The power of spoken word

By Luchia Robinson

Formed by Haylee Venus and Moussa Amine Sylla, Spoken is a grassroots organisation that brings young people and local creatives together to discuss meaningful topics, develop artistic skills and form partnerships within the community.

Poet, Merlin The Wizard takes to the stage  Credit: Luchia Robinson

What are the reoccurring things that are coming up in our daily conversations? How are local people being affected?

These are just two of the questions, Spoken Co-Founders Haylee Venus and Moussa Amine Sylla address when exploring working themes to discuss, write about and perform at the events they host.Spoken events are a platform for young people to discuss their experiences in a non-judgemental environment. By posing reflective questions, and expressing their comments towards them through poetry, the young performers are able to identify and connect with their local communities. The aim is to make the audience think.“We don’t want [our event] to be another event, anyone can host an event but we want it to be meaningful and impactful. We don’t want people to leave the same way as they came in, we want their minds to be open and for them to leave with a [wider] social perspective,” says Haylee.

Moussa adds: “[When we started] we had this episode of knife crime and shootings, so we starting thinking about providing a place to start talking about why that had happened and how all those events are triggered– what are the root causes and what can we do about it? So we tend to attach themes to what’s happening currently and locally.”

Co-Founder of Spoken, Haylee Venus leads a creative writing workshop      Credit: Luchia Robinson

Haylee and Moussa are not playing it safe in their mission to provoke thought and prompt positive social action, and they are now extending Spoken’s local, collaborative, theme-based working model to a national level.

Through Moussa’s job role as a Community Organiser, Spoken was able to make links with Ellen Moran who is a part of the Born Lippy Crew– a poetry collective from Newcastle. The idea of creating a poetry exchange between the two groups was formed and Spoken recently invited the Born Lippy poets to celebrate and collaborate at its one-year anniversary in Tottenham.

“The actual day of the event was interesting because it was quite cold,” says Haylee. “We were thinking, ‘are people going to come?’ There were loads of people who had registered online,but we were anticipating what the numbers were going to be like considering the weather.”

People did turn up, well over a hundred in fact, making it Spoken’s most attended event to date. And the themes on that cold night? -Black history, homelessness and music as a universal language; topics that Haylee believes “may have been seen as uncomfortable in certain environments. However, Spoken made room for it.”

In the lead up to the anniversary event, both the London and Newcastle collectives were able to network and further solidify their poems by recording them in the Levi’s Music Studio, creating a playlist that is soon to be released.

Ellen Moran from Newcastle’s Born Lippy Crew shares her work   Credit: Luchia Robinson

Now, using the success of the Newcastle collaboration as a pilot, Haylee and Moussa plan to take the same framework to other cities, engaging with even more local young people and teaching them poetry writing techniques for national performances. Moussa and Haylee are currently building a team of likeminded people who can assist in defining a strategy that will ensure Spoken remains an initiative that rallies the local community together to offer creativity to the wider audiences.

Moussa says: “[Spoken] is not about me and Haylee. One day, I won’t be here, one day Haylee won’t be here, [Spoken] has to be locally rooted with people accountable, so if we’re not here, it stays as a legacy- for us that’s important.”

At the moment, Spoken uses poetry as its main method of expression, but Haylee and Moussa are exploring other forms of creativity including, painting and music. They are working on ways to provide event management training and to teach skills that formally document the events they put on, such as filming, editing and interviewing.

“We highly value and believe that culture heavily contributes to social economic development,” says Moussa.

“We do [Spoken] for the young people and I hope that one day, they will be in charge; they will do it for themselves, by themselves, to empower themselves.”