Legacy – Step One in Being a Freelance Artist

“Legacy” – Writing to make footprints that won’t blow away on the wind


This goes without saying when it comes to the arts.
I have been involved in youth arts (via writing and performance mainly) since 2000 and its youthful voices that re-imagine our worlds, the physical and emotional world, the fighting and resting world, the dying and living world. A world forever in creation.
When we have creativity in our lives we can anticipate wizened voice resonating with plenty stories behind simple words we might hear. When we must practice our creativity (and if you intended to make it a career) why not look to the purpose of why you would want to use the word, spoken or written as a medium to represent you, your life and sense of purpose.

This masterclass  was initially instigated by an invitation by BeatFreeks for their “Launch your spoken word career” with a four week programme.

Beatfreeks Testimonies –
“I thoroughly enjoyed the session. Zena has an amazing insight and knowledge in poetry”
“Excellent session – What I would expect of real masterclass”
“I like that Zena doesn’t hold back and speaks about the reality of it all.”

It was such an inspiring session, rooted in 10 years of mentoring work and 15 years freelancing.  I The Poet Is...believe it is crucial to be honest with the  your mentees, to put them through a rigorous process of self reflection and artistic exploration but inspire positive attitude to “making it” but not paint (too many) pretty pictures about what it means to go freelance. It’s real out here. So writing should be an emboldening voice strengthening process.

So this session has three phases to it:

1) Creating your legacy
What is legacy?
What does it mean to create your own legacy as an artist?
How does technology assist and/or affect legacy creation?

2) Your creative and business practice
How do you find inspiration and originality when it feels like everything has already been said?
How does a writer develop potency in the  message of their poetry and writing practice?
What research strategies work best for you?
How to think “diversify” to have longevity in the business

3) Let’s write – Generating content
How does 1 + 2 now make you think about this next writing exercise
Using visual arts as stimulus, participants will write new poems.

When we have a purpose for putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard it drives a storytelling differently. Sometimes we need a little bit of help too.

Book this session.

For quirky inspiration, hints, tips, quotes, prompts and exercises check  Zena E’s The Writery

A couple more interesting  and diverse videos and links.
Michael Jnr – Know Your Why
Sharpened Vision – A poetry writing workshop – Free online poetry class
Visual Poetry – Diversify how you engage with the word
Parenting the artist. Giving the artist’s manager at break


Verbalisation with BeatFreeks at BRep

imageBirmingham with Beatfreeks on Wednesday 27th July.

“How do you find your inspiration for your work?” is the most frequently asked question I get as a writer who performs her work. I can’t deny I am often stumped at the question. I trawl my brain for the one thing  but it just doesn’t work like that. I’m only sure of  a couple of things though – the world is full of inspiration and my gut and my heart have conversations all the time about the abstracts – love, conflict, relationships, frailty, resilience, environment, discrimination and power. Or that centrifugal spin of a coffee cup falling. That tense exchange through eye contact on busy  public transport. A door held open for an Elder. The truth out of the mouth of babes.

My head is the tool which legitimises the subject my heart and gut want to articulate.  When I say legitimise I mean the process through which I manifest my poetry or creative writing –  tricks, tips and  mediums that facilitate my voice/style and intention to story tell with the most impact on the listener/reader.  It sounds quite technical and in some ways it is when the emotion runs very high. But the skill is being able to focus that energy and make the emotion  play the supportive role to the message. For me, poetry is intended to educate through laughter, tears and wonder.

Over the last 20 years,  I have developed an intriguing process – with the wisdom of writers I respect who have gone before –  through which I research, collate information, gather my thoughts, and do the grunt work ( it’s a beautiful process really) of channelling the messages coming through for me. As my blood, sweat and often tears  mingle with ink (or pixels), I find vitality and the rigourous wringing out of my spirit is worth while.   And this is before the performance rehearsals!  A whole other conversation…

I am never ceased to be amazed in how putting out creative energy comes back to me and what makes this job even more interesting is sharing what I have learned.  So this week I will be working with thirty 15 to 25 year olds from the brilliant BeatFreek collective at the Birmingham Rep on Wednesday around the concept of “Legacy”.

  • Questions we will be exploring:
    What is legacy?
    What does it mean to create your own legacy?
    How do you find inspiration and originality when it feels like everything has already been said?
    What research strategies work best for you?
    What roles does emotion play in seducing your audience into your narrative?
    How does a writer develop potency in the  message of their poetry and writing practice?

Check out my creative writing and inspiration Tumblr blog for quotes, writing prompts and creative writing exercises – The Writery

Ekphrasis in Action – Seeing the Word.


imageLooking forward to running this session in a couple of weeks!

Engaging with art should be sensory experience, especially when an image is politically loaded. When we see politically charged images we often get lost in abstract ideas of justice, inequality or discrimination.  To be able to transfer a visual image loaded with cultural specificity, to the page in a written form that reflects the image, takes a visceral experience. We must be able  to have a moment with a painting, photo where the gut overrides our intellectual processes and poetry enables the viewer to see beyond the abstract.

I consider the poet at essence a social commentator who reframes and re-imagines the world. So, writing in response to controversial contemporary images, artworks and photo-journalism, participants will explore metaphor and codification in visual culture, interrogating mainstream media’s use of image and its role in narrative and culture creation as a consequence.

In collaboration with Apples and Snakes Poetry Organisation’s Power Plant program, Ekphrasis in Action masterclass: challenging metaphors  of 21st Century Visual Culture (blog), in collaboration wi Apples and Snakes Poetry Organisation’s Power Plant program, aims:

– to encourage participants to explore and examine how they observe, critic and put their ‘artist’s eye’ to work
– to ‘re-see’ and stimulate poetic flow that inspire new ways of re-imagining the world
– to enhance – subvert, reframe – the original art/image and so take on another life through brilliant description
– to generate creative writing that is reflective of the poets voice as a social commentator and writer of the century.

The session is for those with some writing experience and a keen interest in social justice and equality in media representation in all its forms.  Participants can expect a writing work-out while engaging in lively discussion about the world we live in today.

Participants are to bring a 1-2 images from mainstream media, and/or politically charged artwork (including graff art) and/or from photographic journalism.

When: Thursday 21 July, 6.30-9.30pm
Where: Blue Room, The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford SE8 4AG

Tickets: Free. Book a place with Eventbrite


What Women Believe – finding our poetry


What do you believe?

Take a moment. Sit with that question. Bullet point your conclusions on a piece of paper and ask yourself, “could that change tomorrow?”

Every second of the day we are asked to believe in something.  Something nor from us. Particularly as women. Often we are asked to believe in something that is the antithesis of who we are. Our political opinions, how we feel about our bodies and their sensuality is tightly bound in deflated bubble-wrap and tied off with barbed wire. Not much wriggle room without painful consequences. The sexualisation of our  bodies and diminishment of our intellect pits us in a batle of unbalanced compromise as nationalism subsumes our  multiplicitous gender identities into unachievable and fantasized cultural archtypes. We seek “fraternité” in our  friends, neighbours and family,  and if we find rejection there, we seek solidarity in online communities,  or in magazines “for women”. We look for any space where we may feel accepted, appreciated for who exactly we are regardless of our shape, colour of our skin, or sexual self-identification.

And then there is religion: a predominantly global belief in a monolithic male presence speaking from a unilaterally agreed elevated position (with economic and political clout behind him) as the Alpha and Omega of how to “woman “. Continue reading

Voices That Shake goes to the Allied Media Conference 2016!

Shake!: What began as a small pilot project has now become a movement of over 100 young people artists, campaigners, activists and community organisers.

Since 2010, the Voices That Shake  Youth Arts and Activism Project has been on a incredible journey raising awareness around the true democratizing of power, community rebuilding, well-being and healing justice, creating safe spaces for young socially conscious creativity, and art as a medium for dialogue. The trajectory has brought them to the brilliant point of being the first ever UK delegates to attend the Allied Media Conference (AMC) in Detroit this week.

We only have a few hours, though to make a pitch to you for a little bit of your help.
Please watch this video (mainly because it better hearing about the value of this visit from the young people themselves) and see where your generosity will be a part of helping 8 young people learn new skills in community organising, as well as sharing their knowledge of arts activist work in the UK.

Thank you for your time and Big Thanks for your support

Ps: #EveryLittleHelps

Directing “Substance” – A Hip Hop Theatre Dance performance

I was invited by Jonzi D,  creator of Sadlers Wells’ Breakin’ Convention  join a collaboration with Redbridge Drama Centre.  The commission was to devise and develop  a spoken word and dance piece to tour schools and community centres in the Redbridge area to raise awareness around substance abuse and sexual exploitation in youth culture. The two more often than not come hand-in-hand  leaving many young people vulnerable and disoriented. Education is always the key in order to empower young people to make sensible decisions about drug and alcohol consumption and the vibrant youth cultural today.
I initially met with Redbridge Young people Theatre company to discuss what was most important to them when it came to youth culture and tackling social issues such as sex and mind altering substances, and friendship figured as a high priority.
Support networks, loyalty, allegiances and informally adopted “Fam” seemed to be the key element of well-being for young people who knew which risks were rife in their spheres of social engagement. They combat hyper sexualisation, hyper masculinity, cyber bullying and ‘drag culture’ (insistent body and intellect shaming often through social media). In combination with education or employment pressures, family responsibility  clashing with personal freedom and development, young people in their teens through to early twenties often fall prey to addictive substances whose potencies are intensified through dangerous concoctions and mixing in order to ‘fit in’ and/or appear cool and current.
I also met with Fusion NELFT – drugs and alcohol service for young people to get a clearer idea  of the impact of these substances on the mental health and well-being of young bodies, minds and relationships in many other settings outside of the  youth groups. Employment success was low and familiy tensions ran high as the substance drove rifts between users and their family members.
I was also surprised by some of the cultural sub-divisions in the  demographics of substance used among young people.Focused on the Redbridge area, stats revealed problematic alcohol consumption was high amongst mainly white males and Asian females. Amongst white females, MDMA and Ketamine were the drug of preference, where as cocaine was of high usage amongst Asian males. All partook of marijuana but it was a predominant amongst African and African-Caribbean groups.
Criminalisation of youth presents very serious issues for young people who often find themselves misrepresented in the media. The negative stigma of drug possession and/or consumption is compounded by gender and race. The sexualisation of young women intensifies with drug use, and with mainstream narratives on rape culture the increased chances of sexual exploitation in exchange for drugs or risky encounters leave them open to sexual disease or molestation. The story was going to be a hard but an interesting challenging one to tell.
Two scratch sharings with youth service providers and teachers from the schools who would be booking dates for the tour of the performance brought excellent feedback throughout the rehearsal period once we had established a clear narrative.
I was to collaborate with rising star in the UK dance world, choreographer Botis Seva who has been wow-ing audiences with his unique style of movement, which is lyrically raw with a compelling in its storytelling. Botis had a rigorous warmup regime to hi-tempo house beats prepping the body for his specific dance vocabulary.
Click on images.

The Story
The most concrete narrative through-line was the theme of friendships.  Close behind was peer pressure, family and religious responsibilities and commitments,  gender identity and grief.

Five friends go to a party  imbibe of alcohol and cannabis. The scene crescendos to a point where the personalities of the young revellers are ghoulishly possessed by the intoxicants, none of them experienced enough to know their limits or the full influence of the drugs they have taken. One girl, questioning her gender identity has her drink spiked. Not only does she make an awkward attempt to kiss a female character friend, she passes out and becomes the brunt of bullying when images of her are posted on social media .

Rehearsal of the Party Scene

As the images sweep around the school. She becomes the target for cyber bullying and isolation. The result places a huge tension on the friends, as it seems none of them looked out for her. Or couldn’t as they too were in various state of inebriation of intoxication. Interestingly enough, in the second school  the team performed for, there were tense murmurings in the assembly hall. It just so happens the school were in the middle of police investigations for a very similar incident depicted in performance.

The Team
Shangomola Edunjobi
Sia ‘HappyHeart’  Gbamoi
Lee Griffiths
Angela Maria Hurst
Ajani Johnson-Goffe

The show’s immediate relevance provoked lively  debate about the effect illegal highs – and once legal in the UK so readily available – on the lives of our young people. The substances take a toll on young bodies, distract them and are yet are embedded in youth culture as critical rites of passage. The further implications and impacts on the relationships young people build today in effort to belong, to become young adults and the decisions they make for the future, can only be measured by education that does not shy way from the dilapidating economic, political and social dynamics today.

Young People’s Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System

Mind Meandering #6 – Happy International Women’s Month


Be your own bright dawn
and your own bronzing dusk
Love your own onyx shadow
and bunished ivory tusk
Be the steady hand that holds
the quaking other

Be the found one to the life you lost
Be the open door when hurt closed
the heart in your chest

Learn to love the very body that no-one else will trust

And by any means necessary, keep all your parts in synchronicity
Do what you must
Do what you must
Do what you must
Zena Edwards©image

Inspired by photoshoot by Kwaku Alston with Janelle Monet for Essence Magazine May 2013 Issue

Mind Meandering #5 – You’re Too Much

“You’re too much, too big, too open, too tall, you’re hands are too big, you’re too conscious, too choosy, too negative, too bold, too brash, too timid, too dark, too skinny, too direct, too sure of yourself, too placated, too self conscious, too doubtful, too strong, too humble, too black girl, too black, too man-ish, too white, too maverick, too unconfident, too emotional, too ambitious, too…too..too….”

These are some of the contradictory descriptions people have felt confident enough to say to me. Too many have a judgement and see nothing wrong in telling me so without a filter.

As a woman of African descent, my very presence and body seems to be an invitation to pull out a censor from the depths of insecurity and, with a flourish of a branding iron, singe my skin and consiousness with their armchair psychoanalytical judgement.

So many mixed message and tags I have had to navigate through the many versions of myself through one life time, many of them said during my formative years, or when I have been most vulnerable, or even feeling confident (a space which is oft times an uphill struggle to reach.)

What these comments do is deny me a safe journey into my full Self as a Woman of African descent. They deny me multi-dimensionality. They have been attempts to diminish and control.

Now I am older my first response is does this person commenting give a shit about me? If not, my second response is mind your own business. If what they say comes from a place of caring, I’ll consider their comment, but even still my *instincts* are my best friend, my North Star. My loved ones – old and new – have evolved into flag raisers asking me to pay attention. “Thanks for the heads up – what you saying instincts?”

But we must take care how we use the words “you should” and “you’re too” because they have the power to derail folk from their paths into fullness.
Each to their own journey.
[Source: Shame. The person who shared this did not name the author with the post.]


Mind-meanderings #4 – Bulldozing Art

I am sharing this Facebook post from a choreographer, artist and brilliant thinker friend from Nigeria. It was the passion behind his words that pulled me to do a quick google search about this New Artists Village space he speaks of. I understand why his fury flames.


FYI – http://www.bellanaija.com/2016/01/artists-protest-as-government-demolishes-artists-village-at-national-arts-theatre/

“On Saturday, the Artists’ Village at the National Arts Theatre was demolished based on orders from the Director of the National Arts Theatre.

The government’s position is that the Village had become a hive for illegal and illicit activities. The artists on the other side dispute that accusation and claim the government has less than pure motives for their actions including possible commercial use of the space versus the current free art space.”

image image

Collectives of artists create homes that become their sanctuaries, their laboratories, sacred spaces of communing and creating, hubs for innovative and dextrous think-tanking for new worlds through art, pathways of resistance and artistsic bootcamps to decolonise of minds and heal societies are conjured in those homes. The bricks and mortar of these homes hoard memories and songs for the future. They can be gentles spaces. Spaces for fury and tough love when they hold up mirrors to those who oppress the already oppressed in the name of free thought, freedom of expression. Artists are not (and/or should not be) afraid to chastise and be chastised if the integrity of their work has dubiously become a manipulative tool for oppressive, repressive or stagnating status quos. It is rigorous critique that keeps things fresh: let’s keeps it moving. But ultimately, spaces found and nurtured by artists are formidable in their power to inspire and it is those powerful fountain well-springs of inspiration that frighten the status quo.

Continue reading

Ekphrasis in Action – An Out-Spoken Masterclass

I have been attempting to vocationally reconcile my love for photography and painting, sketches and imagery with my love of poetic writing and and would be more fitting than to run a masterclass on Ekprhrasis. I’m also in the headspace that art has work to do and I want to see incorporate politically charged with art with writing. Hence, Ekphrasis in Action Poetry challenging metaphors of 21st century visual culture 2016.

The social climate renders pretty much everything political so exploring metaphor in contemporary social, political and cultural visual mediums, how do we as poets use imagery and storytelling to create moments of counter-culture and codify re-imagined culture in our language and poems?

Writing in response to controversial contemporary images, artworks and photo-journalism and through discussion, this session will unpack metaphor and codification in visual culture, interrogating mainstream media narrative in it images and culture creation. The aim is to generate creative writing that is reflective of the poets voice as a social commentator and writer of the century.


(Ekphrasis: Greek:- Ek – Out. Phrasis – Speak. It is a rhetorical device in which one medium of art tries to relate to another medium by defining and describing its essence and form, and in doing so, relate more directly to the audience, through its illuminative liveliness. A descriptive work of prose or poetry, a film, or even a photograph may thus highlight through its rhetorical vividness what is happening, or what is shown in, say, any of the visual arts, and in doing so, may enhance – subvert, reframe – the original art and so take on a life of its own through its brilliant description.) Continue reading