About us: our language has saved us once before - RSA blog - RSA

About us: our language has saved us once before


  • Picture of Natasha Ryan
    Natasha Ryan
    Education Officer, Poetry Society
  • Arts and culture

In 2022, we partnered with UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK on a global exploration research project, Collective Futures.

UNBOXED featured 10 major commissions across science, tech, engineering, arts and maths culminating in hundreds of events taking place across the UK.

About Us was one of those commissions. Discover more about it below.

About Us explores the infinite ways life is connected across the universe. In spring 2022, a live show visited Paisley, Derry-Londonderry, Caernarfon, Luton and Hull. The show combined projection-mapping technology, poetry and music to tell our shared story from the Big Bang to the present day.

In each location, we delivered poetry and coding workshops in primary schools. The children’s work was incorporated into the show: videos of them reading their poems were showcased on giant plinths, while avatars from their coding projects were part of the animation sequence.

This meant the children who participated saw the spaces they inhabit daily in a new light. We deliberately took the show to high streets and town centres, environments populated with cafes and newsagents, because we wanted art to co-exist with these features of daily life, to highlight the special quality of places that are sometimes overlooked, and to nurture a sense of pride in those places. By incorporating the young people’s work into the show, that pride in place became interwoven with pride in their communities and themselves.

This is where poetry came into its own. When we sent poets into schools, the brief was simple: the children should create a collaborative class poem about how we are connected. The scale and themes of the project could have been daunting – a recurring joke was that we were condensing 13.8 billion years into the space of 25 minutes – but, as is often the case, the poems found their groove by responding with specifics.

Universal thinking on regional level

Yes, we were thinking about the whole universe but we were also, and importantly, thinking about Paisley, Derry, Caernarfon, Luton and Hull. We were thinking about the local park, Irn Bru and Derry Girls, pet hamsters, cousin Shea, dad's laugh, about seagulls, about the view from the school playground. We asked the children to show us how the spaces they knew well were special. The knowledge that their poems would be celebrated in the town centre motivated them, assuring them their voices would have a platform in the heart of the community.

After the damaging effect of Covid on children’s wellbeing, permitting them to work creatively and collaboratively with their peers, and encouraging them to explore what connected them to their community, allowed them to reclaim those spaces.

At the show’s core was the idea that we are all made of stardust: for all our differences, the variations of character, circumstance and taste that make us individual, we come from the same place, the same past. So, too, is our future a shared one – poetry invited those children to imagine their place in that future. Above all, I hope About Us gifted these young poets the space to be heard. In that spirit, I'll leave the last words to the children of St Oliver Plunkett Primary School. Here is their poem:

The Derry Hood

Wherever your house
or your favourite beach
or walk through the city is,
you’re walking on history.
When I’m here I feel so small,
not for the whizzing fireworks,
or the pulsing drums,
but because the days are hotter
and the rain warmer.

Do you want the future to come?
The world won’t be fixed
with flat 7UP,
just ask the spiny dinosaurs.
Their hearts are broke;
the oak grove we live in
like fairies or nymphs
bustles and grows
as trees should, healthily and well.

There’s so much I want to do
so I draw a map to keep track,
but I keep having to re-do it.
I phone 999 but they can’t sort
climate anxiety or empty shops.
What prescription do we need
to sort out the future’s problem?
Our language is relentless
and has saved us once before.

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