Brave, determined, talented. Meet Birmingham’s Young Poet Laureate, Nyanda Foday and discover why everyone is waxing lyrical about her
When she was just nine-years-old Nyanda Foday went with her parents on what was supposed to be a one-year stay in their home country of Sierra Leone. “They wanted me to experience where they had originally come from,” says Nyanda. But eight months in and Nyanda caught malaria and typhoid and was rushed back to Britain. Born and raised in London, the family moved to Birmingham to be near where her grandparents lived.
Nyanda, now 18, plays down the drama but acknowledges it changed the direction of her life. She has remained in Birmingham ever since, attending King Edward VI School, Handsworth and then sixth form at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School – she is nervously awaiting her A-Level results as we write…
Nyanda also came into contact with Birmingham-based youth and social media collective Beatfreaks. “I attended a monthly open mic night called Poetry Jam and for me that was the pivotal factor that put me onto poetry,” said Nyanda. All of which eventually led to her being named as the current Birmingham Young Poet Laureate.
POETRY OVER PROSE
“I’ve been writing poetry for a very long time but before I started engaging in the poetry scene I was primarily a fan of prose,” she explains. “I think a key factor in making the switch initially was that I could sit down and write a poem in a way that you just can’t with a novel – and it became an easier way for me to express myself and work through whatever was on my mind.”
As Young Poet Laureate, Nyanda sees her role as “representing young people in Birmingham in poetry, and also to represent poetry in young people”. And she adds: “I get to perform in lots of different places, which is always incredibly exciting for me. I actually got asked to perform for International Women’s Day to a group of women my age and older, and that was so humbling and honestly, strange to me.
“However, the most amazing opportunity I’ve had was easily performing at the National Holocaust Memorial Day in January. The event was respectful and incredibly humbling. The opportunity to meet the speakers was one of the greatest I’ve ever had, and I think I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life. It’s easy for things like that to slip into history as something that happened in the past and is finished, so meeting people who were there completely shatters that illusion, which is heart-breaking but really important I think.”
THE SPOKEN WORD
Nyanda almost exclusively writes for the spoken word “because I’m big on performance, and I care a lot about the way my words sound when they’re put together”. She adds: “I write in quite a personal style that comes from a very introspective approach. I think almost all of my poems are me figuring something out about the way I interpret a certain situation, or understand a concept. Sometimes I just write something that sounds good and poetic, but I never really like those poems after the fact. My poems tend to be long, quite dark (true to typical teenage angst) and thoughtful.”
As well as writing poetry and studying for exams, Nyanda has retained close links with Beatfreaks – as well as attending their events she is also on their Youth Steering Committee. “There’s something incredible about being surrounded by spoken word artists of different skills and talents and being able to take it all in in such a supportive atmosphere. Combine that with the performer in me, and nothing could have motivated me more than Poetry Jam to become one of those people on the stage, motivating other people to try something new.”
So, it’s a given then that poetry will be her future? Not as a career because Nyanda is hoping – exam grades willing – that she will get to go to Manchester University to study biology. “I want to have a career looking at biology in animal behavior,” she explains.
“I will always want to do poetry, and when I’m old and grey I want to have notebooks full of my poetry that people can look at and consider, which is really egotistical, but also honestly what I would like. Because my poetry is so personal, it’s something that I’m happy for people to know me by and remember me by. I think if someone read all of my poems they could probably have a better understanding of me as a person that some people that I’ve been friends with for years.
“I have a lot of respect for the people that do pursue poetry because it isn’t easy – like any job in the arts it requires persistence, innovation and luck, so I’m quite fortunate to have another area that I genuinely want to make a name for myself in.”
So… fingers crossed everyone for those A-Level grades!
(An extract from a poem by Birmingham Young Poet Laureate, Nyanda Foday)
Our world is cyclical
And with each cycle
Everything that has ever been is still there.
We go on because we are part of a bigger cycle and we continue
We cannot forget the forms that have been deconstructed
Instead we must take their very essence to reconstruct new forms of beauty
We must make love of their love
We must take meaning from their meaning
Form our memories using their memories
We must make new memories
We must grow in their wake using all that they have given us
We must trust in the flow of the cycle to carry us
We must pay homage to the previous forms of the atoms that hold us
We are bound to know new forms in a distant future but the forms we hold today, we shape
We will be stronger for the trials and tribulations that our bodies have faced in past generations