Poetry of Protest: The Poems

The following poems were created by a group of Young Activists following a masterclass with Poet Selina Nwulu. These premiered as part of the Shifting Tides festival.

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Lets play

by Rebecca Wake
Watch the poem performed here

Let us play

Who wants to save the world?
Come on down, to Earth, are you down to Earth?
Mind the step, the curb, the curve, mind the curve

There is no lag, no breath, no contemplating movement
There is movement
A heart beat, a pulse of forward motion, a riptide that decapitates my feet
So I move, I catch up, I jump in front of, I -

Multiple choice
Whisper and not be heard? Talk and not be heard? Or shout and not be heard?

My temperature’s rising, sweat melting, breath wheezing, body shrinking, vision clouding,
heart beat spilling
I’d like to phone a friend

No answer
Next question
A heat that warms but doesn’t burn, toasts but doesn’t crisp, provides but doesn’t deprive
What am I?

Losing, at this game I am losing
My fate decided through every scoff, every eye roll, every yawn
Words lap at my throat, swell round my tongue, crash out my mouth
Ask the audience?

That is the right answer
You are moving on to the winner’s circle

So I move, I catch up, I jump in front of
I cheat a glance at your answers
I echo your mother tongue of destruction
I raise you a forest fire, a summer drought, a tropical cyclone

Cue applause, sirens, silence
Round 2020
A. A political party
B. A birthday party
C. A partial understanding of the rules

I am partly political, but these parties are not my kind of political
An intentional confusion in a waffling language of switching off
A hierarchical structure of equal parts arrogance and ignorance

So 50/50?

I roll with it
Roll until you get the right answer
Keep rolling over, hitting snooze
Never woke

Stick or twist?

Old or new?
Stillness or Movement?
Reality or change?

Times up

Twist I want to twist, twist

Up next - Who wants to be a millionaire?
Caution, side effects - greed, risk of infection

Me, yes me

You are the weakest link. Goodbye


Grey zone

A charged hum, blistering my phone
A like, a share, a new propaganda

A battle cry of the next generation
Let down by comrades that came before

Corporate deserters
Banished to care homes

Wielding walking sticks and electric scooters,
Ironclad hearing aids no longer fixed to the right station

Bodies packing up
Brains retiring

Passing the torch
Barely lit
Barely needed

Closed eyes, open fire

Spitting sparks

Danger compressed gas, compressed thoughts, compressed voices

Stop. Slippery surface

Melting consciences

Mind your head, caution glass above

Fire below. Fire risk, risk? Fire happening. A flammable earth

Fossilising life before you’ve written your banner, sized up your opponent, picked your weapon

Science grenades, ricocheting off turned backs

Caution stop, hot, too hot, boiling, burnt, dust


Weighing scales

My grief won’t be held by your plasters and kisses

Nor fed with your oven ready microwave policies

It’s a grief born from love and my tears make it spit

My shout’s recoil whispers against the enormity
As I stand still
Unable to find the starting point, a bread crumb, a handle
A Russian doll of issues, crowning through years of claustrophobia

To nudge a world, snap a state, flatten boxes and rebuild, rewire, rewild

I told you it was enormous

So I’ll start small

To mobilise a couch potato you must:

Fire it up
Mash some ideas
Chew the problem
Season through rain and shine

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The Canary Wolf

by Naphysa Awuah
Watch the poem performed here

I met a traveller from the Docked Lands
Who said: “Many vast and trunkless pillars of glass
Stand in the Marsh. Near them, in the reeds,
Half-sunk, a shattered façade lies whose edge
and herniated pinnacle, and gleam of great greed
Tell that its inhabitants well those passions read
Which long have drowned with these lifeless towers.
The Invisible Hand that built them, the very hand that destroyed.
In the whispers of whipping wind these words are sung:
‘I am the Canary Wolf, King of Kings:
Look on my wealth, ye mighty and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, verdant and fair
The living and the lush stretch far away.”

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A Silent Voice

by Claire Chelsea Bondzanga
Watch the poem performed here

If you could speak, would you remember?
Sandaled and braided, the youth in my cheeks
When you were my Earth, and I, your satellite
Spawning ring-shaped apparitions
Around you, as I spiralled
In orbit
Till the dust settled under my nails
Till my palms mapped out your skin.

If you could speak, could I speak too?
On how you,
Stitched a generational tear,
Your breath, the needle
Your progeny, the thread that sealed the gap.
Transcending miles of oceans
And the foreign tongues of time and difference
With simple colours of greens, browns
And oranges.

If you could speak, would you have pleaded
For them to reconsider? To recollect memories fallen
Burnishing them between thumb and forefinger
Till it’s scuffed edges prick and glint.
Perhaps you would have wept knowing your life was worth
A corrugated extension,
A disgruntled neighbour’s complaint,
Tetris-shaped tower blocks,
Cattle ranches,
Opium fields,
Architecture, agriculture
Overstated infrastructure.
And the like…

If you cannot speak, may I speak instead?
Or would you prefer me to scream--
Then I will scream in your name
“Damned, we burn in our homes
While you watch
Scythes in one fist, torched sticks in the other.
Our Mother convulses, unhinged, unbalanced
While we watch
As Her lungs sear in her throat
As Her breath turns to cinders in Her mouth.
And She watches,
Through scalded tears
A chorus of singed children before her
Now a hymn of smoulder and smoke.
And all that lingers:
The distant ringing of a final note
In a world without listeners.”

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æppeltrēow / appultre / Apple Tree

by Rhiannon Willans
Watch the poem performed here

At the base of my grandmother's garden stands / the Apple Tree. It is old / enduring / host to many forms of life / from aging / to rotted / to me, the Codling / she has lived and lived and lived / shows no glimpse of slowing / seasonally thrusting new life into the air / constantly sipping on the carbon dioxide treat / the fast / the diet / has turned to gluttony / herself gorging this human afterthought / the inside of her arms, her legs, her trunk / holding the marrow of past / the tiny rings of significance / a truth we only glimpse through ruin / through death /

There is an authorised view of our past / of the rustic and the Medieval / a sepia tint over heaving meadows / tawny hair / ruddy shoulders / poverty / injustice / suffering simmered out to make apple crumble / to spoon into Emma Bridgewater bowls and call 'Golden' / romanticised / but the love that suffused it called simple / Common / dull / replaced with ideals / times were better then, we think / crumble burning our tongues / when we dreamed only of fertility / not of progress /

The tree saw before we did / change hugging our waists from behind / a lover's grip tightening like a vice / she saw us come to forget unrestricted breathing / saw the corset of limbs laced around our kind /

Nostalgia is sap / it coats emotion with viscous ignorance / blurs our eyes from seeing our inevitable failure / glamorises smiles on mouths that had no teeth / just painful abscesses / just painful lack / authorised by the state / when we place distance between ourselves and it / the lashing strikes of their suffering cannot reach / so we yearn for that simplicity / craving those bruises that hadn't bloomed yet /

When my mother told me of my great-grandfather's rage / I felt the branches of that old Apple Tree tremble / we think of past as noble and humble and right / that to be working class is to endure / but to think of a swinging fist / gobbet of spit / violence / flowing through my veins / as acidic as a cooking apple / I understood then / why I find bruises spreading on my limbs unbidden / I understood / why the collective flesh / is polluted

My family Tree witnessed it all / the famine / strikes / industrial massacres painted as revolutions / red with the blood of her brethren / felled for firewood / felled for 'Progress' / she stayed alive through the grit / laughter / pride that clouds our blood like juice / my ancestors cultivated their own

What would they think of us / my spread of generations / the older bleeding palm oil / the younger fretting over curled scribbles they were deemed unfit to read? / they would brand us Rotten / step in us with grim delight / feel the softness of our flesh squish between their toes / they would pluck us, bawling, face down / grind us down with their heels / make us into cider to toast with / on bucolic evenings we long to touch from our hollowed out cores / out of reach in our decaying world

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She Stands

by Ruth Mestel
Watch the poem performed here

Between the twinkling starry streamers,
surrounded by the space hubble and bubble of clinking glasses,
she stands in the corner of the party,
clutching the fraying edge of her finest dress.
She’s tired;
the mantle of her mind chipped away,
exposing the layers of her core.
Continental cracks cross her forehead,
wild windstorms shift as she sways from foot to foot,
mountain edges crumble as her fingertips fidget.
She stands on her axis,
anxiously orbiting,
ignored in every cluster of conversation.
No one wants to listen to the layered land of her meandering mind,
the tangled and overgrown jungles of her imagination,
her thoughts that flow in wild streams of consciousness.
She’s known to never stop spinning,
no out of office hours,
always under an o-zone layer of pressure.
A hectic calendar:
7 continental commitments,
a 24-hour operational ecosystem,
an email box bursting to the brim of her ocean rim.
Her stress levels continue to rise,
as her coral cheeks wilt white and pale,
her resources are squeezed to their final drop,
devastating her fields of self-esteem.
Her tectonic shifts are getting more out of control.
When she cries,
her tears flow hard and fast,
soaking farm lands and coastal paths in her grief.
In her anger,
her shouts tornado through the sky,
destructive whirling winds destroying all in their path.
She’s been hurt and she’s still hurting;
past relationships turned toxic waste,
as they pumped her dry of her natural smile,
leaving her barren and drained.
When she reaches out for help,
she’s ignored, muted and forgotten.
Calls go through to answer phone;
No one’s her emergency contact.
She’s tired;
She needs someone to hold her headland,
rest the strain of her seabed,
lower the growing pressure on her atmosphere.
She stands there, gripping her fraying dress.
I stand up and cross the room.
‘Hello, how can I help? I’m here, I’m here.’

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Choreographic prompts during lockdown

by Valia Katis
Watch the poem performed here

Waggle dance, crisscrossing distance and direction
Upbeat twirling along nectarine paths
They trespassed your hexagonal routes.

Choose the tinniest space in your house

Stinging bee, deprived of spatial awareness.
You have been unearthed, in colony.
Endless acres of possibilities shrank in pesticide.

Dance as large as possible in the space, drop your habits

Habit(at)s of open-air-golden-flows lost
Natural immunities corroding, disintegrating into whispery uniformity.
A petal-pollen essence in a windowless box.

This is a new task called 'smallest spaces’

Symphonies of buzzing pledges ignored
The world is brimmed
With needless needs, to fill the space of contradiction.


Despite being confined, you have energy waiting to go out into the world

Not that you will need that.
Movement economy is key
Censor unnecessary qualities.

You may feel dizzy but keep going, keep breathing

A crescendo of shallow breathing
During a time,
That may last till your whole life.

Grow larger as the space around you grows smaller

Do not mind approaching walls,
Nor betray one-way roads
Collisions and erosions profit us.

Dance like you’re stuck in honey

Produce of the golden hour,
Freshly fairtrade.

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The Last Straw

by Liam O’Dell
Watch the poem performed here

0.03% of ocean plastic comes from straws.

This is the last straw.
Plucked from a turtle’s nostril
To make the viral news easier to swallow,
To consume it before it consumes you.
Because cramming climate into the confines
Of a plastic tube
Makes it palatable.
Except for that bit at the end
Which bends like the truth.
Not really the right angle,
But nonetheless held with gritted teeth
As you seethe.

[Breathe in]
[Breathe out]

And deliver a blow
To disabled people and their support needs.
Suck out their energy
Because their supposed ‘plastic problem’
Is easier to conceive
Than vast amounts of corporate greed
From Chevron, Shell and BP.

Does it feel more real? Yeah,
I bet.
Chasing those in wheelchairs
Instead of pursuing the suits
Because it doesn’t suit you
Because their campaigning somehow lacks your desired approach or visibility
Because you cannot see
That activism happens irrespective of disability.

It’s Schrodinger’s catastrophe
To proclaim that these people are ‘lazy’
Whilst also being such a big polluter, apparently.
Calling them an inspiration.
Is your convenient aspiration,
For us having to make do.
“Just use the metal straws,” you say.
“Or pasta, or bamboo!”

You don’t understand, do you?
Your little mocktail of solutions isn’t any use
When some of us have allergies
Some straws break with hot food.
We are sick of being told what it is we’re meant to do
When it never seems to be...

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Latex Saves The Planet

by Oluwatayo Adewole
Watch the poem performed here

"Overpopulation is the main threat to the planet"

Chris stops to take a sip of her coffee.
she chose the healthier almond,
tastes like almost-dairy,
tastes like California,
tastes like tired fingers,
tastes like land drying,
tastes like land dying,
tastes like - it needs some more sugar

"In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, to contribute something to solving overpopulation"

Phil laughs,
Finishes his glass
Of imported champagne too posh to pronounce.
He watches as
Red, White and Blue gashes
are cleaved in the clouds,
outpours of patriotic particulates
glide into lungs too young to protest.

"They're breeding like rabbits"

Winnie whines on the phone,
with his 2.5 kids,
and his suburban home

Bear witness to his fortress,
of crackling electricity,
a cacophony of currents,
space heater,
Play 'Ready to Fall'

Mel opens the news app on her Windows phone,

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Little Miss Flint, Amariyanna Copeny:

"Nothing's changed. Our water stills smells like bleach. It's still giving us rashes, it's still giving us -"


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Teresa Cristina Kezonazokere:

"They treat indigenous people like animals"

Sônia Guajajara:

"We don't have to accept the destruction of -"


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The Unist’ot’en Camp:

"We, the Unist’ot’en, know the violence on our lands and violence on our women are connected. These arrests don't intimidate us. Police enforcement doesn't intimidate us. Colonial court orders don't intimidate us. Men in suits and their money don't intimidate us. We are still here. We will always be there. This is not over."

Mel closes the app on her phone, opens Microsoft Edge - and donates to a charity teaching 'family planning'.

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