Inspired by my experience of Being a Man Festival, I attended an evening in appreciation of poet and educator, Jacob Sam-La Rose. The night consisted of speeches and moving poetry in tribute to his teachings. The energy was reminiscent of the Burn After Reading nights, and despite this occasion being a one-off, it captured what I love about live literature events. Often, it can seem that poetry is such a niche medium, that outsiders can struggle to find their place. However, these spaces provide a place where people can share both pain and joy, and connect with others through words. Sam-La Rose is mostly known for the incredible work he does with young people. He has tremendous influence on poetry today, and on the opportunities that many young people have to be exposed to, and enveloped by, this art form. It comes as no surprise then to read on the back cover of Breaking Silence, that his work ‘is grounded in a belief that poetry can be a powerful force within a community’.
It felt right to return to the well-thumbed pages of my copy of Sam-La Rose’s debut book-length collection from Bloodaxe, one of the most reputable poetry publishers in the UK. Breaking Silence was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, but many feel it has not had the recognition it deserves. Linking with themes from Being a Man Festival, the collection explores issues of manhood and masculinity, and how these intersect with race and dual heritage, as well as broader issues of identity.