Throughout 2018, we’ll be celebrating The Art of Change by inviting 12 of our Young Poets to write and perform a poem that speaks to our changing world.
For August’s poem, Bella Cox considers what it means to be both a global and a British citizen at this point in history.
What inspired your poem this month?
I have always found watching the news a difficult exercise in attempting to maintain faith in humanity and the human trajectory. But recently, with the focus of news broadcasting seeming to touch on everything from fisheries in the UK, to an astrological phenomenon beyond our reach yet still with no real coverage of or solution for the increasingly worsening situation in the middle East, I found myself even more dismayed than usual and eager to delve into this feeling. I wanted to try to capture the noise, the confusion and the desperate silence around these various issues. I was inspired to question where our focus as a nation lies, to interrogate what it means to be both a global and a British citizen at this point in history and to attempt to give voice and space to these conversations without assigning blame but also without defense.
Who do you think writes well on the topic of change?
I think change is a necessary ingredient in the creation of most, if not all, worthwhile writing, be it a novel, a poem, a play or a song; change, in any form, is where the awe and intrigue lies, so it’s not easy to choose just a few artists from the many that do it so well. But I have always loved the way that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie captures and plays with time in her novels and particularly the way she allows the narrative voice to grow and mature in ‘Purple Hibiscus’ allowing for a changing and more nuanced understanding of the story. Sarah Waters is another favourite of mine who also does this well, and I was very moved by some of the poems in Sharon Olds’ book; ‘Stag Leap’ and the way she conveys change from the perspective of the person to whom change is being forced upon.
Poems can become hugely revealing artefacts of a collective history
Why do you think poetry is a good way to talk about change?
Art has always been at the heart of change; across time and space, the world over, and poetry is a hugely powerful facet of this in its potential for provoking change of thought as well as of meaning. Language is a living, changing organism so poetry is compelled to live and change with it. Each poem shared with the world becomes a kind of portal allowing access into the time in which it was written, so poems can become hugely revealing artefacts of a collective history as well as being incredibly intimate and introspective sharings of individual emotion and I really cherish that duality of power.
How has poetry changed your life?
I’ve realised that I have become a lot more consciously observant of everything, and everyone, around me. I catch myself constantly drawing connections and attempting to find meaning in situations which, before naming myself a poet, I would perhaps have overlooked.
I think writing poetry has made me become a more present, more engaged person, and I think it has hugely enhanced my ability to express myself clearly. It has also led me to find communities and spaces such as collectives like the Barbican Young Poets, and the two open-mic nights I co-manage and host, where I finally feel a sense of belonging, where I am able to engage with people I share thinking patterns with and can explore the nuances of language and life with – I suppose, essentially, language and philosophy nerds like me! – which is very precious.
I think writing poetry has made me become a more present, more engaged person
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for me, poetry has forced me into creating space for more clarity-driven conversations within myself which are broadening my knowledge of self and my ways of interacting with and presenting myself to people all the time. I am steadily learning, one introspective poem at a time, who I am and what I might be able to offer this world.
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Part of The Art of Change, our 2018 annual theme which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape.