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Opinion & Analysis

‘If you don’t speak, someone else will speak for you’

By Eva De Vincenzi

British writer and dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah had a message for a a group of young Gibraltarian creators about the power of language in expressing identity, not only on an individual level but for whole communities.

“If you don’t speak, someone else will speak for you”, said Mr Zephaniah.

He placed particular emphasis on how this is relevant to racial minorities given their systematic oppression across history, a theme that permeates much of his own work.

Mr Zephaniah elaborated on how this oppression still manifests today through the inhibition of certain regional dialects which many consider to be improper use of English due to underlying classism and racism.

He encouraged us to recognise the beauty of art inspired by the immigrant experience and to use our own experiences as inspiration for our projects.

“The best bodies of work come from a raw place”, Mr Zephaniah said.

“While it’s still wet and sour, you can only hope that the puss it oozes will put some poetry in motion.”

This talk was one of many in a three-day writing workshop I ventured into with a group of vibrant youngsters from all backgrounds and age groups earlier this year.

The event was organised by Rock Retreat and Accord Literary and was led by illustrator Eleanor Dobbs, publisher Sarah Odedina and author Frances Moloney in John Mackintosh Hall.

The experience was focused on untethered creative expression, providing various activities for the group to engage in and catering to individual interests.

Each day we received talks from artists, songwriters, authors, and poets who gave us insight into their intertwining worlds of imagination and opened themselves up to any questions they may have provoked.

Another impactful talk came from Gibraltarian author Jonathan Pizarro, whose message neatly paralleled Mr Zephaniah’s as he spoke about the potential of using our own Gibraltarian identities and heritage as a muse for creative endeavors.

Apart from the talks, we were free to use our time in the way which suited our interests best.

There was the option to work on illustrations, attend character and story-building classes by Ms Moloney, or work on prose and poetry individually.

It was through this that I found the time to work on my short story, The Venetian Mask Shop, which I entered into the Spring Short Story Competition.

The experience culminated in every attendee submitting an illustrated or written piece to have the opportunity to be included in this year’s Rock Retreat anthology.

Those who had their work selected also had the chance to engage with other young writers and illustrators in Ghana and Bermuda through Zoom as part of an awards ceremony, consolidating the overriding theme of the initiative: connection through art.

My poem, A Stain in the Immaculate, focused centrally on that idea and the power that real human relationships can have throughout life’s turning points.

I was lucky enough to have my poem selected for the anthology, which will be published later this year.

As I grow up, it is often challenging to find the time to indulge in the childish side of my imagination, find the space to make a mess or find the people who are willing to be childish and make a mess with me.

It was therefore enthralling to experiment with ideas fluidly and collaborate with new and colourful people to create work which satisfied the part of our brains that we too often ignore.

Eva De Vincenzi is a student on work experience with the Gibraltar Chronicle.

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