2021 Spring Commissions

Black and white head shot of Roger RobinsonNaomi Woodis

Headshot of Caleb Femi

Headshot of Natalie Diaz

  • Black and white head shot of Roger Robinson
  • Headshot of Caleb Femi
  • Headshot of Natalie Diaz

In early 2021 we commissioned some of the poetry scene’s most exciting, contemporary poets to create new work responding to the times we’re living in. You can download their specially commissioned poems by clicking on the links above. All these New Commissions were supported by an award from the DCMS Culture Recovery Fund.

One of the most prominent voices in the Black-British writing canon, Roger Robinson is a celebrated poet and musician who has performed around the world. His 2019 poetry collection A Portable Paradise, which included heart-wrenching poems about the Grenfell disaster, fatherhood and being Black British in the UK, won the T.S. Eliot Prize and the RSL Ondaatje Prize. He has previously created work for The National Trust, London Open House, BBC, The National Portrait Gallery and Theatre Royal Stratford East where he was also associate artist. Roger was commissioned by Manchester Literature Festival to write a new series of poems exploring the idea of Black Lives Matter and how it pertains to the Black British experience. He performed his poems for the first time in an #MLF21 online event with fellow poet Malika Booker in March 2021.

A rising star on the British poetry scene, Caleb Femi’s debut collection Poor considers what it is to be a young, working class Black man, living in South London in the 21st Century. One of two poets shortlisted for the 2021 Rathbones Folio Prize, Max Porter describes him as ‘a poet of truth and rage, heartbreak and joy.’ Caleb is a poet and director and has previously been commissioned by organisations including the BBC, Channel 4, Tate Modern and The Guardian. From 2016 – 2018, he was the Young People’s Laureate for London. Caleb was commissioned by Manchester Literature Festival to write a new series of poems exploring the impact of solitude during the pandemic, touching on themes of the inner and physical self, friendship, joy and imagination as a coping tool. He performed his poems for the first time in an #MLF21 online event with fellow poet Vanessa Kisuule in April 2021.

'Natalie Diaz is a poet who calls out to us in so many ways, who reaches out to embrace her lover, her people, and her country.' Her most recent collection Postcolonial Love Poem explores body and land as sites of desire and longing, but also pain and erasure. It was shortlisted for the National Book Award and the Forward Prize in Poetry. Born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, on the banks of the Colorado river, Natalie is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. She has received fellowships from The MacArthur Foundation, the Lannan Literary Foundation, Native Arts Council Foundation, and was recently appointed to the Academy of American Poets. She is the Director at the Centre for Imagination in the Borderlands at Arizona State University. Natalie was commissioned by Manchester Literature Festival to write a new series of poetic sensualities exploring the words ‘origin’, ‘migration’, ‘freedom’ and ‘love.’ A deeply lyrical poet, she created linguistic maps of these words in English and Mojave, diving deep into their roots and the ways in which they echo in physical connection. She performed the poems for the first time at an online event hosted by fellow poet Mary Jean Chan. The event was available to watch from 22 April – 21 May 2021 on MLF’s Crowdcast channel.