Words of Wisdom

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I was commissioned by City Arts to write a poem as part of its ‘Words of Wisdom’ project. ‘Words of Wisdom’ encourages people aged 55+ to take part in writing and poetry, and to connect across the generations. I have written a number of commissioned poems before, but never one using the words of almost 100 people. This then for me was a wonderful challenge to do something new and I loved it!

I took some time to view some of the initial entries as they came in before the deadline. I didn’t at this stage think about how I might respond to it but used the time to think about the theme and what it meant for me.

Once the deadline was up, I read through all of the poems several times. They were varied:

Some had adhered to the limit of four lines, others had sent in more; Some were written in Nottingham slang, some light-hearted, others contemplative.

Once I saw the effort everyone had made, I felt that I had to at least attempt to include everyone’s words. So, that meant putting any idea of writing a poem from scratch inspired by all the entries on… ahem… pause. But seriously, if people had taken the time to participate, it just didn’t seem fair to leave anyone out. I also felt that if I had responded to the poem and created something entirely new it wouldn’t actually be a Nottingham/Nottinghamshire response it would in fact be my response.

I wanted everyone to have ownership of the poem, however big or small.

So, I started to play around with how I could include everyone’s words: First, I started by thinking I would include four lines from each submission, I soon realised it would be an epic poem of about 400 lines, far too long. Then I whittled it down to two lines per poem, again still too long. I progressed to a single line, but still wasn’t happy with how unwieldy it would be. After much pondering I decided upon extracting particular phrases or groups of words. Now I had to decide which phrases from almost 100 entries to use! I identified the phrase occurring the most, which was, ‘when the world paused’ and settled on this for the start of the poem. From this point onwards it was just about spending time piecing together phrases while considering things like the tone, the ‘message’ the rhythm, and so on. This took the longest chunk of time with hours spent swapping phrases around, moving them to different stanzas, putting them back again, until a narrative began to appear.

When the poem was at a stage I felt comfortable enough to share, I emailed it to Kate for feedback. It’s always useful to check with the commissioning organisation if they are happy with the direction you are going in. Using the feedback, I made the final tweaks and right at the end I added my words ‘and yet we reign’ which is the antepenultimate phrase in the poem. The final poem is 44 lines long, and begins with, ‘When the world paused.’

What happens next? The poem, conceived in response to the COVID-19 crisis, bringing together words and ideas from Nottingham people of all ages will be made into a film with Henry Normal, patron of City Arts, reading parts of the poem. It will be released online reflecting Nottingham/Nottinghamshire’s experience during lockdown… when we all paused.

This project by City Arts is a collaboration with Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature & Nottingham City Libraries to produce Words of Wisdom and is supported by Celebrating Age – a fund from Arts Council England and the Baring Foundation.



Published by Panya Banjoko

Panya Banjoko is a UK-based writer and poet. She has toured internationally, coordinates a writers’ and artists’ network and is patron for Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. Her work has featured in numerous anthologies including the award-winning Dawn of the Unread series published by LeftLion magazine in 2016. In 2017 her poem ‘One of a Kind’ was commended in the Writing East Midlands Aurora poetry competition and her poem ‘They and Them’ was featured in an exhibition by artist, academic and critic Keith Piper at the Beaconsfield Gallery, London. She received the Women in the Arts Poetry Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2008 and the Black Achievers Culture, Music and Arts Award for her work as a poet in 2017. Publications:Banjoko, Panya, ‘Things You Wouldn’t Say to Your Daughter’, Clever Girls ed. Jackie Goode (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), pp. 165-180. Critical-creative essay. Banjoko, Panya, Some Things, (Bristol: Burning Eye Books, 2018). Poetry collection. Banjoko, Panya, ‘Insomniac’s Count’, Nottingham, ed. Miggy Angel (Nottingham: Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities, 2019), pp. 51-54. Banjoko, Panya ed., When We Speak, An Anthology of Black Writing in Nottingham, (Nottingham: Nottingham Black Archive, 2018). Banjoko, Panya, ‘Santa Circa. 2092’, Christmas Crackers: Ten Poems to Surprise and Delight, (Nottingham: Candlestick Press, 2017), p. 8. Re-published as the weekly poem for Oxford Brookes University, December 4, 2017. Banjoko, Panya, ‘Powe Meets Africanus’, Dawn of the Unread ed. James Walker (Nottingham: Spokesman Books, 2017). Banjoko, Panya, ‘Brain Drain’, IC3, An Anthology of New Black Writing in Britain, eds. Courttia Newland and Kadija Sesay (London: Penguin Press, 2000), p. 163. Banjoko, Panya, ‘The Offering’, Random Acts of Kindness, An Anthology of Poetry and Flash Fiction for Nottingham Peacebuilders eds. Cathy Lesurf, Anthony Cropper, Sheelagh Gallagher (Nottingham: Spokesman Books, 2017), p. 36. Banjoko, Panya, ‘Mike’s Story’, ‘Love Matters’, and ‘360’, The ‘Art of Nottingham (Nottingham: Nottingham Jubilee Press, 2013), pp. 129-131. Banjoko, Panya, ‘Beside the Pool’, ‘Arriving’, and ‘Dirty Gold’, Through the Aether (Nottingham: Nottingham Jubilee Press, 2012), pp.176 – 177, 180. Banjoko, Panya, ‘Arriving’, Out of Bounds: British Black and Asian Poets, eds. Jackie Kay, James Proctor, Gemma Robinson (Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books, 2012), p. 177. Educational Commissions: When Carnival Came’ TunTum Housing, 2020. ‘A Pause’ Nottingham City Arts, 2020. ‘Dream Here’ Pathways Mural Project, New Art Exchange and the Centre for Research in Race and Rights (C3R) University of Nottingham, 2016. Banjoko, Panya, Hari at the Castle (Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Museum Service, 2010) Banjoko, Panya, Bibi’s Museum Adventure (Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Museum Service, 2008)

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