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Deaf British Jamaican poet receives £15,000 fellowship

CHOSEN: British Jamaican deaf poet Raymond Antrobus, one of this year's recipient of a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship

RAYMOND ANTROBUS has just been awarded a poetry fellowship from the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Arts Council England.

The year-long Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship invests in the process and practice of making poetry, rewarding individuals who are making, or are capable of making, a significant contribution to a community of poetry.

Hackney-born and based page and spoken word poet and poetry educator Antrobus explores deafness, diaspora and language (oral, written and sign) in his work. A British Jamaican, his work has been published in Poetry Review, to name a few. The east Londoner is also the co-curator of one of the capital's most popular spoken word and poetry shows, Chill Pill, at The Albany in Deptford.

Q: How did you feel when you heard you were going to be awarded the fellowship?

A: It still hasn't sunk in. I'm overjoyed of course, but I almost can't allow myself to believe it. Staying humble.

Q: What are your plans for making the most out of this fellowship over the coming year?

A: I can't reveal all yet, my plans are quite loose, but I can say for certain a lot of it will go towards work on my full length collection of poems and engaging meaningfully with the creative communities that have supported me for the last decade. Particularly other poets of colour and those from working class backgrounds.

Q: How did you first get started as a poet?

A: I was always writing short stories, lyrics and poems since I can remember. I'd say I have been writing with an audience in mind for 10 years but everything before that was just for me. That time was important. I started out on the London open mic scene, going to readings and slams around London. I started competing in slam poetry competitions around the country after that. This taught me a lot about audience and performance.

Q: Are there any other poets, or indeed any creatives, who inspire you?

A: Loads, too many to mention - but shout out to poets Malika Booker (who was my first poetry mentor) and Hannah Lowe, who I worked with on the Complete Works Program. I'm also part of a poetry collective called Chill Pill (Mr.Gee, Deanna Rodger, Simon Mole and Adam Kammerling) who, as well as being friends, are incredibly supportive.

Q: What difference do you hope to make to the community of poetry?

A: I have been working in schools in East London and around the UK for the past five years and completed my MA at Goldsmiths University in Creative Writing & Teaching where I curated my own poetry curriculum for students aged 11-18. I learned so much about the process of learning and how the practise of poetry and performance lends itself to teaching. It is important to me to continue to champion the power of poetry and emotional literary in the classroom and to get more poets with a good understanding of teaching poetry into the spaces where they are needed. I spent six months working in deaf education and I hope to inspire more poets from the deaf community to pursue poetry, written and signed.

Raymond Antrobus' latest publication, To Sweeten Bitter (Out-Spoken Press, 2017) is out now.

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