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Known as London’s first young person’s poet laureate, Nigerian born South East London based poet and director Caleb Femi is a powerful voice from North Peckham Estate in Southwark, bringing forth gentrification, poverty and gang violence into a collection of 57 poems entitled POOR. Originally published in 2020 by publishing house Penguin, the book makes a bold return at a non-profit organisation Bold Tendencies in Peckham, re-introduced to its community and for the first time read out loud to an audience by Caleb himself.    

Much like his undeniable success story in writing, the 32 years old Caleb Femi is as equally well-established as a film director, with his most recognisable contribution yet being the Louis Vuitton Fall-Winter 2022’s introductory film, starring Canadian singer/songwriter Mustafa the poet in tribute to the late Virgil Abloh. Amongst his many accomplishments include winning the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2021 and being selected by Dazed and Confused for #DazedBlackFuture series.

POOR is a look into the life of a young black boy growing up in South East London projects and the poor conditions he was exposed to as a result. Portraying stories from being racially profiled by the police just at the age of 13 years old to the tragic death of a then 10 years old friend in his own building in 2000, it is as if you are invited into an experience of your own, given a realistic insight into traumatic past events and the fortitude that comes with a childhood filled in unfortunate circumstances. That being said, the book can be interpreted as an example of many stories coming from these rough neighbourhoods in South London left untold, except with now having the opportunity of being addressed and reclaimed through a voice alike in the form of poetry. 

What can be taken away from the subject at hand is that being poor is more than just a state of living, as it can also translate into a certain state of mind. Even though one may have started at the poorest housings, Caleb was able to rise above his previous conditions due to his positive mindset and write a phenomenal collection of poetry illustrating what has happened to those who unfortunately have not been able to look past their living situations.    

Since 2007, such as hometown heroes like Caleb Femi, the not-for-profit organisation Bold Tendencies have built a reputation for themselves in making every artists’ ideas that they come across become a reality. From a rooftop above Peckham’s Multi-Storey Car Park, with the options of a live performance, art installation and more, every artist in touch gets to create a unique gathering for Peckham’s public to ravish upon. In their own words; “Bold Tendencies celebrates the free enjoyment of public space in the city, welcoming participation in its rich, experimental programme and preserving open access to this special, spectacular place”.  

To the experience, the British-Nigerian author Caleb has captioned “Sunlight & concrete & people. Ingredients that made this book POOR. I hope you felt, for a brief moment, like you stepped into the pages”. The event itself occurred on Saturday June 11th from 7:30 pm until 11 pm.

Caleb’s book POOR is available at Penguin’s official website.

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