Steven Camden: Left Handed Hammer

Left Handed Hammer – I Never Dreamed of Being a Writer

“Do me a favour and fetch a left-handed hammer, Stevey”.

It was my first day on the building site and I was eager to impress. My best friend’s uncle Uthan had given me the job as a favour and, as I brushed my teeth that morning, I promised my reflection I wouldn’t let him down. Uthan and the other builders were all seasoned veterans so, as we started preparations to lay raised decking and someone me asked me to fetch a left-handed hammer, I ran off to the van determined to do just that.

Half an hour later, I was still crouched in the back of the old Vauxhall Bedford, holding a different hammer in either hand, desperately trying to decide which one felt more ‘left-handed’.

If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still hear the polyphony of their gravelly laughs when I returned holding both.

The lesson I learned that morning (apart from never trust anyone on your first day on a building site) was that I’m not great with tools.

Fifteen years later, standing on the stage at the National Theatre in front of a few hundred people, blinded by spotlights, holding the trophy for the CLiPPA award for poetry 2019 in my hands, the three words glowing neon in my mind were, ‘left-handed hammer’.

Image: © Ellie kurttz courtesy of CLiPPA

(Maybe that’s two words, technically, I mean, I’m not fully sure how it works with hyphens).

I never dreamed of being a writer.

Not in the sense of never dreamed it would be possible, I mean I literally never dreamed of being a writer. I had no plan. There wasn’t and isn’t a magical place of recognition or status I’m trying to get to by writing. I am not interested in the ideas of prestige or critical plaudits. What interests me about writing, is how stories can be used to help unlock ideas and possibilities in others.

It’s the thought of someone seeing me as a writer who comes from a background and heritage similar to their own and feeling that their voice now seems more valid to have a place in the world that gets me going, or the characters and worlds I create starting conversations between people about lives and circumstances not always discussed, or maybe just the simple idea that the approachability of my work might spark the confidence in someone to have a go at writing themselves. That’s the most exciting thing about writing for me.

I see my published writing as a tool to initiate these connections. A tangible thing to hold, open, read, share and discuss. A means to let voices be heard. A left-handed hammer to use however you like.

Image: Ellie kurttz, courtesy of CLiPPA

Winning the CLiPPA felt lovely in terms of being recognised as a writer of subjective quality. It felt like a confidence boosting rubber stamp from an organisation and individuals I respect.

But, most of all it felt exciting as a way to potentially share my tools with more people than ever and hopefully inspire them to build worlds of their own.

Steven Camden aka polarbear

 

Birmingham born Steven Camden (Polarbear) is one of the most respected spoken word artists in the UK. Performing his work internationally since 2007, Camden has graced stages from Kuala Lumpur to California.

His debut poetry collection ‘Everything All At Once’ was published by Macmillan and won the CLiPPA Poetry Prize 2019.

Among other successes, He was co-writer and script mentor on the Akram Khan Company’s Olivier Award winning production DESH as well as script writer for LIFT festival’s acclaimed production TURFED.

He has written three Young Adult novels for HarperCollins, TAPE (2013), It’s About Love (2015) and Nobody Real (2018).

His first young people’s theatre piece MOUTH OPEN, STORY JUMP OUT, received five stars reviews and is currently on its fifth international tour, with the follow up DARK CORNERS set to tour internationally in late 2019.

He is currently working on his next novel for Harper Collins, a new coming of age feature screenplay and an adult TV drama for World Productions.

Steven spends a large chunk of his time in schools and working with community groups, devising and leading creative projects and sessions, sharing his own unconventional process, hoping to spark minds into using story as a means of expression and collaboration across all boundaries.

 

CLiPPA Poetry Award 2019

CLiPPA 2019

A highlight of our year at CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) is the CLiPPA award ceremony which we’ve organised in collaboration with the National Theatre.

The CLPE Poetry Award started 17 years ago, to fill the gap left by the Signal Poetry Award. A list of the winners since then with other information about the award can be found on our Poetryline website.

In 2014 we made the award more high profile, the announcement of the winner being made at the recently opened House of Illustration with a linked poetry trail featuring poems from the shortlisted titles. However, children themselves remained the missing guests at the feast and thin 2015 we began a schools’ shadowing scheme, created resources to help teachers introduce the books to children, and started a partnership with the National Theatre. Thanks to chair of judges Roger McGough commenting that the prize needed a more snappy name, it became the more catchy CLiPPA which stands for Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award.

The relationship with the National Theatre has continues and led to a capacity crowd filling the Lyttelton Theatre this year on Wednesday 3rd July. Our Poetry Show featured the five shortlisted poets; Kwame Alexander for his verse novel Rebound (Andersen Press), Rachel Rooney for her collection A Kid in My Class (Otter-Barry Books), Steven Camden for his collection Everything All At Once (Macmillan Children’s Books), Philip Gross for Dark Sky Park (Otter-Barry Books), and Eloise Greenfield for Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me (Tiny Owl).

Schoolchildren performed from each of their books, with the proceedings compèred in an inimitable manner by chair of judges, A. F. Harrold, assisted by fellow judges Ruth Awolola, Charlotte Hacking and Susannah Herbert. It has now become a wonderful tradition for Chris Riddell to be seated on the stage, live drawing throughout the event.

The schools chosen to perform were selected from more than 100 videos sent in as part of our shadowing scheme. First on the stage were five children from a Birmingham primary school, one of whom took on the role of the cool dude in Rachel Rooney’s poem ‘Cool’ from A Kid in My Class. Then Rachel herself appeared in disguise as a hamster to perform ‘The Hamster Speaks’ featuring a character who scampers through the pages in Chris Riddell’s accompanying illustrations.

Neither Kwame Alexander nor Eloise Greenfield could be at the ceremony as they live in the USA but both sent video messages with warm greetings and recited respectively from Rebound and Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me.

Three boys from a Northolt primary school captured the rhythm of the basketball court in their rendition of ‘Air Jordan’ from Rebound while a whole class of 30 children from a primary school in Uxbridge gave a captivating presentation of Eloise Greenfield’s ‘Thinker’s Rap’.

Two girls from a Hertfordshire junior school gave a spine-tingling interpretation of ‘Aleppo Cat’ from Philip Gross’ Dark Sky Park followed by Philip diving deep into his collection subtitled ‘Poems from the Edge of Nature’ to read ‘The Abyss’.

A startling solo performance came from a girl who had travelled from a Norfolk school taking on the dual roles of a child and the blank page staring at her in ‘Anyone’ from Steven Camden’s debut collection Everything All At Once. Steven then shared his heartfelt poem ‘Dear Mum, BTEC’ which is for every young person who wants to convey to their parents and teachers that they need to plough their own furrow and that taking a practical path is equally as valid as an academic one.

One of the great things about the Poetry Show is that it celebrates all of the shortlisted titles. However, by the end of it, the audience is alert to hear the announcement of the winner. This year, the judges chose to highly commend Eloise Greenfield’s Thinker: My Puppy Poet and Me. The accolade of this year’s CLiPPA, though, went to Steven Camden’s Everything All At Once, a book that the judges felt should be given to every child in Year 6 in anticipation of their move to secondary school and the new phase of life into which they will be entering.

 

The show ended with the announcement of a partnership with National Poetry Day to encourage children to write poems on this year’s theme, Truth. This was presented via a video featuring several poets who had previously won the CLiPPA with their first collection for children, including Joseph Coelho, Karl Nova and Rachel Rooney. Seeing those faces up there was just one of many emotional moments of the day for me, having been associated with the award from the beginning.

It was great this year to witness one of those moments for others. I happened to be sitting next to Gaby Morgan, publisher of the winning book and Steven Camden was on the other side of her. A. F. Harrold prefaced the moment when he announced the winner by mentioning that this poet went by another name as a performer – that of Polarbear – and that was when Steven and Gaby knew their book had won and it was wonderful to feel their delight and emotion.

Ann Lazim

Ann Lazim is the Literature and Library Development Manager at CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) where she has worked for over 25 years. This multi-faceted role includes being the administrator for the CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award). Ann has an MA in Children’s Literature from Roehampton University and is active in IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People).