Poet Lemn Sissay "inspired" by Verbal project with Extern young people

A group of teenagers from Derry have worked alongside an internationally-renowned poet on a project to install a temporary public artwork in the city in partnership with the Verbal Arts Centre.

Picture for blog story Poet Lemn Sissay

‘Blood’ is a three year project between writer and artist Lemn Sissay and the Verbal Arts Centre.  It is part of a major cultural programme called 14-18 NOW, which is taking place across the UK to mark the centenary of the First World War.

The Verbal Arts Centre and 1418 NOW invited Lemn to explore the resonance of the First World War today, with a group of young people from the Extern organisation. He wrote a poem entitled ‘At all’ which was interpreted by the young people as a temporary public artwork and installed using specially designed banners in locations across the city over the past week.

The Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr. Elisha McLaughlin, helped launch the project when she hosted the young people, poet and project staff in the Guildhall.

Dr Mhairi Sutherland, Community Engagement Facilitator at the Verbal Arts Centre, said: “The young people from Extern, who are already regular visitors in the Verbal Arts Centre and participants in the Reading Rooms programme, have shown real commitment and enthusiasm for the 'Blood' 1418 Now project.

“The freshness of their ideas, their knowledge of their own city, and their excitement about working with the poet Lemn Sissay really shone through in this project.”

Lemn paid tribute to the young people from Extern as he helped them install his poem along the banks of the Foyle. He said his inspiration to write “At all” – which talks about bricking up the Foyle – was prompted by a conversation with two young  trainees from the city, who were part of an apprentice scheme to become bricklayers.

 “My job is to inspire and be inspired; they have inspired me by their openness and willingness to try things that they haven’t tried before, and their willingness to connect with me,” he revealed.

Joe Thompson, project worker with Extern, said: “They have been buzzing about it. Two of the boys who have been taking part in the Reading Rooms programme with the Verbal Arts Centre and Extern, went into school and told their English teacher they want to do poetry. It might be a big statement, but for some of them, it has been life-changing.” 

Ryan (14), from Creggan, one of the young people, gave his seal of approval to “At all”, saying: “It’s a good poem. I enjoyed it even more because it’s about the city.”

Brian (14), from Brandywell, agreed. “It’s a good poem, it was good craic. I’m not really into writing but I will probably write a poem.”

Keeva (15), from Creggan, said she had also enjoyed the project, adding:  “I liked doing the artwork with Mhairi.”

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