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25 May 2010

Shirley May - Poet

Shirley May - Poet

Shirley May is co-founder and voluntary Creative Director of Young Identity, a young people's poetry collective. She has also been part of Commonword, a literature development organisation. Shirley won the North West Poetry Slam has performed at prominent venues across the North West and works for Manchester Library Young People and Children's Services. 

Shirley is published in several anthologies, including The Suitcase Book of Love Poems

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a choreographer and a dancer or singer but you have to be able to sing and dance, neither of which I do well, even though I love both. They make me happy.

How did you get involved in the arts?

I woke up one morning with a poem in my heart. I had never written anything creative before and I knew nothing about poetry apart from the stuff you learn at school. I did love a poem by Wilfred Owen, with the line, "Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori", "it is sweet and right to die for your country" - the poem touched my heart.

I have a passion for words, for their power to change everything we think we are, for the way they can bring knowledge, pain, joy and peace in one sentence. I started performing on open mic nights and joined a writing group at Commonword as well as becoming part of The Speakeasy Collective, where poets, rappers and vocalists flip their lyrics to the sounds of live soul jazz and hip hop.

What do you invest in the next generation?

Unconditional love and time. I feel privileged that some young people have trusted me enough to share their thoughts with me and thankful that I have been able to share my life with them, as a mentor and teacher. I hope that what I have invested is knowledge and an understanding about what life can be, and what parts they have to play in this life God has given us. I believe that their voices have validity, no matter how old they are. I hope I have taught them to work hard and be dedicated to the things they believe in.

Who has been the biggest influence in your work?

The poetry of the Bible has had a profound effect on me and the words are inspired by God. There are many poets who have impacted me, Jean Binta Breeze, Queen Goddess, Maya Angelou. Dike Omejé taught me to be brave, to believe in my words and to treat an audience with honesty. Also the Speakeasy poets and musicians and the young poets I now work with. Overall though, it has to be my mother for her strength and the courage of those who leave their homes to forge a life elsewhere. It cannot be underestimated how hard it must have been for them to ensure our futures.

When are you happiest?

When I am able to share my poetry and my faith. When I am with my family and the people I love. When listening to the ocean on any beach in Jamaica.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream for society. What is yours?

That we understand what it is to love unconditionally. To see each other as human, and earth dwellers, with the same goals to live, to love and be happy and share it with our creator God.

What is the main hindrance to living the dream? 

The nagging voices in my head that tell me I can't. Other people's expectations and demands on my life, my own expectations and my fears. I dream of living the "Good Life", but who will be my Margo next door? Who would pay for everything or be sceptical but secretly jealous? I loved that 80's programme. I'd love the chance to live on the land or near the sea and be self sufficient. It would be wonderful, but alas, I have been a city resident all my life and although it sounds great there's no getting my husband out of Manchester now.

Which living person do you most admire and why?

There's been more than one. Many in fact - "for out of many came one people". My mum; my father who taught me to think on my feet, use my wits and always see the opportunities placed before me; my family and friends; people in the community; those who love me and allow me space to be and to grow, those who believed and continue to believe in me, even when I didn't believe in myself.

Who would you like to share a taxi with?

Jesus Christ. of course! How amazing is the Saviour and what poetry he has inspired!

Please leave us with a piece of your poetic mind. 

The aura of him is strength,
So I leaned on him.
He was my help,
I closed my eyes.

Within his arms,
I felt his power surge through me.
I could not, would not,
Hide my need of him.

He was a friend now,
More than that,
There was safety in his arms,
Peace there too.

No need to hide now,
There I could cry now,
So I did.
Did he reject me?


Like a fresh scent,
From spring,
Was his love.
It was towards me.

Did he want pretence?
No, never.
He looks to the inner me,
Then finds he is at the centre.

There was a time, I tried to hide.
I could not, would not,
For the aura of him, was my strength.
So I called him lord.

Now I surrender to his love,
I bask in him.
He hides me under the shadow of his wings.
He has promised that we will mount up like eagles and fly.

By Shirley May.