Zena E’s The Writery for Freeing Writers


The Writery for Freeing Writers
For the past year or so I have been collating tips, techniques and quirky writing prompts to help stay inspired for my writing. When I think about what it means to be a free writer I refer to the writing exercise of free flow, some quality free association –. Imagination is valuable to us. It is crucial for a healthy mind. But sometimes it can get flabby as a muscle, can calcify because it is stuck in one motion of ‘thinking’ (?), Or it might need a prompt to encourage focus because of all the distractions the hectic-ness of life can bring. Sometime we just need little help to ‘free-up’ as creatives.
sparklerThe prompt, tips, tricks, quotes, images are designed to shine a spotlight in the creative creases of your grey matter, to be dowsing sticks that find that gem of an idea floating in the creative slip stream, to be Frankenstein’s life giving machine, a jolt the heart of the imagination into action.

Its become a healthy collection, so I decided to open up the archive  for those who feel they have a creative block at the moment, are a bit bored of their style and want to try something new, or if you just need a kick start. Have a browse and comments and requests are welcome!

The Writery for Freeing Writers


Shake! – Surviving the System

For the last 6 years I have been involved in Voices That Shake as a writer, poet, project developer and facilitator. Our next course is ‘#SurvivingTheSystem.’  Each time we do an intensive, I am invited to write a blog.

Why Surviving the System, Shake!?

So Shake is back!

artwork by Anni Movsisyan
artwork by Anni Movsisyan

We have been on hiatus for nearly 8 months and we’re back with a new Shake intensive course. #SurvivingTheSystem takes a birds eye view of the planet, zooms in and looks at the streets of everyday living and reflects on our lives as individuals. Examining the current and disturbing issues of our time, it seems we are in for a future of more difficulty after an already bleak few decades now. The political shift to the right in favour of big business and property development, with the marketing machine of mass media, many of us find ourselves numb, in shock, and emotionally, mentally and spiritually brutalized. When we look to the institutions and structures meant to be sources of security, we find them to be disrespectful and uncaring. Abusive.

We are coerced and forced to accept cuts to education and healthcare. Gentrification and immigration prejudice manifests as cultural cleansing and violence, post-Brexit which clumped migration, immigration inefficiency and refugee status’s into one dangerous xenophobic national security and economic risk. In the west, many young people who see themselves as the future working generations are looking at their parents and forbears asking “ What the hell were you thinking?” post Brexit. The sentiment is rooted in deep disappointment and mourning from the the violent severing from the opportunities of belonging to the European block.

Labour. Violence. Addiction
A person’s labour and livelihood is linked so closely to well being, and such deliberate scare-mongering is shock tactics to confuse, misinform, and in consequence heighten stress levels of every life where mistrust and frustration is a genuine societal problem. Continue reading “Shake! – Surviving the System”

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. Continue reading “Verbalisation with BeatFreeks at BRep”

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. Continue reading “Ekphrasis in Action – Seeing the Word.”

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

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 “Ekphrasis in Action – An Out-Spoken Masterclass”

Writing Two Poets – Mongiwekhaya & Afruakan

Recently, I was commissioned by the British Council to interview two poets from South Africa. What was interesting was learning two very different approaches the service of spoken word or poetry in performance can offer the artist and the people who encounter this rich literary form. Mongiwekhaya is a subdued, potent spirit. His quietly considered answers focus on his thoughts about arts and community engagement producing work that is esoteric in its political and social commentary. Thabiso aka Afruakan’s enegry is spark driven to build networks for repurposing and trading the craft for an arts infrastructure to support artists to continue their chosen vocation. Both were very spirited and inspiring skype conversations that ran well over the 30 minutes time we’d put into each of our diaries.



 “I was raised by my Grandmother from birth. I spoke with her words and her tongue and walked the streets of Witbank Township. But one day my parents returned from their travels overseas, collected me and took me up into a silver bird, and we, my sisters and I, were laid on a new earth. No one spoke my grandmother’s tongue. The child that spoke with any and everyone, found himself a ghost in a new place. He told himself little stories to remember himself. But eventually he told himself new stories. In English. And was reborn as someone new.”Mongiwekhaya

Playwright, filmmaker and Royal Court writer Mongi Mthobeni (pen name, Mongiwekhaya) is a hardwired storyteller and the above quote wasthe story he told at the opening question of his interview with Poet and Writer Zena Edwards, when did he know he had chosen his life and career in the performing arts. His natural gift manifests itself today through directing and visual storytelling and his short film project, “Speed of Dark”, reveals a mentoring quality to his creative process when he engages with young artists too.

“Speed of Dark’ is adapted from a dance piece called “Open Happiness”, embracing the wonder South Africans felt about the construction of South Africa’s Underground train – The ‘Gautrain’. I started by introducing the young movement artists to the prolific works of Tom Waits, rich with storytelling. Then introduced them to the theatrical form of the French Buffoon and clowning, the ritualistic shamanic performance of repetition to compound the feeling of awe South African’s felt in a time of economic transition.” Continue reading “Writing Two Poets – Mongiwekhaya & Afruakan”

Re-Imagining Arts in Action Program

Last August I was officially jettisoned into the world of community engagement through the arts. I’d already done worked on a project called End of the Rainbow with All Change and Nitro working with families trapped in a refugee loop hole of “no status” where they are not eligible to claim benefit but also not able to work because they do not have legal status.

I also worked with English PEN with a refugee organisation in Oxford on a project touring a publication called Syria Speaks – a collection of stories, poems and illustration in translation as creative responses to the plight of civilians in intensifying Syrian conflict.

Reimagining Arts in Action Program was devised on the work ethic of Theaster Gates because the potency of his work ethic has delivered
After making a successful application to the Arts Council England for the Artist International Development Fund, I prepped myself for what was ahead. I knew this was going to be turning point for me as my desire to explore the expansive of ideas for how arts can serve would be channeled.
While there, my mission reposition me as a community engagement artist.

My intention was to *learn* about the work, documenting the process in what I call a docu-poem. I ended up doing the work. No complaints.

Click on the image to go to the RAAP blog post.

69th and Dorchester
Dorchester’s Cats
Poem – Prequel. Meet the interns
Jet Lagged
Eric Metal Man.
Eric- built for Cirque de Soleil, is now Theaster’s Metal Man
Play Streets – Community engagement through play
Meeting the residents of Dorchester
Meeting the residents of Dorchester
General Exquisite Exchange Economy – Trade without money
Meet Chris - Steward for 69th and Dorchester
Meet Chris – Steward for 69th and Dorchester

Go to the Re-imagining Arts in Action Program blog.

LLSB – Long Live Southbank

If you’ve heard about the Long Live Southbank campaign, then you’ll know it was 180,000 members and signatories pushing back against the Southbank Centre, a national arts venue, trying to take over a nation treasure to build coffee shops and schmancy restaurants.  When I heard about the campaign I got it. As a poet, I got it. The is a true David and Goliath tale of ordinary folk who took on an institution and won. It was a story of a provocation and a resistance movement that last a eventful 17 months.

The Southbank building is an architectural bastion, along the river bank of the Thames is a sight to be hold and is a bastion for music and arts int he UK. It had plans to take over the Undercroft, for over 40 years home to millions of skateboarders, break dancers and poppers graffiti artists, filmmakers, photographers  of all generations who took owner of a space explicitly made for the public as an experiment in the 60’s to see what would happen left to the organic nature of creativity.

Buy The Book Here

image LLSB poem image image image image image

What I came to viscerally comprehend is that this ‘space’ was  destined for generations of freethinking minds exploding with motion and acrobatic innovation. What they do is a science. Skaters only have to look at the layout, the geometrics of a space and in milliseconds calculate the velocity, curve, swerve  and execution of their net trick. How much is deduced by instinct, body memory and a subconscious perception of space by what I can only call a chi energy. Also, it’s not a trick. Its calligraphy on concrete. It’s ephemeral architecture in space. It is timing marked by a musicality in rhythm and movement. It’s about defying gravity and what a skater aka artist says whilst suspended in space. It’s about the love relationship between the heart of a skater, their board and their body in the urbanized landscape.

Space is prey, it’s seredipitous discoveries, found, claimed, converted, transformed, named, given another reason for existing other than the functionality of expressing consumerist ‘progress’. Storytelling takes into account the space it is being made in. It shape shifts to retain and emanate its essence.

The skateboard community received international support. And after 18 months of legal wranglings with the directors of the Southbank, a  brilliant social media campaign, and a scathing but just sense of humor, the campaign was a success.

I was more than happy for them because there has to come a point where demanding headspace to imagine through movement on a board and some ball-bearings historically mimicking the surfing the waves of an expansive ocean with its broad beach pulling up the speediest of waves, I can only imagine  the spirit that needs to exercise its freedom of  expressive movement across distances  in the open air. the  I see how the spaces they occupy are created, needed and in the light of this campaign, even more why they need to be protected.

Finally Surfing On Land:Skateboard history, California

Long Live South Bank Poem

Rollin’ through the decades Rollin’ Through the Decades is a feature length documentary that celebrates skateboarding’s journey from London’s South Bank underneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall, spiritual home of skateboarding since the early seventies.

Long Live Southbank Book

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

Tribute to Jayne Cortez & a Poem

Rest in Power
Rest in Power

So so moved and honoured to be a part of this line-up. Voices like Jayne’s returned my voice to me through their works – the one that permits me to be the Artist and Woman and Human of African descent I am wholly meant to be.
The voice that permits me to raise it from the swampy depths of marginalisation to a valid place in world history. I cannot thank enough Jayne, Sonia Sanchez, bell hooks, Maya Continue reading “Tribute to Jayne Cortez & a Poem”

Meet – Proms Plus Late

BBC radio invited me to perform for a series of after Prom show events called  ‘Proms Plus Late.’ I performed 4 pieces and the Freddie Gavita Quartet played two tracks of epic proportions. Editing must have been tricky. The producer of the show chose my poem ‘Meet’. There was really great sound in the venue though. Poem begins around 3.40 mins.

Check the link for the Prom Plus Late website and more music and poetry – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01l7qwn

Meet – Proms Plus Late

BBC radio invited me to perform for a series of after Prom show events called  ‘Proms Plus Late.’ I performed 4 pieces and the Freddie Gavita Quartet played two tracks of epic proportions. Editing must have been tricky. The producer of the show chose my poem ‘Meet’. There was really great sound in the venue though. Poem begins around 3.40 mins.

Check the link for the Prom Plus Late website and more music and poetry – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01l7qwn

Meet – Proms Plus Late

BBC radio invited me to perform for a series of after Prom show events called  ‘Proms Plus Late.’ I performed 4 pieces and the Freddie Gavita Quartet played two tracks of epic proportions. Editing must have been tricky. The producer of the show chose my poem ‘Meet’. There was really great sound in the venue though. Poem begins around 3.40 mins.

Check the link for the Prom Plus Late website and more music and poetry – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01l7qwn

What an absolute privilege…


… an honour, blessing, and  a straight up bligh of the greatest degree. To perform on the Queen Elizabeth Hall stage with Baab Maal, to have him compose music to your poetry, to sing on the same stage and have him say in his alert, bright voice, “Yes you. Very good, you are very good. You have much sincerity”… I am still reeling.  Speechless. In the light of that performance, I shall be recording with Baaba, Lemn Sissay, Inua Ellams and TJ Dema this Sunday 29th July recreating the whole  QEH event at a private studio session with friends. It couldn’t get any better(…or maybe it could!)

OK groupie attack over (just about), the reality is that I have been listening to Baaba’s music and following his story of Blood Line Royalty to Musical Royalty since the early 90’s and I would never have thought that Poetry could bring me to this place.

Lemn Sissay invited myself and many other prestigious international poets as part of the Olympic Poetry Parnasuss to write to the theme of the  journey of the African  diaspora. Word Sound Power was the title of the event and I  opted to write a poem based on Continue reading “What an absolute privilege…”

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

“Raising Game EP Xtra” – My Poetry and Music Compilation

It became too much. I started to hang my head in shame. The last request on how to get hold of some of my work got me saying to myself, ‘the energy behind your fans asking for cd’s or books straight after a gig is perhaps the most significant factor in you continuing to push on through when things get tough, Zena, especially when the industry ‘ain’t showin no love’ and promoters are too broke to pay you too.”
So, with the digital age in full effect, I have put together a body of work in one place, available for download on Bandcamp, naming it “Raising Game EP Xtra”.

This is a selection of my favourite spoken word and music collaborations over time . I’m proud of them all and thought it was time to have them compiled so I  look back on them as a  personal legacy  as I move into 2012. I’m have some brilliant collaborations in the pipeline so I’m  very excited. The title “Raising Game” is to remind myself that I although this is a selection I am proud of, I expect much more from my creativity in the near future. I feel I have more to offer. Enjoy!

To get your copy of “Raising Game EP Xtra”, you can go to Bandcamp have a listen and download 9 quality tracks for £7 or download individual tracks for your selective listening pleasure. Your feedback is most welcome  so please email at conversationsvid@gmail.com  to leave feedback  and to get on the mailing lists for all my performances and creative projects as well as other links to poetry and music  blogs that really float my boat.

Handsworth Songs – Summer 2012 -a response to UK Uprisings 1981

The UK “Riots was still very raw for me. I had grown increasingly agitated by the way the online, bar, train/bus, media and street debate had and has been raging. My sentiment had more to do with the fact that I couldn’t understand why my perspective and emotion was landing on the side of the “rioters”. Even the term “rioter” was niggling me. It seemed to automatically say “the bad guys”, it criminalises a group of people the moment the word hit the ear or the eye without them having had a a chance to explain why or how this drastic destructive action was considered an option to get a point across.
I then began to feel nervous that I was unable to write poetry about it as I was in conflict about some of the things I was seeing on the news that were out of order yet motivated by something. I remember on the 29th September Troy Davis was killed by the state of Minneapolis Justice system. I posted on Facebook, how I had no words and couldn’t I have my feeling first, as a friend had said “how could you be a poet with no words!?”. Something deep stirred inside when these “riots” kicked off and it had something to do with having grown up with my eyes wide open to the inequalities in society that directly effected the psyche, that make peole do things that seem totally irrational. The power of injustice and inequality is forever downplayed and needs to be explored rather than shouted down just to sell a political agenda and newspapers.

Then the disaffection and lack of belonging came into play as the race narrative was batted about the media arena knotted in with the fetisization of “feral youth” rhetoric. My irritation with was blurring my creative process. There was so much conflicting information and opinion flying across the country, I was as confused as the bees whose homing instincts are now confused by the wireless network microwaves crowding the atmosphere. I could not navigate my way to the page.

So it was on my when I was commissioned by Film Africa 2011 to write a piece in response to Menelik Shabazz‘s  HANDSWORTH SONGS (watch on YouTube), I managed to have a place to start. This commission became a beacon, a lighthouse in the murky rhetoric, recrimination and pontificating that blocked my view to the responsive poetry I knew I wanted to write.

HANDSWORTH SONGS made it so obvious. The film is an insightful and poetic response to the UK “riots” of 1981 in Handsworth, Birmingham, with thought provoking raw footage where the ‘discontent’ in society manifested itself as “bringing the issue to the street”, as did the new generation in response to the ‘austerity measures’ of the new government on 2009, 10, 11. And that’s me, speculating as when the discontent was reaching boiling point.

I had to write about one man’s dreams of settlement, the turbulent effects of migration, trust and mistrust and uncomfortable violent change that illustrates a country broiling in historical denial and resistant awakening.

I highly recommend a watch of the film.

Even Dogs Have a Place in the World

We were coughing in the dust
from the fall out of your war, anyway
like some kind of anti-fairy dust,
your uncertain future settled as unemployment
and division on our Caribbean mountain,
some had worn british uniforms before,
Some said we had no business in a white mans war
Them’s the ones who kept score
when You called us to you
Posters in bold font Continue reading “Handsworth Songs – Summer 2012 -a response to UK Uprisings 1981”


I finally have one. “Ok why another blog?”, you might say.

Well, this blog is dedicated to the BIG projects and productions, the ones that take me all over the world, challenge my working artist head, that push my career as an artist forward. These blog posts trace the trajectory of the working poet that is “Zena Edwards”.

Zena Edwards BlogSpot is the intimate Zee.  Purely poetry, some photography, some  muse sketchings and a book review every now and then. There may be a duplication or two but check the archive and the labels for more of my work. Thanks for your support.

Go to Zena Edwards BlogSpot for my latest offerings

WHEN THE 33’s SPIN – Music, Race & a Little Girl – Pt. 1

 Its Black History Month in the UK and the other day I remembered what I used to do as a little girl child, subconsciously, to retain a sense of self as a child of colour. This poem came out, the memories came out and it was hard to stop…
Eleven and home alone
with the turntable
and the shiny liquorice  platter
playing a set
for memories to be made
treasures and cuckoo stories
of broken hearts, of lost things found,
of courage liberated
the triumphant fist of blues
the spectrum of emotion played  in those grooves
onyx plates of Soul Food
Bobby Womack’s gravel molasses tones
riffs stretching notes  beyond the elasticity of time
Funkadelic dooloops scoop me on my roller skates:
ripped carpets, broken door handles 
Let’s Get It On – big peoples music, it felt new
Marvin understood the expanse of a night for lovers hue 

and why did Anne watch and listen to the rain 
if it made her feel so blue?
I would come to understand, as woman, later
but I know something in my new soul moved
as they crooned…
Written By Zena Edwards©

I SPEAK FROM… a “lecture” by Zena Edwards for students of Winnipeg University – An hour of sharing the life and times of a writer performer.

Imagine being asked to speak for just 10, maybe 15 minutes about your life and how you came to be where you are today. There are two reactions to this request. Cold fear or hot excitement, both to the thought  of having the spotlight on you. In either case, respectively, you would speak too little, missing out the juicy bits you’d kick yourself later for not having said (could have made you sound a whole heap more interesting). Or  there’s speaking too much, starting from your first tooth falling out to the day you realized that mortgages are no fun. What do you leave out, or put in and why should people care anyway? Continue reading “I SPEAK FROM… a “lecture” by Zena Edwards for students of Winnipeg University – An hour of sharing the life and times of a writer performer.”


In December 2010, I got a call from producer, James Robinson from  BBC Radio 4, to write and perform a piece of poetry for performance for a radio project called Verse Illustrated. Cool opportunity.

The piece is about a frustrated artists who is stuck in a loop of dead end temp jobs and her infuriating current boss who haunts her every waking and sleeping hour…

I really wanted to do a piece based on my incessant insomnia and my geeky obsession with the internet. I surf for random information which I know will, at some point, come to be of use to me. (or it could be down to my innate need to info hoard.) So, in the beginning of July 2011,  when I still had not completed the piece (due end of July for the recording session), still not sleeping and still info hoarding, I began to realise that the piece about being dogged by a looming work project, I had entitled “The Deadline” was becoming a reality for me. (Though James is nothing like the boss in the piece.)

So by week 3 of July, working quite hard on numerous projects, generating lots of mental activity, I got a renewed awareness in my need for a holiday, a flagrant shrugging off of responsibility and  recognising that sometimes it really is best to write what you know, I dug around in the memories of a trip to Goa and called on the rebel within and came up with this piece in matter of days… with rewrites and redrafts of performance. It was also nice to play Kalimba and work with music for a piece of my own work. The Deadline. Broadcast August 2011

Listen to The Deadline

For the Love of Music and Poetry @ Ronnie Scotts

If you don’t know, get to know – Jazz Verse Box. It’s the brain child of Jumoke Fashola and last month I was invited to be part of a Jazz Verse Box Event with a special twist of being part of the Brit Jazz Festival. I was billed long with Charlie Dark, Soweto Kinch, Sh’maya  and Hollie McNish but COLLABORATED with world class musicians – Simon Wallace on Piano, Winston Clifford on Drums and Davide Mantovani on Bass – who made my poems come aurally to life for me, in the moment,  in the true Spirit and Style of Conversation.

Loved it!

Leaders Of the Old Skool

When Comfort Cydelle of ONIt Promotions invited me to be a part of an event called Leaders of the Old Skool, the first thing I thought was “about time”. Don’t get me wrong. Its not like I’ve been sitting around waiting to be acknowledged. But I was getting a little concerned at the trajectory the spoken word live scene was taking without recognising the graft of those who have gone before to make the scene have the possibilties that is has now.

The spoken word scene has exploded in London over the last 5 years and some of those poets who have gone before us are lost to those who are considered up and coming now. its a dangerous path to tread when you don’t know where you are coming from even when you are pioneering and forging new paths. I myself have to pay homage to Jean Binta Breeze, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lemn Sissay and Dorothea Smartt for paving the way for likes of me as Afri-Cari-british poet, who performs her work and female at that.

Here is an snippet of my performance.

A BROTHERS KEEPER – WE MUST STEP BACK IN (in tribute to 13 Young Lives Lost in the New Cross Fire 1981)

Well, it was 14. The last friend who could not bear the loss of so many friends and took his own life.

On Sunday January 18 1981,  a devastating house fire killed 13 young Afri-Caribbeans, during a birthday party in New Cross, southeast London. “Some were shocked by what they perceived as the indifference of the white population, and accused the London Metropolitan Police of covering up the cause, which they suspected was an arson attack motivated by racism; the protests arising out of the fire led to a mobilisation of black political activity. Nobody has ever been charged in relation to the fire.” – Wiki-pedia.

When asked by Rex Obano to perform for this event( Commemorations of the New Cross Fire, The Albany, Jan 14th 2011), the request alone sent chills from the soles of my feet to the top of my head. There is something  about a tragedy of this  sort that stirs the psyche, even without having to know about the colour of the skins of those  who died.  But there comes a strange anger that rises when the colour of skin becomes an issue for blocking the deserved expression of sympathy for the loss of such young life and the grief of the parent who lost their babies in a treacherous fire. Continue reading “A BROTHERS KEEPER – WE MUST STEP BACK IN (in tribute to 13 Young Lives Lost in the New Cross Fire 1981)”


Com – passion,
latin, com – together, passion – suffering
together we suffer, we suffer together
endeavour to weather
the breadth and the depth of the storm
For long are the nights for the lost, forlorn,
the broken, the tired,  the quietly enraged
lashed by the warring that keeps us engaged
with  anger and misplaced hate, bated by false truths,
Baked to break truce with all that is love, all that is compassion

Unity could drown in oil slick politic rhetoric
quick to commit Unity to the ghetto of gimmick
cuff link it to anarchy for kicks to profit from the sale of
battleship, bombshells, bullets more heavy artillery

An ocean of hands can move a mountain
and rock the cradle of the future for a child unborn, spiritually sworn
we spray prayer on resplendent edifices sprung from the earth
birthed by the song of a billion tongues speaking, singing as one.” – Written by Zena Edwards copyright

I can remember the day that Jonzi D got in touch with me and asked if I was interested in a project that involved a graffiti artist in the warehouse space of the Birmingham Rep. It was going to be  a gritty, guerilla style, performance installation piece hailing the craft of  graffiti with a Muslim perspective. My diary said I was available and I was up for it. I had to see how this idea of live graffiti art, light display with spoken word was going to work. Plus I wanted know  how a Muslim graffiti artist reconciled his faith and his unorthodox craft. Mohamed Ali blew my mind with the sheer scale of this undertaking,  how was he  going to turn a cold, grubby theatre production workshop space into a work of art.

To be working with the power houses of poetry Dreadlock Alien(B’ham) and Amir Suliman (US), along with the strong, distinct direction of  Hip Hop pioneer Jonzi D (London),  was an opportunity for myself, as a female poet toplace the resonance  of feminine energy into the  realm of war, religion and terrorism – political debates of  too usually dominated by men. What also struck me was the plain overt positivity of this event was a going to be.

There will soon be a screening of the film showing the writing/rehearsal process and the performance itself but Mohammed sent me the link to the website taster. I’m looking forward to revisiting the many  moments that were monumental  for many reasons, but notably for what is possible for poetry in unique and fresh contemporary cross art form collaborations.

The feedback on the impact of  the final performance on the audience was moving. The show evidently tackled crucial issues  about society and the perceptions about Muslim faith. As we thought, my presence was particularly appreciated. Women AND men commented on my contribution, not just because of what I did as an artist but purely because I was a woman doing what I do as an artist..

A  young girl in  a full  hijab  showing only her  expressive, bespectacled eyes, came over to me with her mother, who kissed me and hugged me and spoke with a gentle defiance. Her daughter translated. “My mother is so happy for you, so proud that you sang tonight.” It meant a lot.

The event itself was empowering because we as artists were  stripped down to the bare essential of our beliefs around  Love, Peace, Unity. To do that, we had to explore war, hate and prejudice. Even to the degree of fully engaging in the battles that go on within ourselves. (There was no room for ego and fortunately there was none of that amongst us.) We had four days to make this work. We knew it was going to be massive. It couldn’t flop. It had to be brilliant. More than brilliant.

From the film  trailer, I sense  that inner story is told too. We had agreed  to be a part of Mohamed Ali’s gargantuan,  heartfelt vision with a message – chosen because of what and how we do what we do. He had dug deep into his emotions, his memory, using  the stamina of his mental and spiritual willpower to make this project happen – not seeing his family, unable to grieve properly for his father’s recent passing. The physical toll on his body, only he knows – painting 13 – 16  hours in a day to finish in time. His passion and dedication is to be admired and respected.  So our agreement meant complete surrender  for us too. Surrender  to our roles  as modern day storytellers and as artists, and most significantly, to the real meanings of these archaic themes , Love, Peace  and Unity, and what they really mean in this day and age.

GOOD HAIR!! Its a Journey – Woven in Time – A docu-poem on the ongoing drama of Black Women and their hair

Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” docu-film got me thinking about how we black women tackle the hair issue in the UK. Story isn’t much different but a short study last year and review of my personal story, spurred me to share this. So this  extended poem written by me, commissioned by BBC Radio 3, is full of radio interviews in some of London’s black hairdressers with contributions from Dorothea Smartt and Khadijah Ibrahiim. Aired in the summer 2009.
After the advent of Chris Rocks  movie  this poem keeps the debate going in the UK.

The politics of hair affect all women around the globe. We are under constant pressure to beautify and manipulate our outer appearance taking our focus away from engaging and empowering our inner world. The first place we can attack is our hair because it’s accessible and is so malleable. But the world is fickle and making those changes will only put demands on us to reach a next level of perfection that will always be unattainable.

Listen to The Journey  – Woven In Time

The trials for Black women though, is also weighted in our historical confidence in our colour  as well as  to our physiques. Our beauty is tied up in a hierarchy of concepts that start with how we value our African features at the foundation.

We must stop falling into that evil corrosive  trap set for us (and unfortunately maintained by us). The trap rooted in a colonial concept of divide and conquer. We must stop resorting to knee jerk reactions, about good hair bad hair when really, its not about the hair, its about perceptions. It’s how we choose to compartmentalise and label ‘other people’ and their habits just so we can feel comfortable about where we place them in our personal world of “well do I look better than them?/are they more inferior than me because I look better than them?” cliches. Get over it. There’s nothing wrong with you either!

I get so tired of hearing the same old regurgitated ‘relaxed hair’ theories   as if it was tense before it was chemicalized) and weave jokes, when we need to look at  esteem issues first, then you can utter finite statements about the choices we make in adorning ourselves.

Fundamentally, I think Black women playing with their hair is part of our survival tool kit. Any judgments made, is the person who is judging business, not ours. Know thy “SELF”. And DO YOUR THANG LADIES!! x


Ken V shell flyerIt’s been just over a month since I performed at a gig to raise awareness of the injustice done to Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni activists, by Shell Oil. I had already written a poem for a Tribute anthology called “Dance the Guns to Silence” with the poem, “Baba Wiwa’s Trees”, in 2006. When I was commissioned to write this poem, I learned much about this brave, smiling man Ken Saro-Wiwa and what he was fighting for. Writer, activist and Eco-warrior, he and 8 of his fellow Ogonis stood up, protested and mobilized their people into the international media arena exposing the Nigerian government and Royal Dutch Shell’s (Shell Oil) numerous abuses of Human Rights because the companies pipelines run through the homelands of peoples from the Niger Delta. In doing so, they also revealed a sinister part of the Nigerian governments and Shell oils relationship. For that, they were hung.

To write a poem this time round had more resonance for me because those who were fighting for justice were at the turning point in the campaign against Shell. This needed to be a poem for going into battle. I needed to be armed with as much information as possible. Resaerch, research, research. The desire to pay homage to The Ogoni 9 brought to my attention the issue of the power of Human Rights law and the eroding of it. It might sound slightly incredulous that Human Rights law is almost non-existant in the area of corporate business though most of corporate business profits (into the billions) from the toil of a poverty laden underclass and from the minerals they mine and refine from the One Source- Our Planet. When you live with the security of four solid walls, a full fridge and a flat screen TV in ‘peace time’ (ie not a world war) you don’t have to think about them. But organisations like Amnesty are fighting every day for the rights of us, “human beings”, not just to lives but to have BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS OF EXISTENCE. Sometimes we just have to sit with that concept for a minute – “There, but for the grace of God…” .pipelines

As corporate, criminal and governmental law is constantly changing to protect the money of a few wealthy individuals, the goal posts for human rights keep shifting. Human beings are actually in dire need for laws of protection. Not just remote indegious or aboriginal peoples whose homelands are threatened but ruthless corporate natural resource industries. Civil rights in the west are constantly under threat, being chipped away under our noses while celebrity gossip distracts us from the true issues of concern at hand.
The Ken vs Shell case raises the awareness to that fact – there is no law for Human Rights abuses by corporate businesses. So it has been fine for decades, for Shell oil to pay off the myopic Nigerian government and  its military to “protect” their interests, even if it means everyday Nigerians are losing their lives due to gas flaring, crude oil poisoning the wells, rivers and water way, sickness due to breathing in methane gas. Peoples livelihoods are under ruined as crops are decimated and fresh water fish are dying in the rivers.
Shell called on the Nigerian military to suppress any peaceful protest against the ravaging of the environment.

11_jpg Also, civilians are injured every day as they siphon off oil from fractured pipelines because there is no electricity or other source of energy to power their homes. The situation is dire. Unemployment is as high as 86%, and the moral of the Delta people is so low.

After a long campaign to get Shell in to court Ben Amunwa from Platform’s Remember Saro-Wiwa campaign a verdict brought.

“After 13 years, the Ogoni plaintiffs whose loved ones were killed and injured in the military crackdowns that Shell facilitated in the 1990s, won an out of court settlement of $15.5 million. In every way, this sets a precedent for corporate accountability, and the universal application of human rights.” – a quote from Remember Ken Saro-Wiwa email newsletter.

Click to read Ken’s son, Ken Saro-Wiwa Jnr reaction in The Guardian.
Check the
www.remembersarowiwa.com campaign.

But this is only the beginning. Shell continues to contaminate the Niger Delta with poisonous crude oil and the the press with stories of it concern for environment and climate. With this case, the veil has been lifted.

For Images that inspired the poem click – Curse of the Blackgold


by Zena Edwards

Ken, there is a photo of a girl
12,13 slim wrists long neck
she walks wearing peach, blue flip flops
stepping with familiarity
over the slippery backs of 8 pipelines
she is at 5
holding an umbrella with a bright yellow shell on it
she seeks protection from a gentle rain falling from an African sky
behind her, between giant palm leaves
dragons roar, bellowing black billows, seething
belligerent belches of acridity in the sky
when I put my ear close to the glossy paper I can hear
her asthmatic breath

each clap of her plastic flip flop against her heel
makes a poem, applaud the poem in her step
it is the sound of everyday people who live between the pipelines, tapeworms
vampiring the placenta, excreting toxic
into the bloodstream of a nation
the rivers are graveyards, the wetlands thirsty for clean breath
the land is haemorraghing
miscarrying cocoyam and vegetable seed

Boys who have given up waiting for jobs to come
Idly eye her as she walks by
A generation numbed by the futility of existence
It is ironic that their most valuable asset is their Achilles heel
As the stagnancy of fervent youth
Dumps them in the hands of AK47 robber gangs
who howl in the night to the tune
Of their masters – myopic madmen in business
Grappling for a fist of flaccid dollars
Greed at the price of a village

1_jpgBut then again, everything has it’s price in this world
Like this girls poetry in her step, her lungs
A fair currency, fat with poisonous air
Her mothers sludge garden, her fathers chest
Face and shoulder, burned in the last accident

The truth is a jealous but patient thing
It brook no hazes of the facts or credibility gaps
There is only one fragrance it will lie with
Time, the scent of time moves from fresh to death, rot to humus fertilisation of new days

It is between the pages of a day in court
That a mystery will be solved
Why it takes twelve long years to walk the twisted violent gauntlet to justice
Why nine lives were thrown into a wound cut with knives of lies

How the spirits of the tortured and the murdered
Can be redeemed from the dispassionate mouth of brutal
And how with the wondrous alchemy of Nature, instead of bitter bile
Rising into the mouths of fishermen and farmers

work songs will rise over the trees
Will dance with the fish along the creeks
Will paint across a sky uninterrupted by fire and towers of black smoke
And how the poem of the girl with the blue flip flops can be fetched
From under the fattened rump of human disregard
(I applaud the poem in her step)

And raised to re-imagine the world
Why she close the umbrella with the yellow shell
And walk in the unpolluted gentle rain falling from an African sky

Written by Zena Edwards (copyright)


Dedicated to the artist – the warrior engaged in daily struggle for all the truth in creativity, untainted and ego-free. Seeing past the masks of the industry to the reach the heart and spirit of the open ear and eye.

The Artist

So here it is
Nothing more nothing less
My body
These bones
This muscle
This voice
These eyes
These feet Nothing more nothing less


This body
With this spirit
This life
This light
Is all that I have

This sound
This painting
This vision
This song
This lyric
This potion
This magic
Is all that this body and spirit have
To offer
Nothing more nothing less
And yes

This power
This beat
This breathe
This passion
This fire
This desire
Is all I can stand
And I stand

In my light
In my darkness
In my might
With my tongue
With my body
With my God

With my song
With my poem
With my dance
With my drum in my heart
With my muscle
And my Dream
With my People
With my Tribe
With my Culture
Veiled and revealed

I burn candle
I burn night
I burn stages
I burn bright

With my song
With my poem
With my dance
For my People
For Tribe
With my drum in my heart
With my muscle
And my dream

With just my body
And my spirit
I fight battles
And win wars
And the mighty
Shall tumble and fall

Under my poem
And my song
With my dance
With this
This, my body
These bones
This muscle
This voice
These eyes
These feet
Nothing more nothing less

So here it is
Nothing more nothing less

The Artist© – written by Zena Edwards

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