brewing a project that I have a deep connection to and I think it’s because it involves all the geeky things that I love to do behind closed doors – reading for research, writing for passion, engagement and education, and devising performance to invigorate and inspire.
It has been a project nearly seven years in the devising, structuring and branding, and so far I have delivered several independent call-out group versions of the project and 2 schools programs.

The original idea for the project was to activate young minds into further engagement with important polemics and equality issues in the world around them, however the model is so flexible, it can adapt to raise awareness for any cause with strong social justice agendas. Ultimately, this is a program about truth-seeking and raising awareness.
PDP is supported by Pop Festival of Stories, English PEN and The Poetry Society.

Dylan Caulder from Pop Up is a much valued supporter of PDP as is Joelle Taylor from Slambassadors and Louise Swan from PEN. I really appreciate their energy and vision for it.

It has been great to work with fellow Poet Sam Berkson to co-facilitate and deliver PDP. We are also co-collaborators on another project exploring mental well being called, “The Poetry of Madness.”

As I am gold Arts Award trained, I am ready to deliver a whole progam to schools and education institutes who have the Arts Award as part of their curriculum.

Poetic Debaters excites me as a project because of the potential to reach and empower many young people, providing them labatory-like spaces for exploration and a platform for their voices with a strong poetry and debate strategising regime. Also for them to have fun working as teams, inspiring and enlivening audiences doing something they love, which, in turn, gives them confidence.
Very soon I shall be rolling out a facilitators package of training for PDP. Yet another exciting development in the projects life.

For much more information, visit the THE POETIC DEBATERS PROJECT blog/website and to hear audio of PDP debates in action, read poems from the young people.

Watch the PDP Promotion film by Juliette Dalton, 2Dice Productions.

 

~Z~

Spark – Hope in their Hearts

Spark Hope

It was quite a daunting ask, for me to be on  panel speaking about something as abstract as ‘hope’. Even as a poet it is hard to steer clear of cliche´s about olive leaves in the beaks of birds on the wing. All we know is that it is something that can be felt  in the body, and that hope can sometimes be made manifest in physical form like a lighthouse or a beacon to give direction when in the dark. There you go. This is what I mean about avoiding the cliche´s…

Ultimately hope requires a type of blindness. Not  myopia or blinkers or plunging your head into sand. It requires tunnel vision for a specific thing and committed conviction to that thing. But a long with that you must be propelled toward hope when in certain circumstances there is none.

Taking to the street to protest in many ways leads us to believe that we are all powerful if we are united, only to see some either lose their faith when they look up at the towering  enormity of the project of saving the world… Saving the world? Who would volunteer to that challenge when the prospect of death or ruin lurks at every turn. Only an extremely brave person or a stupid person would. I’ve heard

“Who is more the fool, the fool himself or the fool who follows him?”

Who and what do we follow into the future if it is not going to be our blind faith in the power of hope. The horrifying occurrences  in Gaza are holding our attention to ransom. Social media is going crazy over the bombing. And so it should, but there is something is seeing direct act like ordinary people protesting by occupying Bristol BBC Gardens to highlight the lack of balanced coverage that makes you feel galvanized, supported, rebooted because you know you are not alone in your voice. Some people would say, “So downloadwhat? I have a voice. But WHO’S LISTENING!?! No one cares.” Who is no-one? A million people marched against the illegal war in Iraq. “They still went in though innit?” said my regular-folk friend from Tottenham. Here is an example of where hope is thin, where people don’t think about hope, they think just about getting through the day, because the day to day is all that matters. And herein lies the rub. If we only focus on today, how are we going to build a tomorrow? How are we going to do this if we believe Hope and we are powerless.

Now this question aggravates me the most  but it can also become the driving force for seeking the answer – Who cares? I do. And I think that is what matters the most. Expressing a care is Hope in action and gives collective caring a chance even if we do not have a conversation about it.

There is always so much unsaid because of fear.  How about the unsaid that exists in Hope? We are often scared to declare the things we hope outwardly for fear of setting ourselves up for disappointment and making a mockery of our selves. What we need to think is that in the long run, opinions don’t matter, saving lives do and if that means holding on to tenuous sense of hope that things will be alright in the end, then let that be your soul  foundation of your every move in dark times. Darkness itself is nothing to fear, it is the unknown an din the unknown we can find potential. Its about shifting focus. And having faith that faith  will provide.

Hope has got to play a part in our healing first and foremost – being allowed to possess Hope, taking your desires or prayers to Hope, preserving the  ability to Hope. But what exactly is it though? As much as Hope  is a physical sensation (I feel it mostly download-1behind my eyes, strangely enough), to me, Hope has got to be made practical as well. Art has done that for me.

It has allowed me to organize a rather chaotic upbringing into a semblance of order, placing traumas and life saving memories in their rightful places in the past, in the moment or the future and making art was a method to calmly respond and act with Hope in the world.
Hope can catalyze organisation in way that at least make sense to the individual, even if nobody else.
Let it be your crazy Hope. And meditate on it, write it, draw it, collage it, dance it. Let it be the reason why you get out of bed on THAT morning when it seems most futile, even if the
best that can happen is that you make it through that day. Success!

I am looking forward to the next Shake! -You Arts and Activism intensive course  in August. It is all about mental health and well being. Perfect fertile ground conversations around the point of Hope.

Click the link to the video of my Hope In the Dark Stream of consciousness (with my not so new hair cut – the Lo-fro throwback!) – http://bambuser.com/v/4720016

~Z~

The Voice of Burntwood Girls

Last Summer, as part of the Battersea Arts Centre Heritage Project, I worked with a group of young women whose creative maturity really inspired me.  Given the freedom to use film, paint, mixed media and photography to express themselves, they took basic ideas about the representation and power of girls and women’s voices and ran with it.

I’ll let them speak for themselves…

The Soul Manufacturing Company at Whitechapel Gallery

Last year I was commissioned to make a series of visits to read to some potters at the Whitechapel Gallery. My readings were a part of the Visual Artist/Performer, Urban Planner and Activist, Theaster Gates,  Soul Manufacturing Company for  The Spirit of Utopia  exhibition.

This interactive installation was an extension of the Gates’ previous works at the White Cube Gallery earlier in 2012 – “My Labour is my Protest.”
The Soul Manufacturing Company exhibition interrogated the notion of the value of art and was an oblique but very classy tongue in cheek critique of the art world – “who or what gives value to a piece of art,  how does the institutionalized canon of opinion in valuing the making of art maintain itself and what questions can be asked about the labour of the hands that make the art?

Six ceramicists were commissioned to make the simplest Japanese style bowls and cups and hand-made bricks from a basic clay as if in a factory production line every day for 8 hours a day. Hundreds over 10 weeks were made. The destiny for these objects seemed to be a bit of a mystery and in vein with how Gates works. They will be shipped back to the US and what they will be used for is being held close to Gates’ chest. Right now, let’s make pots.

“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
Francis of Assisi

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Click to enlarge

My job was to manifest the value of each potter’s labour by offering them the gifts of poetry readings and song. Continue reading

SHAKE! Youth Art and Activism – My Thought on the 3 R’s

I have been working on this incredible youth project for the last four years. Shake! is Platform London’s youth initiative which happen twice a year as a February school’s half-term and August Summer holidays intensive course. They take 6 months to devise with themes I would have been frightened of as teenager, more concerned with fashion and hair and whether I was going to make enough money at my holiday job to get the freshest garms to rock on my  return to college.

THIS type of project (post UK Summer insurrections 2011) is more important than ever and from 17th-21st February, I was again immersed in the politically inquisitive and emotional world of 16 young people who believe they can change the world with the poetic word and film.The process of devising this particular Shake course was perhaps the most befuddling because the themes were MASSIVE – Remembering, Re-Imagining and Reparations.
I wrote a blog about it and writing it was crucial to my process of grounding me in the themes for this year. I needn’t have fretted. The Young People delivered, as usual.
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Here is the blog post.

Zena’s Thoughts on the Three R’s- Remembering, Re-imagining, Reparations

This will be my fourth time as a Shake! facilitator and the third time as  core team intensive 5-day course deviser.Shake! 1: The pilot “Arts Race and Power” course honoured the lives of aspiring architect and London youth Stephen Lawrence, and the eco-activist and Nigerian Ogoni Tribesman writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and used their stories as case studies to interrogate the themes

Shake! 2 – The “Voice Verse Power” course analysed media representation, political definitions of race and power to estabilish, validate and give a platform for the voice of the marginalised and stigmatised.Shake! 3: focused on the themes of and “Power, Perceptions, Propaganda”.Now we’re going in deep – Remembering, Re-imagining, Reparations. This the title of the next course and it is going to be one of our most challenging courses to devise for the themes are so broad, complex and could potentially take us down a worm hole of new age theory and idealistic visions of Utopia. Continue reading

Parenting the Artist. Giving the Artist’s Manager a Break

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So, we made it through 2013 in pretty much one piece. Now, to continue the quest to thriving.
As I’m a freelance, self managing artist, I need to have work strategies in place for the fractious haggling of time and energy between the needs of the artist-self and the independent arts business manager/agent-self (she’s a stubborn-jawed entreprenuer <- what the personality my artist-self needs – an innovative somebody who is fearless and on her side in the business realm). Sometimes a cold war exists between them though, nothing gets done and procrastination wins the battle.  Some days I am in the negotiating room for 8 hours just to survive another day, diplomacy sweating and hoarse at the table. Continue reading

Touring with Extraordinary folk – Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis

2013 has got to be one of my most productive years as an artist. I was successful at winning a commission to create an art installation for The Fury Project  exploring anger -especially women and girls (I’m yet to blog properly here about that but you can check out the website here and blog here). I also found a producer for my new poetry project which I will fill you in about early 2014, but I have a producer! Yes!! Been 6 years in the waiting… But the highlight has got to be the 7 date tour with Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis. Zee Hugh Larry 2Serious, who produce the London Jazz Festival, invited me to be support. After I’d accepted I realised that for the last 3 years I had been working hard as project deviser, coordinator and facilitator, predominantly for youth projects, though I did a little directing and mentoring for Write-Meet-Read Collective,   who were producing their first anthology of  Women writings- “Ink on my Lips” –  in Brighton. I’d only had the odd poetry performance invite throughout the year. I got a little nervous…. But I decided to rise to the challenge, dust off my kora (she hadn’t been played in about 5 years – shame), write some new work, revisit some poems that hadn’t seen the light of day and curate a set based on the theme of “The Melody of the Poetry of Us.”

Zee Speedy Hugh Larry

I had worked with guitarist, Jon Speedy,  for 2 years as a spoken-word  poetry and music duo from 2007 and it was an off-shoot collaboration of “Converations”, my ambitious but brilliantly fun and gratefully successful 2009 & 2010 multi-media projects fusing music, spoken-word poetry and visuals based on a strong theme. This time I chose a theme that spoke to  the things we need and strive to do to stay human in a technocratic, objectifying, globalized epoch that tends to de-humanise and homogenize us. This Continue reading

Women Make Music – Yes. I do.

I was recently asked to be guest of the month for The PRS Foundation because my last commission was funded by the Women Make Music Award. Why is it important for these kinds of initiatives with pots of money to exist highlights the fact, that the imbalance in the representation of women in the music industry is very real. Its funds like this that give opportunities to artist musicians, like myself, spread our wings, to make journeys into the obscured treasure of their voices and then to put those stories and voices out into the world to inspire and galvanize others. These awards shift the imbalance so that audiences can  have more choices about what they want to hear and have enrich their lives.
Gotta give a big shout out too Women Make Music!

Below is my interview for the PRS Guest of the monthe interview or click for the original PRS website page.

On 15th November at the Southbank Centre, London, Zena Edwards will be performing a new work written for the 21st birthday of Serious – the producers of the EFG London Jazz Festival (LJF). This work was supported through Women Make Music so we asked Zena some questions about her music and the new piece. Continue reading

Supporting the Legendary Hugh Masekela

I’m still tripping that this tour has been offered to me…

I’m touring as a support to Legends South African Jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela and Pianist, Larry Willis.

November 5th was the first date of this tour and meeting Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis was one of the coolest experiences with musicians I’ve had. Watching Hugh do Tai Chi; him, Larry and their tour manager cracking jokes over take away food back stage, hearing Larry and Hugh together warming up – magical. Piano keys sang around the dancing smooth horn lines distinct to Hugh’s sound. Both in their seventies and celebrating 50 years! of working together, this duo breathe each others spontaneous creativity. Definitely a landmark experience in my artist’s career (along with performing with Baaba Maal).

Big Thanks to David Jones at Serious, The PRS Foundation “Women Make Music” award and to Jon Speedy for being my partner in crime for this project.

Click for tour dates on Serious’s Website: Hugh Masekela and Larry Wills + Zena Edwards

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The Laugh – Zena on Def Poetry

Found this by chance. I thought I’d lost this piece of footage as Def Poetry had taken it down…

In 2002, I got a phone call from my then  poetry agent, 57 Productions, that they’d got a call from Def Poetry. I was so fresh into my working career as a poet that I didn’t feel ready for such a big show – I mean, I was going to New York to stand on that renowned stage where the likes of the Last Poets, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Sundiata Sekou, Jill Scott and Smokey Robinson had performed!
I’d never had TV make -up before and it was caked on. (I get it now). Plus the hustle and bustle back stage was a madness – poets reciting their lines loudly, painting shapes in the air, gesticulating  with that american gusto that scared a lil UK poet who was just feeling her feet in the  spoken word world. It was intimidating to say the least. But what poet from the African diaspora would turn down such a great opportunity. This mainstream outlet was, still is, the home of contemporary  of Black Poetry. Another landmark experience….

I performed a poem called The Laugh. It has had many incarnations since and has become a bit of an anthem.  This was it at its most fetal. I think I held my own…. :)
Plus it was kinda cool to have host Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) say, “Yeeeeeah, you was throwin’ it doooown…”.  “Thanks.” I squeaked. Nice moment.