Picture the Poet in Sunderland: Sky Hawkins


Sky Hawkins | Photo credit: Suzi Corker | www.suzicorker.com



Continuing on from the success of the National Portrait Gallery’s ‘Picture the Poet’ exhibition, we chatted with featured artist, Sky Hawkins, about her time facilitating student workshops at Sunderland College. 

I was very excited when I was told I would be working with thirteen second year students from Sunderland College. They had all performed other people’s poetry but never their own. In six weeks, my job was to inspire them to write their own poetry for the first time and be ready to perform it and alongside two of the most established poets in the country.

It wasn’t easy. In our first writing exercise one young participant wrote: ‘I can’t see the point in poetry, its rubbish and I don’t want to be here’.

All thirteen participants were drama students, so getting them to perform was not a problem. I led them in a range of different performance exercises, watched footage of established performance poets and critiqued their words and performance styles. Getting the students to write poetry, that was a different story.

Exploring self-identity was a great way to engage these young people in writing. Through a series of creative activities we questioned what identity is, and how is it formed. The answers came from their own experiences: the place you live; your friends and family; broken homes; hair dye; body piercings; not fitting in; and many more.


Sunderland College students | Photo credit: Suzi Corker www.suzicorker.com

Once they were inspired to write their own stories in verse, and typically the young person who said poetry was a waste of time went on to write some of the best lines. On the night of the performance at Sunderland Winter Gardens, she put the most into her final performance even though she was full of cold.

Even when some students didn’t fully buy into the process they turned up week after week and gave a final performance to be proud of, sharing a stage alongside Kate fox and Lemn Sissay.

My highlight of this whole experience was when it came to say goodbye. I got a huge hug from the very student who had been most resistant. She said: ‘thank you, I have to admit I got a lot more out of this project than I thought I would , and I do actually like poetry now even though I don’t want to admit that’.

…..And that’s why projects like Picture the Poet are a must!

Check out our Projects page to watch more videos and find out about our previous Picture the Poet events.

Sky Hawkins, also known as The Word Bird, has performed, headlined, and won a number of slams at numerous events across the North East and beyond over the last ten years. She has been facilitating and teaching creative writing programmes for diverse groups and audiences since 2010. She considers it essential that young people and vulnerable adults are listened to, and uses her skills to nurture the performer and poet in all of them. Visit Sky’s website here