UNDERTOW is the Poetry Translation Centre’s artists' development programme for young poets that focuses on working with people from mixed heritage and diaspora backgrounds to unlock the creative potential of polylingualism.
Today in the UK, English is an additional language for over 20% of primary school children. There are now more than 300 languages spoken in British schools. Millions of young people live polylingual lives, switching back and forth between languages and cultures. UNDERTOW was created to embrace the massive creative potential in this group and ignite a passion for poetry that runs wild between languages and fosters multilingual creativity.
In our second year, UNDERTOW is focusing on Nigerian and Nigerian diaspora poets in the UK. In 2023 we held the London / Lagos poetry competition in partnership with the British Council Nigeria to help us find talented young poets with Nigerian heritage both in the UK and Nigeria.
The judges of the London / Lagos poetry competition were the Igbo poet and performer Amarachi Attamah, the Nigerian writer, performance artist & poet Efe Paul Azino and Kaozara Okikiola Oyalowo, a poet based in Leicestershire whose work is inspired by her Yoruba heritage. The winners had their poems published in the Aké Review 2022, participated in an online event at the Lagos International Poetry Festival in 2022, and become part of the 2023 UNDERTOW programme.
The programme is been led by Tolu Agbelusi, a Nigerian British, poet, playwright, performer, educator and lawyer whose work addresses the unperformed self, womanhood and the art of living, who is providing workshops and one-to-one sessions with the poets. The participating poets will also take part in a reading group led by Victoria Adukwei Bulley, winner of the John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize and various workshops including sessions on filmmaking as poetic practice with Bryar Bajalan and a discussion on poetry and politics with poet Inua Ellams, author of The Actual.
UNDERTOW Nigeria Poets
Arimoku is a Nigerian poet whose work explores the human condition through various lenses to describe our collective experience. You can find him on Instagram: ari.moku_
Isaiah Adepoju lives in Osun State. A member of the Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation, he is a reader for Adroit Journal and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Nigeria Review. He is the recipient of the 2021 HIASFEST Star Prize and the 2021 Chima Ugokwe Prize for Essay, and has been shortlisted for the Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Review. His debut novel is forthcoming from Abibiman Publishing (2023).
Muiz Ọpẹ́yẹmí Àjàyí (Frontier XVIII) studies Law at the University of Ibadan. He is an editor at The Nigeria Review, a poetry reader for Adroit Journal, 2021 ARTmosterrific writer-in-residence, and second runner-up for the PROFWIC Poetry Prize and the BKPW Poetry Prize. His work has been published or is forthcoming in 20.35 Africa, Frontier Poetry, Poetry Wales, Nigerian NewsDirect, Trampset and elsewhere.
Rahma Jimoh’s works have appeared in Agbowo, Kalahari Review, Tab Journal, Lucent Dreaming, Olongo Africa and Feral, among others. She was a 2020 Hues Foundation scholar and the lead representative for Poets in Nigeria, Olabisi Onabanjo University Connect Center. Her poem ‘Walking’ was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2020.
Pẹ̀lúmi Obasaju is a Nigerian British scientist and storyteller who brings poetry into the day-to-day. She has performed her words at various events and festivals. Pẹ̀lúmi has been commissioned for several projects including an augmented reality candle and the consecration of the first black bishop of the diocese of London.
Sodïq Oyèkànmí writes from Ìbàdàn. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, his works have been published or are forthcoming in Poetry Wales, Strange Horizons, Lucent Dreaming, trampset, Brittle Paper, VAINE Magazine, Olney Magazine and elsewhere. His work was commended for the 2022 Adroit Poetry Prize.
Iheoma Uzomba is a student of English and Literary Studies at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. She is a spoken word artist and a performance poet. She is currently the poetry editor of The Muse no. 49 journal. Her poems have been published in Rattle, The Shore Poetry, Kissing Dynamite, The Rising Phoenix Review and elsewhere.
Meeting other mixed-heritage poets for me has meant finding people that identify with complex experiences, that feeling of self-imposed division and yet togetherness we embody. Having that safe space to openly converse about that and create has forged unique friendships and offered me a home for thoughts and emotions I’ve felt incapable of expressing since forever.
Lydia Hounat, UNDERTOW participant, British-Algerian (Kabyle) writer and photographer from Manchester
UNDERTOW Year One
In our first year our UNDERTOW course was headed up by Juana Adcock, a Mexican-British poet and translator. She helped an eight-strong cohort of young poets develop their work through a series of online workshops, writing prompts and one-to-one tutorials. As well as the creative aspects of the programme we built up practical skills with talks on ‘Capitalism for Poets’ by award-winning poet Inua Ellams, ‘Playing with Power’ by Theresa Cisneros, Senior Practice Manager Culture Equity Diversity Inclusion at the Wellcome Trust and ‘Your Blank is Political’ on art and activism by the Turner Prize-winning Array Collective.
UNDERTOW Year One Poets - AKA The UNDERTOW Eight
Reem Abbas is a Yemeni-Syrian reader, writer and lover of poems and, if really feeling it, the occasional short-story. She is currently writing her Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge on the Persian artistic and classical poetic influences in the poetry of Basil Bunting.
Nasim Rebecca Asl
Nasim Rebecca Asl is a Glasgow-based Geordie-Persian poet and journalist. Her work has appeared in publications such as Gutter Magazine, Modern Poetry in Translation and Middleground Magazine. In 2021 she was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award for Poetry.
Liv Goldreich (she/her) is a 2020 commended Foyle Young Poet and Adroit Journal Mentorship Programme alumna, she also won the Words of Unity poetry competition. Besides English, she's particularly interested in Hebrew, German and classical languages, and the etymological weight of words.
Lydia Hounat is a British-Algerian writer and photographer. She was a Poet-in-Residence at Manchester Metropolitan University's Special Collections Archives. She co-edits interdisciplinary art zine, SOBER. and is currently curating the French and Amazigh collections at Manchester Poetry Library.
Charlotte Shevchenko Knight is a British-Ukrainian poet. She is a New Poets Prize winner (2021) and has been commended in the National Poetry Competition (2019). Her pamphlet Ways of Healing was published by The Poetry Business in 2022.
Phoebe Wagner is a poet, theatre-maker and facilitator. Her debut pamphlet The Body You're In was published with Bad Betty Press, 2019. She is a Roundhouse Poetry Collective alum and Barbican Young Poet. Her work explores the politics in the personal and facilitates dialogue in communities.
Maggie Wang was raised in the United States and now studies at the University of Oxford. She is a 2021 Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critic and has edited for Singapore Unbound, the Harvard Review, and Asymptote.
Fathima Zahra is an Indian poet based in Essex. She is a Barbican Young Poet and a Roundhouse Poetry Collective alum. Her poems have won the Bridport Prize, Asia House Slam, Wells Fest Young Poets Prize 2019. Her debut pamphlet Sargam / Swargam is out with ignition press.
The poets who took part in the first UNDERTOW scheme in 2021-22 wrote a Polylingual Renga and performed it together at their final event.
A Renga is a form of collaborative poetry originating in Japan. The history of Renga as an art form goes back to 1356 but the first cohort of UNDERTOW poets gave it a modern polylingual twist. Their poem contained parts in German, Chinese, Arabic, French, Somali, Bulgarian, Spanish, Latin, Malayalam, Hebrew, Ukrainian, Turkish, Persian, Portuguese and Malayalam.
Wandelst du dich mit den Jahreszeiten,
to cast your shadow at new angles to the ground?
In the comfort of stepping out into cold
crisp dew flicked from above: هديل & blue.
nous sommes tous au printemps,
our bodies budding crocuses, primrose.
Tulips glow soorati in our cheshm
estamos esperando para cosas
but I don’t know how to wait for them
her tafsut ululates — the pool of milk heart-shaped on your lip
benty γur-wen tutlayt to slurp from the rind of my cheek
I wilt under your searching gaze.
Pomegranate seeds,ചെബരതി - my face
betrays itself under the questions of your furrowed brows.
You sing a blunt breath drinking cucumber water
by the white tablecloth. Splatter of fruit flies כמו המפה של יוון
and the doily singes a rich shadow: פזמון.
under this iron sun my skin ripens like vyshnya forgotten
on the windowsill you tell me this is how blood goes to waste
You make una broma que frio
el sol estar a bowl of narajas
growing mas preguntas
yellah habibti — benty sling suds up baby's neck
the washcloth red, machete-cold-water, kiss her as she knead the kesra
& you make البوسة fragrant with memories ona
veremezsin. Like your mother before you, you swat
the splatter & slice. آب پرتقال stings your eyes.
a primeira coisa que lembra é isso:
the phosphorescent rain lighting itself as it dries,
the wet soil has never seemed more alive.
you think of the song from ചെമീൻ (chemin), far more
existential storms than this.
Donnerwetter! The umbrellas’ scalps scalded,
the footprints נשיקות. Herrgott!
Written collectively by the UNDERTOW 2021/22 poets:
Reem Abbas, Nasim Rebecca Asl, Liv Goldreich, Lydia Hounat, Charlotte Shevchenko Knight, Phoebe Wagner, Maggie Wang and Fathima Zahra.
Emerging out of the various lockdowns into this online and irl space has been joyous. I feel less alone knowing there are other poets like me: who struggle to hold multiple languages as they split and fracture in our mouths.
Phoebe Wagner, UNDERTOW participant, poet and community artist from London
Currently, UNDERTOW is closed for submissions. Our next programme will run in 2024 and we will have a call for submissions later this year. If you want to make sure you find out about our next open call join the PTC mailing list here.
UNDERTOW is open to people between 16 and 26 years old with an interest in poetry and multilingualism. The programme goes back and forth between being open to young poets in the UK at large and having a specific county focus, then the submissions are open to poets in that county and diaspora poets in the UK who share their heritage.
If you have any other questions about UNDERTOW give the PTC’s Participation Producer, Bern Roche Farrelly, a shout at email@example.com.