In 2016, the Argentinean poet and journalist was 1 of 10 people selected to take part in a scheme that trains and supports poets from minority backgrounds. The scheme, now in its third round, has been a huge success and has rapidly grown in importance.
Mehdy C Ortiz
In 2005, a report from the “Arts Council England” concluded that only 1% of the whole poetry publications by major UK presses came from minority backgrounds. As a result, The Complete Works III (TCW) scheme was established to change this and give minority backgrounds a voice and opportunity to be recognised and succeed as poets.
Now, after 9 years of TCW, these schemes more than ever before, portray the importance of diversity in British poetry and in the creative arts in general.
“TCW project has given me the confidence as a poet to be able to say that you can be heard as a minority here, there is a voice and that is valid”, says Leonardo Boix.
Thanks to the scheme, the poet has been given the opportunity to have his voice heard and write poetry in English to a larger target audience. Outside of the scheme, Leonardo is involved in increasing representation of minority Latino Americans regularly holding poetry workshops for them and will be co-running a scheme similar to that of TCW in the near future.
Leonardo Boix speaks to The Prisma about being selected in TCWIII, his other current projects and on trying to empower younger Latino-Americans to get the confidence to succeed in writing.
You were recently selected to be a part of The Complete Works III. Tell me more about the project?
TCWIII runs for 2 years and they give you a mentor, who is a poet, a writer, someone who you feel connected to.
They have a lot of experience and you work with that person, resulting in a publication for anthology with a big launch.
There are lots of seminars where we have different publishers and writers giving us tips, so it is basically nurturing 10 poets in that period.
The scheme now in its 3 round, has become very successful and as of next year TCW is becoming a part of publisher “Bloodaxe,” where there will be a series of publications from all 30 poets from the whole 3 series.
From what backgrounds are the other poets selected in the program?
There are poets from Nigeria, Somalia, China, Jamaica, literally from all over the world. For me as a writer it isvery inspiring being surrounded by all these heritages, sharing their different experiences.
Are you the only Latino-British?
I am the first one in the whole series, and it is very interesting, mostly because as you know the Latino community is now called the invisible community in the UK. A report by Queen Mary University of London suggests that there could be a least 1 million Latinos that are completely hidden, so in a way I’m bringing a little bit of that into the scheme.
I don’t represent Latin America, I was born in Argentina, but that is my voice and I write in English and it is kind of important for me to contribute with that voice in this scheme.
Had you known about the scheme before?
Yes. The scheme had become very successful and by the second round, Sarah Howe won the T.S Eliot Prize and Mona Arshi won the Forward Prize for First Collection.
So suddenly it became this scheme where people were noticing these poets and in turn those poets who won prizes became judges in those competitions.
In the second series there was a poet called Worsan Shire, and she became huge. She moved to the US and Beyonce collaborated with her on some of her songs from her album “Lemonade”, including some of her poems. The scheme has given us this amazing platform to showcase our work and put these hidden voices out there.
Do you feel your poetry has been evolving because of the scheme?
Totally. Before I wasn’t writing in English at all. I was only writing in Spanish and communicating to a very small community that was very ghetto.
It was good but I felt like, what is the point of being in the UK and not communicating to the wider audience and being able to engage with other poets.
If you’re not in that dialogue, your craft suffers because you are not able to compare your work. You become disconnected to what is happening here. As a writer I felt marginalised and this has given me a lot more confidence.
I keep my Spanish poetry as well as I have a Spanish publisher in Argentina. On June 14 there is going to be a bilingual anthology published in the UK.
What are your next steps after the program?
I’m working on my first English full collection of poetry based on the works of Hieronymus Bosh. He was a Netherlandish painter from the 15th century. At first it is like why am I doing this book, but my partner is an Artist so I’m also involved in art and the visual is quite important for me.
There are all these themes going through his work like violence, monsters, these ideas of hell and paradise, all issues that I make my own.
So I’m using Bosh themes to tell my own story and the whole thing is crazy. I love that because it is breaking all these barriers and in a way going back for instance to the theme of violence.
I’m talking about the violence in Argentina, the dictatorship, so in a way it allows me to write about all these issues.
Have you been able to encourage young aspiring poets whose voices are hidden?
Yes, I’m doing poetry workshops for Latino British kids in a South London school called Saint Gabriel’s College and again it is trying to encourage them to write in English or in Spanish and give them that confidence to succeed because some of them feel marginalised.
I’m also going to be co-running a scheme which is similar to TCW but with the Latino British community.
The idea is to select 5 young poets aged between 16-25 from that background and work with them on craft, with seminars and just replicating a little bit TCW scheme within the Latin British community.
The aim is to give them that confidence that they might need to go out there and become professional poets in the establishment.
Evidently, the political climate currently seen in the UK with Brexit and austerity measures, we have seen an attack on the creative arts as well as on the diversity of the UK. What are your views on British politics?
I feel that these schemes now more than ever are really relevant because it shows that diversity is a positive force in the UK.
The language became quite scary with Brexit last year and I felt really pessimistic. It felt like a personal attack and that people didn’t want me here. It is important to accept that there is diversity and that is why I think TCW is great because it is more than ever saying that it is important to have all these voices listened to.
We all came from different backgrounds and you realise that there are issues that we all have. We are giving our experiences and heritages back to the country. More so even after Trump, with Mexico, all this anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rhetoric kind of gave us more determination.
Do you have any final words of encouragement to young aspiring writers and poets?
You can do it. It is possible if you put energy, if you work on your craft you can be a poet, a writer, you can be a novelist. You can also include your background, you don’t need to hide that you can speak Spanish for instance or that you are learning English at the same time. In fact that could be a plus because then you are suddenly bringing in this new experience that English readers may not know.
“The new generation”, a combination of poems from all 10 poets from TCWIII, is being launched on the 15th October. The poems, which the Poets have been working on with their mentors, will be read out at South Bank, and later at literary festivals around the UK.