The grace of deep knowing and craft buoys the work of award-winning artist and poet Safwat Elsenossi aka SAF-S2E, as he lyrically meditates on the burdened integrity of artistry in a newly commissioned poem Solo be Thy Destiny presented in a video by Al Conteh now live on AndWhat TV, an online spoken word channel founded by poet Nicole May, the Executive Director of Young Identity.


SAF crafted the poem in response to a creative partnership between the Poetic Justice Access project (PJA) at Homerton College and Cambridge Digital Humanities (CDH), together with Young Identity (YI), Manchester’s award-winning arts charity and spoken word collective. Throughout the summer of 2023, we held workshops, explored poetry’s cross-pollination with theatre, and young poets led us through their vision for archiving poetry whether ephemerally embodied, spoken live, in print and in digital circulation.

Our two-year generative collaboration started with an ESRC project, and has continued to bring poets, educators and researchers together thanks to Homerton, the CDH bid development award and a Public Engagement award.

Dita N Love, Junior Research Fellow at Homerton and CDH Associate, saw the partnership with Young Identity as a space for rehearsing poetic possibilities where we reciprocally resourced artistic aliveness, and where respect seeps through how we care with and listen to one another not only with our minds, but with our bodies. This is why it was important to work with Jonzi D, internationally acclaimed director, poet, dancer and practitioner of hip hop theatre.

Dita recalled the initial encounter with Jonzi D at a workshop in Cambridge when he introduced his directorial debut Our Bodies Back, a film hailed as ‘an empowering ode to Black womanhood’, after jessica Care moore’s poem of the same name. A term coined by writer Ntozake Shange, choreopoetry blends ‘spoken word poetry, dance, art, and music’, what Jonzi D calls: ‘lyrically motivated movement’. Jonzi D has an extraordinary capacity to guide people to activate somatic intelligence, irrespective of one’s level of training. His workshops embody love, peace, and unity, and appreciation for artistry and culture as building blocks of fresh new practices. Dita added that it was especially meaningful and important that we all worked alongside Poetic Justice Access co-researcher and poet, Dami Folayan, who shared with the group her Cambridge doctoral research and poetic work on widening access and participation in higher education. Dami observed:

Poetry, for me has always been intertwined with rhythm and musicality but not once did I unite the rhythm of poetry with the rhythmic moves of my body. At least not until attending Jonzi D’s workshop. Through the workshop and the union of body, movement and sound, I was opened up to new ways of knowing and communicating knowledge. Embodied knowledge takes on a whole new meaning through the creation and performance of choreopoetry. Through choreopoems, the body does not simply use the mouth, eyes or hands to communicate knowledge. The body is knowledge.

Shirley May – Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and CEO and Artistic Director of Young Identity – said that the collaboration was a source of joy as we worked towards amplifying the voices of young people. It provided an opportunity for Young Identity poets to lead discussions and peer-mentor other poets within the organisation, fostering a dynamic exchange of experiences and insights gained through the partnership. Notably, poets like Maya Chowdhury, Princess Arinola Adegbite, or P. A. Bitez, alongside SAF-S2E, delivered well-informed workshops, contributing to the rich tapestry of shared knowledge among young writers.

The workshops deepened the critical conversations from the Going Places conference when Young Identity poets shared their work alongside poet Lemn Sissay OBE, and spoke at a panel inspired by P.A. Bitez’s poem Oral to A4 produced thanks to a prior CDH award.

SAF distilled the groups’ fruitful engagement into his new piece, for which he said:

It came from a spontaneous stream of consciousness at a moment of reflection on integrity of artistry. I tried within the piece to express that the politics of artistry is irrelevant to how the piece is crafted and how there’s a self-destructive nature to an artist where their creativity has a tendency to thrive from hardship. The conversations from the conference “Going Places with the Spoken Word Community: Youth Education between Spiritual and Poetic Justice” in 2022, at the Faculty of Education and Homerton, as well as the importance of poetry – specifically to young people – was at the forefront of the thought process.

Shirley also emphasised the value of working under the guidance of the esteemed Jonzi D as a movement director. The partnership seamlessly blended words and poetry, allowing young individuals, particularly the Young Identity poets, to transition from the page to the stage. The exceptional enthusiasm and motivation displayed by these poets in receiving and creating work under Jonzi D’s influence were evident, as seen in the commissioned poem by SAF-S2E. SAF-S2E’s piece not only explored themes of reparative and intergenerational justice within poetry and performance but also showcased the poet’s unique voice and self-expression. In addition, at his workshop, SAF reflected:

There is poetry in everything and everything is poetry. Maybe poetry is a magnifying glass to the nuances of existence. It magnifies and amplifies the bits of individuality people can have, and makes that relatable for people. That in turn makes poetry possible in everything, therefore poetry is a building block to everything because everything is somewhat artistic.

Dita noted that SAF’s poem shows that even if politics of artistry does not govern artistic creation, an artist’s experience of hardship mediates the artist’s burdened relationship with the integrity of artistry, which takes a toll on artists’ wellbeing. The poem points to the historical roots and racial colonial present of capitalist creative economies as in the lines:

I wonder if written words survive without an oral tradition

I know history is misrepresented in memory

“But as my loved ones fought a continuous war in the city…”

I stood my ground against morality

And debated loyalty to money.

The lines juxtapose the war on artistry against ‘a war based on apartheid and discrimination’ (Lamar, 2015), and centre respect and unity as resistance to social injustice. This can be seen as a warning against fetishising stories of overcoming struggles through art which play into dangerous classist and racialised stereotypes. Instead, we need to understand the underlying conditions that re-produce hardship in the first place, and begin to create conditions for collective thriving of budding talent.

Shirley reflected how the collaboration revolves around reimagining educational futures by embracing the radical imagination of young minds. It encourages reflection on the role of intergenerational poetry, the significance of both page poetry and performance poetry as distinct yet equally valuable genres for amplifying voices. The inquiry extends to questioning traditional organisational structures within poetry, considering whether established figures or new, radical poets should lead. This approach aims to break down barriers and introduce innovative ideas for delivering poetry in various environments.


SAF’s poem exposes the problem of a gatekeeping culture of poetry and in turn subverts the hierarchies of aesthetics and knowledge governed by legacies of oppression. Some of the poetry lines identify the ‘superiority of pages over stages’ and the ‘indecency in dismissing the instrument of voice’, which is not a given, but a choice we make in how we structure creative practice. Here, SAF’s poem reminds that ‘[r]espect is a recurring choice’.

Dita recalled the analysis of respect by Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot as a way to ‘imagine other ways of giving and receiving trust, and in so doing, creating relationships among equals’ (p. 10). Respect is not about ‘dutiful compliance’, or ‘submission’ to hegemonic power. To embody respect is to create ways to ‘challenge and dismantle hierarchies rather than reinforce and reify them’ (Lawrence-Lightfoot, p. 10). Therefore, the poem presents a recurring choice to respect young artists and the creative cultural abundance pushing the bounds of artistry.

In response to SAF’s poem, Dita reflected that there are serious barriers to respect for many of us:

Some get triggered and some get scared

Some are bewildered some are inspired

Some are oblivious some are biased.

The war on artistry and its integrity is of paramount importance amidst UK’s moral panics over youth violence, and its failure to reckon with the social harms of a lethal combination of ‘the war on youth’ and ‘the war on blackness’ as seen in the ongoing criminalisation of UK drill. The prejudicial prosecution of rap lyrics – alluded to by Young Identity poet Princess Arinola Adegbite in her poem Oral to A4 – has now been elaborated by author Adèle Oliver. The new UK campaign group Art not Evidence demands a restriction on the use of ‘artistic expression as evidence in criminal trials’ elaborated in an open letter available to read and support online. From poetic gatekeeping to criminalising creative expression, ‘policing the imagination is the work of oppression’ as stated by scholar Saidiya Hartman. It is also a ‘pretense of harmony [that] never leads to the kind of questioning and ‘interweaving of ideas’ that is the bedrock of respect’ (Lawrence-Lightfoot, p. 105, 1998).

Even as the title of SAF’s poem suggests that charting a new terrain for the integrity of artistry is an isolating calling, he actively dialogues the work of those before him and alongside him. One notable example referenced in the poem is the work of American rapper and singer-songwriter Kendrick Lamar, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for music for his 2017 album, DAMN. Aligned with a live tradition of artistry, SAF is reclaiming and rewriting future histories. Maybe ‘solo as destiny’ is also a collective project, as iconic poet Maya Angelou wrote: ‘I go forth, alone, and stand as ten thousand’.

Join the Conversation

If you wish to learn more on ways to get involved or engaged as co-facilitator in the upcoming creative workshops from the Poetic Justice Access project at Homerton College please get in touch (an564). The workshops are planned as a space to speak with undergraduate and graduate students active in informal or formal university sites, creatively organising together, as well as students interested in culture-building, healing collective traumas and reparative educational experiences in elite universities.

To learn more about choreopoetry and diasporic dreaming, join us at the Debordering Futures event. Register here.

Poet Biography

Safwat Elsenossi, also known as SAF-S2E, is a Poet, Rapper, songwriter, freelance theatre maker, and facilitator, and member of Young Identity. His writing explores existence as a whole in terms of spirituality, growth and the meaning of being. He has performed in various stages and festivals across the UK such as Latitude, Sundown and Manchester International Festival. He was one of six winners of BBC Words First 2019. He describes his poetry as dark, philosophical and introspective; his delivery as authoritative and commanding. 

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