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Inua Ellams: Poetry + Film / Hack - Rocks (12A)

A group of six young girls stand in a row on what looks like the roof of a building. They are leaning on some railings and there's a clear blue sky above them.

Welcome to the Barbican and this poetry and film hack performance, co-curated by Inua Ellams and Michelle Tiwo. This is a very special moment for us as we once again open The Pit doors to audiences. We’re thrilled to welcome back Inua and Michelle, as well as all the brilliant poets you’ll see, some of whom are Barbican Young Poets alumni, and some of whom are newcomers to our stage. The film you’re going to watch, Rocks, joins a great list of distinctive films chosen by Inua, and is the inspiration for the poetry you’ll hear this evening. We hope you enjoy this intimate event that combines powerful words and images to reflect on our hopes and dreams.

Toni Racklin, Head of Theatre and Dance, Barbican


Rocks (12A)

Bursting with energy, this new film from playwright Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson follows East-End teenager Shola after her mother’s sudden disappearance. Sarah Gavron directs this coming-of-age story which offers a glimpse of an authentic London rarely captured on film. Rocks also draws attention to issues of mental health and wellbeing, particularly in Black British life. 

The cast includes Bukky Bakray, Kosar Ali, Shaneigha-Monik Greyson, Ruby Stokes, Tawheda Begum, Anastasia Dymitrow, Afi Okaidja and D’angelou Osei Kissiedu.

Poetry + Film / Hack 

An event series founded by Inua Ellams which presents both artforms in collaboration, by adding live poetry readings to the viewing experience of magnificent films. We choose movies that are socially, politically or culturally resonant and by including poetry in their presentation, expand, deepen or highlight their themes.


Creative team


babirye bukilwa

Sarah Lasoye

Be Manzini

Shanay Neusum-James

Tania Nwachukwu

with Zainab Amina (VJ)


Inua Ellams and Michelle Tiwo

Saying it with flowers

an interview with Michelle Tiwo, poet and co-curator of Poetry + Film / Hack - Rocks

What was the journey to co-curating this event?

Inua called me in 2018 to ask if I would be interested in making an event. I had done Barbican Young Poets in 2015 with Theresa Lola and Travis Alabanza, and from that Theresa had recommended me to Inua as he was trying to find other poets to work with. Theresa thought I would be a good option as I was a poet, but also an actor, and I do a lot of work with film. 

We didn’t actually start planning anything until a year later, when our first goal was to create the event for the Barbican. But because of the pandemic, we didn’t get to do it. So we staged some events online as Poetry + Film / Hacks. We’d worked together on a couple of previous events where I was part of the line-up. That connection between us, being British, and Nigerian, was important.

What's your background? 

I’m one of those people who tries not to limit myself. I started out in journalism at university, but I wanted to perform and not write. After acting for a few years, I realised I did enjoy writing and performing, and I could show my secret poems to people. I started doing open mic nights – if anyone would let me up on the stage, I was happy to go! Then I found Jacob Sam-La Rose’s MA Course at Goldsmiths, through Belinda Zhawi and Raymond Antrobus and a few other poets, which I signed up for. That’s when I first learned about Barbican Young Poets. I’ve jumped between a few things and now I’m producing poetry events, which I didn’t expect to happen, but I don’t think there should be a limit on how we express ourselves creatively. 

What does it mean to be making work for the Barbican now, after the history you have?

Earlier this year I said to myself that I want to make work with my friends; so it has been super exciting to book this line-up. I really admire each one as a person, an artist and a poet. Two of them – Sarah Lasoye and Tania Nwachukwu – were part of my Young Poets’ cohort; babirye bukilwa is one of my best friends; Be Manzini is one of the elder poets I look up to, and we’ve connected really well over the years. I was just like, YES! We’ve lost so many legends over the years, and over the pandemic, so this is an opportunity to give these poets their flowers while they can still enjoy them. 

Has the pandemic helped with making the work, giving you the time and space to plan?

Yes and no. When we were preparing it for in-person, we had really big ideas and dreams about what we could do. Then the pandemic came. We knew we still wanted to build a community, but how? Everything was online. How could we cut through all the noise? There was just so much happening, it was very overwhelming. We decided to take it back to basics, to try and figure a way for people to watch films together and feel like they were in a room together. We ended up getting audiences from places we didn’t expect. At one of our last events, we had people join us from all over the world – from Sweden, from Canada, from Singapore, from Kenya. Someone from the production team of the film also came to watch the event. It was surreal, unexpected and I was like – OK, how do we build on this? But then the online events quietened down just as things started opening up again. The attention wasn’t the same. So this is our first in-person event, ever, and I have no idea what to expect.

What do you think it will be like for audiences to be together, in The Pit? What will it lend to the event?

It’s been so long since we’ve been in a poetry space, or in the Barbican. I actually don’t think too much is going to change. There was a beautiful bonding online that happened with everyone: they were watching each other on screen, watching each other’s reactions. We think the in-person event is going to feel like community. Coming together with a group of people who share the same love of the same things as you: poetry, film, good company. We also get to be a bit more inclusive with our d/Deaf and disabled audiences. We’ll have a BSL interpreter, film subtitling and a Relaxed performance. I’m excited.

How did Rocks inspire the curation of this event?

We knew the event would be on in October, which would time with Black History Month, National Poetry Day, International Day of the Girl, and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I knew I wanted the event to be about women. A lot of the films we’d chosen in the past focused on the young person. We hadn’t done Britain as a theme, and I realised the British perspective would be fun. We also wondered about the femme experience – and preferably the Black female experience – as we hadn’t explored that yet through our events. We went through all the films we could find. There were three films on the table, and Inua convinced me that Rocks would make most sense, and he was right – he was absolutely right. I realised that I had been shying away from it because I was part of the film – and isn’t that an ego trip?

What was your involvement in the film?

It was miniscule. It was during their casting period: Lucy Pardee, the casting director, knew that I did poetry so she asked if I could run a workshop with the girls in the cast, to help them with bonding and diving into emotion, and to imagine what it would be like to be in an English class together. They came to the workshop with their full, authentic selves and gave everything they had to offer. 

Are there particular resonances from the film for you today? What big ideas come from the film into the event?

Watching the film, I was really struck by the narrative about being the eldest sister, the first-born, and having to essentially be a second mother. It’s something I talk about a lot in my poetry when I perform: the woes of being a second mother. So when Inua and I chose Rocks for this event, I realised it was a perfect opportunity to bring in all the other eldest-born women I could think of. We don’t normally get to have our moment, but we want the world to understand how much we do, being second mothers! It felt like the right time to bring in these femmes and ask them for their thoughts on the film, and what struck them about the themes and the characters.

What would you like the audience to experience from the event?

I would really like them to walk away thinking about their status in the hierarchy of their family, or of friendship groups. So much of the film is about that. I hope it creates a moment for reflection, or a moment of insight for an experience they may not know anything about; or maybe it’s an experience they’ve had but haven’t had the space to express. If there are any other Black femmes in the audience who are also the eldest-born, and the first daughter, I hope they feel seen. I hope they feel heard and held, by the film and by the poets too.

About Barbican Young Poets

Barbican Young Poets is an artist-development initiative and community for those who wish to explore what’s possible for their poetry and creative expression. Through a six-month programme, poets generate new writing, experiment with different ways of working, and refine a selection of new work towards a publication, performance or presentation. Barbican Young Poets is facilitated by internationally renowned poet and performer, Jacob Sam-La Rose, and co-tutor, Rachel Long, with special sessions from invited guest artists along the way.


babirye bukilwa 

babirye bukilwa is an actor, poet, podcaster, model, dramaturg and writer based in London. they co-founded SISTREN. babirye bukilwa uses they/them pronouns and writes their name in lower case.

Their debut play, ...blackbird hour, was commissioned by Talawa Theatre Company and shortlisted from over 5000 scripts nationwide for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting in 2019. ...blackbird hour was also a finalist for the inaugural Women’s Prize for Playwriting 2020 and the Alfred Fagon Award 2020. babirye bukilwa was invited to join the BBC London Writers’ Room in 2018 and their script, The Coven, was longlisted for the BBC’s Drama Room. Their second play ...cake, an origin story to ...blackbird hour, debuted in July 2021 at Theatre Peckham to acclaim in publication reviews from The Stage, The Independent and gal-dem. ...cake was nominated for best production at the Off West End Awards 2021.


Sarah Lasoye 

Sarah Lasoye is a poet and writer from London. She is an alumna of the Barbican Young Poets programme and a current member of the Octavia poetry collective for women of colour. Her debut chapbook, Fovea / Ages Ago, was published by Hajar Press in April 2021.


Be Manzini

Referred to as the ‘film-poet’, over the years Be Manzini has found ways to uniquely combine her passion for poetry, film and well-being. She was the first-ever Writer-In-Residence for Sundance, poet-on-tour with film charity Birds’ Eye View, poet on the Mark Kermode MK3D live show, and a writing facilitator for Virgin Sport. Known for her ability to create universal and nurturing spaces, as a workshop facilitator she teaches adults and children alike. A writer and speaker who has been resident at the Southbank Centre, a regular panellist for film, and judge for the innovative Visionary Honors Awards, Be Manzini is also the Director of Caramel Film Club, spotlighting Black talent and supporting diversity. She often appears on BBC Radio and Television.


Shanay Neusum-James

Shanay Neusum-James is a writer and actress based in South London. She is an alumna of the Roundhouse Poetry Collective and The Obsidian Foundation. Shanay Neusum-James has been published in the Ambit magazine, fourteen poems journal and is a staff writer at sweet-thang zine. Her poem ‘beside yourself’ was most recently featured at London Fashion Week and her debut pamphlet is forthcoming with Bad Betty Press in 2022. 


Tania Nwachukwu

Tania Nwachukwu is a Nigerian-British writer, poet and performer from London. She is a member of the Octavia poetry collective for women of colour and a Barbican Young Poets alumna. She is also the co-founder of Black in the Day, a crowdsourced photo archive documenting the lives and experiences of Black people in the UK.


Zainab Amina

Zainab Amina is a London-based British-Nigerian visual and audio artist. Her work focuses on the Black British experience as well as diasporic communities beyond. She received a BA (Hons) Digital Film Production at the SAE Institute. Zainab Amina co-produces a podcast show titled Ldn Girls, in which topics of identity and popular culture are discussed critically.

Inua Ellams

Born in Nigeria, Inua Ellams is an award-winning poet, playwright and curator. Identity, displacement and destiny are reoccurring themes in his work in which he mixes the old with the new, traditional with the contemporary. His books are published by Flipped Eye, Akashic, Nine Arches, Penned in the Margins, Oberon and Methuen.


Michelle Tiwo

Michelle Tiwo is a queer non-binary writer and performer of Nigerian/Togolese descent. Their work explores familial dynamics, identity, religion and what it means to be a first-generation Afrobrit raised in Sarf East London. Work spans radio, poetry, theatre, film and music, including Poetry + Film / Hack with Inua Ellams and the SISTREN podcast. No art form is off-limits when it comes to fully realising the perspective of this emo with a sunshine aura. 


With thanks to Anu Henriques.