‘Othered’ Eco-Activism and a Jacket Potato – a poem

In January, fellow poets Sai Murray, Selina Nwulu and I were commissioned to write poetry in response to an event called Weather Fronts exploring the storytelling of climate activism and sustainable futures. The lab-type event hosted by Free Word in Farringdon, London had attracted a healthy number of scientists and writers to see if the line between science and creativity could be further blurred to create more accessibility into conversations about climate change and environmental polemics. Not only was the goal to broaden the audience and de-academicized scientific study of this politically contentious issue,  but to consciously activate creative visions of the future.

What was clear to us three was the under representation of the black and brown voice in the room. This was not a problem directly with regard the intentions of the event organisers, but it spoke to the invisibility of representative diversity in mainstream conversations about climate consciousness and the environmental activism. The irony of this is that the majority of climate and environmental injustices take place south of the equator, in the homelands of First Nation peoples – black and brown folk. Its in their ancestral lands that exploitation and destruction for economic gain, political leverage and mass consumption by “the west” (or more appropriately, the north) is a historical and prevailing fact.

keep-calm-cuz-green-is-the-new-blackThe Others. There is just not enough coverage of climate or environmental activism by black and brown people, except when large corporates are involved and even then they are often positioned as victims. This is, to an important degree, inaccurate. They are not just victims. Part of decolonializing of historical narratives is noting the omission of black and brown folk in resistance. To address the balance we must highlight the rebuilding, restoring and healing of themselves and their homelands during and after decimating exploitation. It could easily be perceived that we are apathetic to climate issues, that environmental activism is for the privileged and ‘white’ who have time and financial resource to save whales, protest outside parliament and flash mob morally bankrupt corporate oil headquarters.

However, eco-activists such as Majora Carter, Ron Finley and Will Allen, make it very clear that black and brown eco-activism intersects with issues heavily nuanced and evidenced as race bais, such as impoverishment through lack of employment, food education and health provision, and civic engagement with urban communities. But focusing on the solution, more importantly, black folk activism is not latent, it is inherently fuelled differently. And racialised ‘difference’ equates to ‘othered’, ranked a lower priority and given less attention. This issue with this ‘othering’ is how their work is labelled or catergorised. Often this work gets called ‘community service’ or ‘community engagement’. What does this subliminally say about the word ‘community’ when associated to black and brown neighbourhoods? That the work that goes on there is less than the big global campaigns against Shell oil or Monsanto. Why is there a disconnect between these black and brown global struggles for eco-justice and equality and those that struggle in the hearts of the inner cities of London or the US?

Thes urban spaces have their champions, Continue reading

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~

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

Disabling the Preconceptions

March of this year, I was invited by Drake Music to explore a collaborative experience with a group of artists from Graeae Theatre. Both organisations are dedicated to the breaking down of barriers and challenging preconceptions of artists with disabilities.

After a couple of meetings with John Kelly, my collaborative musician partner and composer of the music for the Paralympics opening ceremony 2012, we decided on an idea for a pretty cool commission based on the concept of tunes, lyrics, compositions – “music that has changed your life”, personally, politically and socially.

John and I’s musical and lyrical worlds collided and found harmony in music for drastic political and social change. Continue reading

Power Plant: WPD Relationship @ MAC Birmingham

When Apples and Snakes Poetry Organisation invited me to run a masterclass session of the writer/performer relationship, I was excited about flexing this muscle again after some time. What was meant to be a two hour sesssion turned in to four hour of exchange. Directors gained a deeper insight on how to listen to the needs and vision of the writer. Writer-performers learned how to engage more deeply with the creative process of the director, while both worked together empowered the performer inside the writer. At the focus was honouring the potency of the story. It was most enjoyable. And the fact that the session ran two hours over the designated time, the group reaffirmed the value of this a dialogue around this layered and fruitful relationship. Performing poets, writer-actors and directors keep an eye out for this course over the next few months. Coming to a venue near you.

Click for more info on WPD

“Power Plant” is a series of free poetry masterclasses delivered by established pracitioners, Continue reading

The 3 Way – Security and the Writer/Performer and Director relationship.

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As a poet who is used to standing behind a mic, manipulating my voice and being a little physically  animated, I took the plunge to  write a full length one woman show. The difference between the focus needed for a 10-20 minute set at a spoken word night and  an hour and ten minute  theatre piece are two completely different things. The transition was an intense process. The energy to fill a theatre stage or blackbox studio space is not the same AT ALL as maintaining attention in busy bar. I discovered that mental and physical stamina is a major issue. Also having an outside eye is crucial because  as a poet, I can write and poetise for days but where is the story going? Are the characters clear? Does the narrative make sense? I needed a director. But matching a director to a performing poet was not going to be easy. I met and workshopped with 4!

I’d spoken to a few of my peer poets friends and they informed that they too had found the process difficult. Poets can be internal people, conjuring worlds in their heads that they translate into the word. Dancers will dance. Painters paint and sculptors sculpt. But how do poets who want to turn their imaginary worlds into extended performance pieces communicate them to a director? And how does a director receive and translate that information in rehearsal to the full performance? With further investigation I worked out that a bridge of communication of ideas needed to be worked out. There’s a dynamic  3 Way relationship between the writer, the performer and the director that can become a tangle of objectives if the lines of communication are not established early in on in the rehearsal period.

Back in 2007, theatre director Anthony Shrubsall and I were brought together by sheer fate – a friend of a friend of a friend…. I had been looking for a director for my debut one woman  show, “Security”, for 6 months and had developed it with the help of producer, Talita Moffatt  and director Mike Kirchner to a level that was great, but I felt the journey for the show was not quite unfinished. I knew that the decision to have a stage set (endorsed by me) was obscuring some valuable exploration of myself as a performer and stunting the growth of the rich characters in the script. The show was written in monologue, spoken word, song and movement and set in a cafe. With tables and chairs to manoeuvre around, the flow of the action on stage felt stilted and my line delivery was good but inside, felt stuttered. I needed a fresh approach.

The first thing that I appreciated about working with Anthony was his capacity to really listen to the writer part of me – she (the writer) had a lot to say about themes within the show, which Continue reading

Zena E with JSB @ The Ritzy Upstairs

ImageI’ve been working with Jon Speedy for the last 5 years. This year he brings the Funk Jazz Afrobeat collective JON SPEEDY BAND.      JSB start a monthly residency at Brixton Ritzy with special guest vocalists / poets / MC’s each month. For the launch night, on Thursday July 12th, I  featured as guest vocalist and poet. Continue reading

Zena and the Zohar Collaborations

In between the years of 2001 – 2004 I was doing a lot more singing with bands and choirs. More than what I am known for as poet. This year I have been asked to perform quite a bit with musicians. It’s been a joy. I shall be posting more footage and audio of these performances later on.

But these Zohar collaborations in 2003 peaked with me going to Los Angeles , performing on a stage embedded in a huge cliff face in the middle of the desert, with a huge manmade lake to the side with the reflection of the an incredible sunset reflected in the gentle ripples. It was a great time.
“Augmenting the spectral disembodied voices, live singer Zena Edwards brought a brooding neosoul intensity, her pleas for peace resonating wonderfully in the center’s cultural-bridge-building environs.”-Viva la Revolucion, Gustavo Arellano http://www.laweekly.com/content/printVersion/37109/

Music: Erran Baron Cohen
Lyrics: Zena Edwards

Sunrise – Mystikal Love

Too Much Too Soon


Desert Child – Live in Los Angeles, 2003

JAMINAROUND

Playing with smoke and fire in the Dorset vales
I learned how to become a fire breather, as we jammed and reasoned around the embers.
Humbling to nature should never be a difficult task.

JAMINAROUND is the brain child of the Keen Brothers. The four of them make SOUND SPECIES. The venue was incredible – a Viking round house built into the side of a hill with a long kitchen where we ate over open fires. All designed and built by their very cool Dad. Check out The Ancient Technology Centre

The line up was a brilliant selection of poets and musicians (see links below) topped off by a acoustic vibes all night around a fire. Won’t be forgetting this gig in a hurry. Love my job.


S a t u r d a y 9 t h J U N E 2 0 1 2
A  s p e c i a l  e v e n i n g  o f  m u s i c  a n d  s t o r y t e l l i n g
a t  t h e  u n i q u e  a n d  a w e – i n s p i r i n g  C r a n b o r n e E a r t h o u s e.

f e a t u r i n g;

U N I T E D  V I B R A T I O N S

S O U N D S P E C I E S  A N D  S I M O  L A G N A W I (Moroco)

C H R I S  R E D M O N D

Z E N A  E D W A R D S

T H E  B E G U I L E R S

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F o o d a n d D r i n k s w i l l b e a v a i l a b l e

CLICK FOR MORE ON SOUND SPECIES

Dear Anger and the Three Furies

In March, of this year I faced a challenged I never expected. My own anger. I was asked to describe it, to critique it to make a creative pieces of spoken word theatre about it in collaboration with Dutch female MC Clara Opoku and South African Poet Mbali Vilakazi. The Three Furies project is commissioned in partnership byAfrovibes and MC Theatre, Netherlands.

We used the myth of the Three Furies as inspiration for our writing but the dialogue that arose between us and then with the audiences we shared our work with brought to light that women’s anger is almost a taboo subject – words like hysterical, time-of-the-month and b*tch come to mind as starters. How do women process thier anger when its not considered “nice” or “lady-like” to let rip? Where does it go? What do we do with the ensuing frustration if we do not channel it healthily? I explore these questions more on the Travelling Light blog and Clara, Mbali and I share our work on the THREE FURIES BLOG.
Sharon Jane D. is a dutch visual artist who took our poems and interpreted them for film. Here warehouse studio space was enormous and full of nooks crannies and open spaces ripe for filming moody pieces and as locations for photography.

Here is a poem from the show. Hosted by the Albany in Deptford, South East London