Guest Poet Laureate Martin Daws from Wales
Poet Laureate Martin Daws: From Bethesda to The Bronx Writers Center
On Friday, June, 27 2014, I was a guest speaker at Nelson Mandela House, a boys group home in The Bronx. Nelson Mandela House provides a home and a wide platform of support for seven young men from The Bronx and Harlem while they await trial in the US legal System. The event on celebrated the achievements of a creative writing project delivered by Brother Earl Majette for the Bronx Writer’s Center.
It was a great pleasure to meet everyone involved, and to share some poems. Before I performed, I presented a copy of my book/cd “Skintight the Sidewalk” to Nelson Mandela House. The boys were straight onto the cd at the back and put Black Jesus Prayer on the stereo. I must admit, it was a little shy making to hear myself speaking from the cd – I would have preferred performing it live – but the bonus was that the end of the recording has a chorus of 5 voices calling the outro chant of “Black Jesus / Black Jesus hear our prayer / Give Thanks.” What had begun as an embarrassment turned into a really proud moment for me as the 6 young African American men in the group joined in the chant, and one of them played a drum beat in time on the arm of his chair. The value of poetry as an educational resource was then demonstrated expertly by Youth Worker Martinez who led a discussion on the Eurocentric representations of Jesus Christ as a blue eyed Northern European. I was then able to give my explanation of the message behind the poem being my gratitude to the musical culture of the African Diaspora which has been a redemptive force in my life. Then we went live with a performance of my piece “Togethe“. Once I established the t-t-together rhythm the young men began stomping their feet on the one and the armchair percussion started up again and we had a VIBE in there!
Taking my poems, so deeply inspired by Hip Hop to The Bronx is a great honour and I was definitely moved because when I went to deliver the final word of the final line (together) my voice dried up and I could only quietly croak it out, despite trying three times. I think the weight of the whole Bronx experience was weighing on me. After that Martinez got his phone out and read off a DOPE lyric of his own composition, then Brother Earl stepped up and dropped one of his pieces in an old school style. I asked him when he wrote it and he said 1981! I was buzzing to meet a first generation B-Boy. He blessed us with some of his reminiscences of the origins of Hip Hop and I asked him if back then he had ever imagined that Hip Hop would become a global culture that has spawned the most popular music genre (Rap) in the world, he said “No, I just knew that we loved it.”
It was a great privilege to work with the Bronx Writer’s Centre, the Bronx Council for the Arts to deliver a workshop in a residential facility for young women. Y Bardd Plant and myself were invited to join in with a regular writing project facilitated by Bronx Nuyorican Poet La Bruja. The great work La Bruja has already done with the group allowed us to be welcomed into a flourishing creative atmosphere where we shared our own work, heard the work of La Bruja and the young women in the group, and worked together on a group poem produced using the now internationally acclaimed Martin’s Meaning Machine!
The young women chose the theme of music:
Inside the music
I had the huge pleasure to be asked to read out some of the work the young women have previously written. It was incredible to read their poetic narratives of urban youth; from what its like to grow up in care; the wrench of still wanting to live with the parents you love even though your family situation is abusive; the story of a young girl who tries, and fails, to end her unwanted pregnancy with a pill from the pharmacy; the love cries of a young women forced to live away from her family by the criminal justice system –
I want to see my boyfriend
Again the honour and hospitality shown to Y Bardd Plant Cymru and myself was of the highest order. The Bronx Council for the Arts even presented us with a goodie bag including a brilliant anthology of writing from the Bronx Writer’s Centre, some beautiful artwork and a dope, bright yellow, Bronx Writing Bus Tee Shirt – I’ll smile when I wear it.
The Bronx WritersCorps celebrated twenty years of giving voice
Pictured clockwise are Brother Earl, Intikana, Caridad “La Bruja” de la Luz, Kasim Allah and Divine — all renowned in the hip-hop and spoken word communities — performed for their students in a table-turning event where the instructors took the stage to showcase their performance strategy and word-sculpting skills. This special event was co-hosted by Bronx hip-hop music and media group Circa ’95 (Reph Star and Patty Dukes, bottom left).
For two decades, the Bronx WritersCorps has been giving voice to Bronx youth by creating weekly afterschool workshops led by rosters of talented teaching artists. The participants benefit by learning public and professional presentation techniques, improving language skills, enhancing their writing skills and developing a higher sense of self-esteem.
Bronx WritersCorps teaching artists operate in six under-served South Bronx sites: three BronxWorks family shelters, two Good Shepherd Services Non-Secure Detention (NSD) Residences and the Horizon Juvenile Detention Center. Each of these sites hosts regular workshops where youth, ages 13-18, develop spoken word writing, revision and performance skills. Each location produces a yearly poetry anthology and sends participants to the Bronx WritersCorps Annual Youth Poetry Showcase held in the spring.
With thanks to our generous funders: New York City Department of Youth & Community Development and The Robert Bowne Foundation
Bronx WritersCorps offers opportunities to write, publish, and perform. We work in partnership with sites throughout the Bronx during the academic year, programming both in-school and after-school workshops. Our sites include community-based organizations, shelters, and programs for incarcerated youth. Our model is long-term and in-depth.
Bronx WritersCorps teaching artists serve 2 years are part of a group that meets often and receive extensive professional development training.
What Bronx WritersCorps Teaching Artists Do
Applicants must have at minimum:
Bilingual people and people of color are especially encouraged to apply.
Level of Experience
Trying to decide if you have the right amount of experience for WritersCorps? The perfect match for us is someone who’s done at least the minimum work we ask for in our guidelines, but who isn’t yet a master. Training and professional development are an integral part of our model. We intend your time with us to take you from an early intermediate stage to a full professional stage in this field.
For questions, please e-mail Sharon@bronxarts.org or call 718-931-9500 x12.
For more information,
Sharon Little, Director
To View Anthologies
click onto the sites below.