Whilst 2023 was an amazing year for Apples and Snakes, full of celebrations for our 40th anniversary, it ended on a sad note as we said a heartfelt farewell to the inspirational poet, activist, human-being and friend Benjamin Zephaniah.  

Benjamin first performed with us at our second gig back on 9 October 1982 and has been a huge part of our history and, more importantly, the UK poetry scene ever since. He showed that poetry belongs to the people, challenging perceptions of who can be a poet and inspiring future poets to share their stories. Benjamin was much loved and admired by so many, a poet known beyond the literature world, a man of integrity and kindness whose impact is immeasurable. We have lost a legend. 

I know our community is heartbroken by his passing and we will celebrate his life and rhymes in 2024 with something special.

As part of our 40th Anniversary, alongside our core artist development programmes and participation projects over the year we delivered some special projects and events. 

Our work with children, young people and families was delivered across the country through our Book A Poet scheme and went international with poet Zohab Zee Khan delivering a week of workshops in a school in Jakarta – lucky Zohab!; children and families engaging with our libraries festival SPINE across 16 London Boroughs; PLOT17 taking hip-hop eco tracks to families as part of Planet Summer at the Southbank; young people in London and the Midlands learning about Keats and Shelley through our programme Content Cottage.

We were delighted to see Apples and Snakes alumnus Joseph Coelho become Waterstone’s Children’s Laureate and we worked with him on a children’s poetry competition as part of SPINE. 

“Watching the winners announcement (while on maternity leave) for the inaugural SPINE Poetry Competition was a real joy. Feel privileged to be in a position that supports the championing of children writing and sharing their very own poems.”
Marcelle – Associate Producer, Libraries

As part of Joe’s commitment as laureate to diversifying children’s poetry we are working with him and publisher Otter Barry Books to produce SPIN – an anthology for 10 new voices writing for children. SPIN will be out in March 2024 and will also contain the poetry competition winners’ poems!

We continued our work with John Lyon’s Charity starting a new relationship with Ealing Learning Partnership to deliver a tour of PLOT 17, our ecological, hip-hop, spoken word poetry show for Key Stage 2 children to 12 Ealing primary schools. The production was a smash hit inspiring the next generation of eco activists and spoken word artists.  

“Our children absolutely loved PLOT 17  – it was a powerful message portrayed in such a uniquely brilliant way so that everyone took something from the day.” Ealing Primary School Teacher.

We delivered WORDCUP2023 as a special project for our 40th, the first WORDCUP project took place in 2006 and we have worked on all subsequent projects under the artistic leadership of Jacob Sam-La Rose.

“Being part of WORD CUP was my highlight. Bringing together young people from across England to participate in a poetry weekend residential at Manchester Metropolitan University was really special. Seeing the impact on the young people, seeing them build confidence and make new friends. Watching the finale performance was a privilege. Their work was powerful, managing to both break my heart and give me hope.” 
Sarah – Development & Partnerships Manager

We worked with some amazing organisations, schools and youth groups: Young Identity (Manchester), Sound Communities (Devon), Coventry Boys and Girls Club, Geraldine Connor Foundation (Leeds) & Suffolk Libraries to deliver the project and their commitment created something very powerful.  Here’s a little highlights video to enjoy!

Supporting and developing artists across the country is at the heart of what we do and in 2023 we continued to deliver a wide range of artist development programmes including:

  • Words First – the talent development programme for new poets in partnership with BBC 6 Music and Contains Strong Language Festival 
  • Artists Retreats, which brings poets together to spend a day recharging themselves with workshops focused on the crossover between wellness and creative writing.
  • Red Sky Sessions, our open access development programme for aspiring writers aged 18 to infinity. 
  • Supporting UniSlam, as a key partner in this project which works with emerging poets currently at university where they come together for a weekend of performances and workshops in Birmingham.

“UniSlam is always a special weekend and it was fantastic to be able to partner with them again this year! I’m already looking forward to 2024 and hearing what the new poets have to say”
Owen – Associate Producer, Midlands

We changed up our Writing Room programme to focus more on performance, WORDS A STAGE 2.0 worked with 12 early stage artists in a series of workshops and final residential at Arvon in August.

“My 2023 highlight was the WAS 2.0 programme. The process with the young writers wasn’t without some challenges but seeing how the poets really pushed themselves and were changed is always emotional. Knowing that we are able to have that kind of impact will always be a major driver for me and the work that we do here.”
Nat – Producer

June saw us TAKEOVER the Roundhouse as part of their Last Word Festival, thanks goes to Jack and the Roundhouse team for trusting us to have the whole building for a day of celebration which included an open mic in the bar, showcasing new voices in the Studio, artist well-being sessions in the Hub and an epic final gig with poetry legends and band in the main space to celebrate the 40th – again!!

“All Stars was a special moment that I wish could be shared more widely. It wasn’t just a celebration of great talent, it was a moment of reflection to share memories, experiences, growth and love. It was a celebration of everything Apples and Snakes values and nurtures, but also for the power behind spoken word and the power of performance. As a 40th birthday party, it nailed it!”
Janet – Digital & Marketing Manager

“My highlight from the past year has to be the Roundhouse Takeover 40th Birthday event, where legendary performers alongside talented newbies stormed the stage to celebrate their histories, journeys, pains, protests and triumphs in an intoxicating mash up of Apples and Snakes family joyfulness.” 
Rob – Head of Admin & Ops

We’ve continued to develop our digital work supporting Zena Edwards with the development of Poets Built It, an online community platform for poets, creating films with Michael Rosen, recording more of our Blackbox series, collaborating with Imperial War Museum and launching Season 3 of our podcast. Check these all out: READ/WATCH/LISTEN 

In October, we were delighted to welcome Ugochi Nwaogwugwu and Jive Poetic to the UK as part of SPEAK UP NEWCOMER, our US Embassy funded programme in collaboration with Young Identity. Over the next year, we will bring US poets to work with young poets here in London, the Midlands and Manchester. As part of this programme, we commissioned some emerging poets to perform as part of the NYLON event at Southbank Centre. We also ran workshops and events in Birmingham, Coventry and Manchester.

It was amazing seeing the amount of artists collaborations that took place throughout the year, whether that be the Artists in Residence in SPINE or emerging poets writing a collective piece for NYLON.
Iman – Producer

Towards the end of the year, we also launched Future Voices, a professional development series working with organisations to commission 40 new voices to create short poetic films as a snapshot of what’s going on across the country. The films will be released early 2024 and there will be a series of regional showcases platforming the poets involved in the project.

“Future Voices has been a transformative programme for many of the 40 emerging poets taking part. I’ve loved meeting the poets 1-1 and can’t wait to see the films they produce.”
Grace – Associate Producer, Projects

In the background, we have been developing our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion work. Special thanks to Helen Heckety who has worked with us this year on Access, we’re making progress but always have more to do!  We also continued our focus on Tackling Anti-Black Discrimination and over the next year have a focus on workforce development with an early career role currently being advertised and an Artistic Leadership role coming out in early 2024.

We welcomed a new Chair of Trustees, Birmingham based poet Amerah Saleh alongside new trustees Dr Harry Whitehead, Malizah, Shayna Kowalcyzk and Nana Yaa Adu. Thanks to them and all our trustees who give up their time voluntarily to support the organisation, we are especially grateful given the increased workload for NPO reporting requirements!

Thanks also to all our funders and partner organisations that have supported us over the past year(s).

I’ll end with three shout-outs of extra special thanks and love:

… to the Apples and Snakes team who have worked really hard this year with all the additional projects and celebrations…

…. all the amazing poets that we have the honour of working with and supporting. Next year I will have been at Apples and Snakes for 20 years (in various roles over that time) – I love that I have seen so many poets grow and develop during that time, it continues to be a total privilege and I’m excited to see what 2024 will have in store.

…and to Benjamin Zephaniah, thanks is too small a word for all you achieved and what you did for poetry. Rest in power, peace and poetry and so much love from us all.