Heart-Expanding, Mind-Stretching: My Year as a Sputnik Intern

Our first ever Sputnik intern reflects on a year spent working on her craft

By Tanyaradzwa Chitunhu / Wed 01 Aug, 2018
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Luke Matthews

Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.

– Emerson.

This is one of my favourite quotes for many reasons; it’s a challenge to take risks, find the adventure, and leave your mark. For me, spending a year as the first Sputnik intern was exactly that – as I explored spoken word poetry, made connections and pushed myself further into my craft.

Learning the Basics

The first of my three terms was spent exploring different art forms, by shadowing and meeting other artists. I had a guided tour of Birmingham Museum with visual artist Luke Sewell. I shadowed Birmingham’s former poet laureate Giovanni Esposito (known as Spoz) as he taught spoken word poetry in local schools. I observed Anna O’ Brien, a skilled storyteller, engaging young children at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts through painting and craft. All of these were great learning experiences.

At the same time, I was learning the basic forms and structures of poetry from my accomplished tutor, Huw Evans. Every fortnight, I tried a new form in a poem – with mixed results! It was a challenge, but it was good to try, to learn and to build a good foundation, since I had little training in poetry.

Watching & Writing

The second term consisted of writing new work of my own, receiving valuable critique and – most importantly – editing my work. I learned, and continue to learn, that writing is largely about discipline and time. It’s imperative to be dissatisfied with your initial drafts, to fine-tune again and again to get to the core of the work, where the best writing and ideas live.

I learned, and continue to learn, that writing is largely about discipline and time.

That term, I was also privileged to attend Birmingham’s Verve Poetry Festival, a smorgasbord of poetry and artists from different forms and diverse backgrounds across the world. Highlights: Tomomi Adachi – a Japanese sound artist and poet, who invented an infrared jacket that produces eerie sounds when he moves and performs poetry. Or the sublime and mesmerising The Sea-Migrations by Asha Lul Mohammed Yusuf, an outstanding Somalian poet who now lives in London.

Across the whole festival, I saw poets who had mastered their craft over many years,writing and performing at the highest level; from the eclectic collective Nymphs and Thugs, to local legends like Spoz himself, who was powerful and entertaining to witness.

Performance & Publishing

Finally, in the last term, I was able to take my work to Catalyst Festival – a true highlight of the year. I performed some of the poems I had been working on, led a spoken word workshop, and of course I helped with the Sputnik stand, engaging with people at the festival. I discovered how much I enjoy performing and interacting with an audience; on top of this, it was wonderful to share this art form through a workshop and get people to engage with it.

I discovered how much I enjoy performing and interacting with an audience.

Throughout this, I’d been working on my debut collection, On Praise and Protest – a book of ten poems exploring themes of defiance, protest and celebration. It’s now available through the website that I also created during this year – tanyacpoetry.com. Check it out!

Broadening Horizons

Alongside the time working on poetry, I completed the Impact course, in Bedford – one of the best parts of my internship. To be able to engage with the Bible, with the help of church leaders and teachers; to ask questions and gain wisdom for life, was invaluable. On top of that, my fellow Impact-ers were outstanding, and it was a privilege to hear what God was doing in them, and through their projects at various churches across the country.

The sense of family between us was incredible, and crucial in supporting each other through the year. But the highlight of all this was our mission trip to Albania. It was an honour to meet the church in that nation, and especially touching to witness how God was working powerfully to save his people there.

This year has been such a heart-expanding, mind-stretching and horizon-broadening experience! It was an honour to work with Sputnik – especially with Jonny and Jemma Mellor, who gave me endless encouragement and support to grow, push past my comfort zone, and become an artist that speaks into culture with relevant, risky and kingdom-minded work.

In many ways, this year was just the beginning of that journey as a poet, but I have that goal in mind going forward, as I dedicate myself both to the craft of writing and the community of writers.

As I do that, I hope I can leave a trail…

Tanyaradzwa’s book is available from most major outlets or through her website. If you’re interested in starting the next Sputnik internship in September, get the application form here – but be quick!

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