Words That Burn

Cheltenham Festivals has supported Amnesty International in the development of Words That Burn, a national human rights poetry project. As a partner and regional associate for the programme, we are currently working with Gloucestershire schools. A selection of poetry written by the students will be showcased at the Young Writers Showcase at The Cheltenham Literature Festival in October 2019.

It is important because it gives us an idea of the world’s problems and how young voices can be heard all around the world. It doesn’t matter what religion or race you are or what language you speak, everyone has a voice that should be heard.

Year 8 student, Severn Vale School

Throughout the ten sessions, students respond to a variety of poems by contemporary poets as well as poems from the literary canon, engaging with the literature as well as the human rights related issues they explore.

Dear Careless World

Know this is how I feel,
The way you make my fist clench every time I hear the word
I mean, this is what I refer to:
My black African-American people
Why do you shoot them?
Never to be missed.
How could you justify killing the black
But not of the white race?
I mean, this is a disgrace.
But you’re never learning
Is this deserving?
World, I hate the way you try to justify
But never look at the facts.
You’re killing
For no apparent reason.
World, this is not how we should do this!

- Jahyquan, Severn Vale School

Students can then choose to write poetry of solidarity or protest in response to human rights issues and real cases of people around the world whose human rights are being violated. These have so far included women’s rights and LGBTI rights.

I know first-hand the empowering nature of creativity and language, as a writer, performer and educator. Giving young people the tools to express themselves, to connect with the wider world and its challenges, to write in solidarity with those whose voices are suppressed, and to amplify those voices – and find their own – is a vital and beautiful thing.

Keith Jarrett, poet

The poetry written by the students is then sent to Amnesty International who forward them on to those affected by the human rights violations in an act of solidarity or, where possible, the perpetrators of the violations in an act of protest.
Young people are challenged to ‘Make a Difference in a Minute’ and video themselves reading their poetry in under 60 seconds.

It has helped me to understand that the world isn’t perfect and it has given me a way of allowing my imagination and creativity to process this.

Year 8 student, Severn Vale School

The teaching resource is freely available on Amnesty International UK’s website and the Make a Difference in a Minute challenge is open to every young person.

I have thought about this for a long, long, time,
How the world can be changed, through words or a rhyme.
See, there’s a problem with disability,
And, I know the problem isn’t me.
People sometimes stop and stare,
Do they really think that we don’t care?
We need to think about this carefully,
It’s not fair that we didn’t get treatment rightfully.
Our legs get tight and we start to ache,
Do you really think this is our lucky break?
Our appointments are taken back,
And the illness problems start to stack.
Then, when you are ready for us, we can’t get out of bed.
So, you better come to us instead.
You are no different from me,
That is what you need to see.
I know that I am luckier than most,
But this is no time to boast.
Because, I am not defined by what is wrong,
Only by how I get along.
See, this is MY disability,
But it doesn’t stop me!

- Todd, Severn Vale School

Words That Burn was developed in partnership with Amnesty International