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12 British Poets Share Their Favourite Poems For #NationalPoetryDay

The theme for 2015 is "light".

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1. Amaal Said

Amaal Said

Age: 19

Themes in your work: I start with the personal. I write about my family, the stories that are passed down to me, and the ones I watch unfold. I write about shame and silence, beauty and trauma.

Favourite poem: "Elegy for Joseph Brodsky" by Ilya Kaminsky.

What comes to mind when you think of the word "light"? Writing after a long period of sadness and feeling the curtains open is what comes to mind. I think of the word "light" when I remember the first time I sat down with my mother to ask the hard questions. I brought my notepad and recorded the interview on my phone. It's the only word I think to describe it, because we were closer and it felt like a weight had been lifted. I didn't have to make up my mother's past life in my head any more.

2. Inua Ellams

The Art Valley

Age: 30

Themes in your work: Identity. Displacement. Destiny.

Favourite poem: This is an impossible answer. I have various favourite poems that I go to for various reasons and at various times of year, depending on how I feel and what I’d like inspired in me. At best, I can give my favourite poem at the moment, which is called "The Same City" by Terrance Hayes. I recorded myself reading it.

What comes to mind when you think of the word "light"? This year, I have been working with this theme in various parts of the world, in various incarnations. When I think of light I think of shadows – where we crawl out of and crawl into – of the privilege of electricity, the privilege of education, of light pollution in urban areas and how we take it for granted in suburban areas, of the cost of light, how it changes economies, and whether or not darkness has riches we should be spend time relishing.

3. Rachel Long

Amaal Said

Age: 26

Themes in your work: Sexuality, growing up, hurt, mixed parentage, love, eating disorders, death, dreams.

Favourite poem: Impossible to choose. I've sat here for a half hour with fingers over keys or in my hair. I can't call it between: "In The Book of The Disappearing Book" by John Gallaher, "The Ugly Daughter" by Warsan Shire, "Snow" by David Berman, "Sex Without Love" by Sharon Olds, and "Of August" by Karen McCarthy Woolf.

What comes to mind when you think of the word "light"? Marlboro, that sunrise, a macro photograph of oestrogen taken by science photographer Lennart Nilsson that looks like a firework. It was stunning to see, and to know that we have this exploding, all the time, on the inside of our bodies

4. Dean Atta

Hussina Raja

Age: 30

Themes in your work: Race, sexuality, equality, love.

Favourite poem: "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg.

What comes to mind when you think of the word "light"?

There Shines a Light

from your phone screen

as you lay in bed

tweet-dreams, tinder-night

scrolling your timeline

swiping left or right

when looking for love

a picture = 1,000 words

or 140 characters

there is a hashtag or app

for everything, you believe

people are getting closer

to reaching enlightenment

to reaching enlightenment

people are getting closer

for everything, you believe

there is a hashtag or app

or 140 characters

a picture = 1,000 words

when looking for love

swiping left or right

scrolling your timeline

tweet-dreams, tinder-night

as you lay in bed

from your phone screen

there shines a light.

5. Hannah Lowe

Tim Ridley

Age: 39

Themes in your work: Working-class lives, multiculturalism, London, migration, diaspora.

Favourite poem: "The Mercy" by Philip Levine – one of many favourites.

What comes to mind when you think of the word "light"? Funnily enough, electric lights come to mind rather than daylight. I'm thinking of the way we light the night. It must be living in London... street lights, neon signs, security lights. From my back window I look out over Wood Green and Tottenham, all the way to Walthamstow, and there's a real clatter of light out there, from houses and flats, office blocks, sometimes a star or two.

6. Kayombo Chingonyi

Naomi Woddis

Age: 28

Themes in your work: Loss, initiation rites, music and dance, the slippery nature of words, politics.

Favourite poem: At the moment it is a toss-up between "54" by Osip Mandelstam (as translated by Clarence Brown and W. S. Merwin), "Black Ice and Rain"' by Michael Donaghy, and "The Same City" by Terrance Hayes.

What comes to mind when you think of the word "light"? The word reminds me of the way an idea can come into focus quickly or take years to clarify in the mind. In my opinion, the best poems hold their ideas in a tentative balance between these two positions.

7. Belinda Zhawi

Theo Ndlovu

Age: 24

Themes in your work: Displacement, memory, migration, and childhood. This is all from having a migrant background – having lived both halves of my life in two countries of deep contrast. What does it mean to belong? What is home? How can one's childhood provide perspective and shed light on the person they are now?

Your favourite poem: "Cuba, 1962" by Ai Ogawa.

What comes to mind when you think of the word 'light'? I think of the opposite of darkness. Deeper still, how light can only exist in the presence of darkness. For me light is about the exposure of all the dark little places that people want to hide in. Light exposes truth especially when that truth has been hidden or stolen. Light is truth.

8. James Massiah

Brett Walker

Age: 25

Themes in your work: Morality, mortality, sex/gender, race, class, ethics.

Favourite poem: "Take Comfort" by Roger McGough.

What comes to mind when you think of the word "light"? Darkness! I'm obsessed with duality, binaries, absolutes and opposites – couldn't think of one without the other!

9. Siana Bangura

Siana Bangura

Age: 24

Themes in your work: Black womanhood, race, gender, colourism, beauty, fatherhood, absenteeism, motherhood, migration, Black British girlhood, childhood, coming of age, gentrification, London, protest and revolt, relationships, identity, culture, Otherness, domestic violence, darkness vs light. Love (sometimes).

Favourite poem: "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou and "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath.

What comes to mind when you think of the word "light"? I think of journeying – to reach light and know you have done so, you must come from darkness. I think of new beginnings – each new morning and each new day starts with light. I think of skin and problematic language, problematic understandings of beauty. I think of burdens being removed – lightness and freedom after heavy weights of thought and experience. I think of humour and laughter – carefree women laughing together. I think of hope and endless possibilities.

10. Bridget Minamore

Wasi Daniju / Via wasidaniju.500px.com

Age: 24

Themes in your work: I write a lot about London, and change, and myself. Right now I'm working on a big project that's all about loss, with love and death thrown in for good measure.

Favourite poem: A toss-up between Louis MacNeice's '"Prayer Before Birth", Patricia Smith's '"Skinhead", and Langston Hughes' "Disillusion". Those three made me totally reassess how I saw poetry. If I had to pick one, maybe the MacNeice because it was the first poem I ever liked.

What comes to mind when you think of the word "light"? Probably Ghana, where most of my family are – it's just so much lighter over there. Also candles, because I love them. There's a great poem by Langston Hughes (my favourite) called "As I Grow Older" that talks about light too.

11. Musa Okwonga

Creation Company Films

Age: 35

Themes in your work: Love, distance, loneliness, the Other.

Favourite poem: "The Thin People" by Sylvia Plath.

What comes to mind when you think of the word "light"? The night sky as a bottomless pool of stars.

12. Tony Supreme

Adrian Chira

Age: 26

Themes in your work: Self-belief, dreams/aspirations, gender, and relationships.

Your favourite poem: "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou.

What comes to mind when you think of the word "light"? Hope. It takes me to a place of hope and possibility. Darkness can consume us and make us feel trapped; with just a flicker of light one begins to feel as though the darkness loses its power and freedom is near. In some of the darkest moments of my life, all it took was a little light to keep me going. Looking for the light in every situation brings hope that the best (more light) is yet to come!

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