Canterbury Bid

WORLD-famous writer Lemn Sissay is today announced as Canterbury’s Poet Laureate

Announcing Lemn Sissay as Canterbury's Poet Laureate - Wise Words Festival - The Marlowe Theatre


In partnership with The Marlowe and Wise Words, with funding from Arts Council England, the Laureateship has been developed to further cement Canterbury’s status as a dynamic centre for literature.

The three-year Laureateship offers the opportunity for Lemn to make Canterbury a home and to use it as a base from where he can build a relationship with local writers and the community.

He said: “As Canterbury’s Poet Laureate, my aim is to inspire and be inspired by this fantastic city. I am looking forward to collaborating, influencing and involving myself with the many artists and poets working here.”

The Laureateship will begin on Wednesday 3 May to coincide with Lemn’s performance at the Wise Words Festival.

Beth Cuenco, of Wise Words, said: “We first worked with Lemn in 2012 and over the years he has become a beautiful friend and advocate for our work – always challenging us to grow and improve whilst supporting us to reach for the stars.

“For Lemn to become the Poet Laureate for Canterbury is a great honour for us. His strength, passion and unwavering belief in the power of poetry to make a difference to people’s lives, make him an incredible role model to writers and artists. His own story is one that will inspire anyone who has faced hardship, to find resilience within themselves to achieve their dreams – whatever they may be. For me this is what the Laureate should be and we are delighted to be working with Lemn in this role.”

Lemn released his first book of poetry in 1988, aged 21. Since the age of 24 he has been a full-time writer and has performed internationally. He was the first poet commissioned to write for the 2012 London Olympics and is artist-in-residence at London’s Southbank Centre. His drama Something Dark has been performed across the world to great critical acclaim and has just been added to the A-level syllabus.

Lemn believes in poetry as a catalyst for social change and will use his creative voice to inspire and connect with young people in care and the organisations that support them. This will influence the work he is planning to do as Canterbury’s Poet Laureate.

He will:

  • Host a series of four public conversations around the theme of “Resilience” led by people who have grown up in the care system, challenging perceptions and leading to a conference in May 2018
  • Write a poem inspired by the city that will become a permanent piece of public art
  • Contribute to local artists’ development through masterclasses and a monthly blog
  • Work with The Marlowe and Wise Words to host a Christmas dinner for care leavers.

As a partnership, The Marlowe and Wise Words have a core aim to develop Canterbury as dynamic centre for literature that connects with and inspires the rest of the region. Lemn Sissay as Poet Laureate will raise the profile and aspiration for this work.


Theatre Director Mark Everett said: “We are thrilled that Lemn is to become Canterbury’s Poet Laureate. He is a truly exciting name in modern poetry and his work is often concerned with giving a platform to looked-after young people and those in care – a group who are too often unheard or overlooked. Lemn’s work demands we give them due attention and compels us to listen with open hearts and searching minds.

“This project launches a major collaboration between Wise Words Festival and The Marlowe, that will see a blossoming relationship between our two organisations, and will further establish Canterbury as a centre for the written and spoken word.”

Janice McGuinness, the city council’s Assistant Director (Commissioned Services), said: “We are delighted to welcome such an internationally-renowned writer as Lemn to Canterbury as our Poet Laureate. This is very exciting news for our city and is the culmination of the project that started small a number of years ago with different partners. It always had big ambitions – and look where it is now!

“We look forward to seeing Lemn working with local people from all backgrounds on a range of projects that will inspire a love of the written and spoken word.”

Exploring the Possibilities of Forgiveness Through Real Stories is at The Marlowe Studio at 7pm on Wednesday 3 May. Lemn will talk to Jacob Dunne, who killed a man in an unprovoked attack in 2011, and Joan Scourfield, the man’s mother. They will share how meeting through restorative justice has brought healing and helped both of them shape a better future. Tickets, priced £10, are from the Box Office on 01227 787787, or

The installation Warrior Poets returns to The Marlowe Studio as part of the Wise Words Festival on Tuesday 2 and Wednesday 3 May (1pm to 9pm and 1pm to 6pm). Inspired by poetry written by local children in care and young refugees, Lemn (the project’s Artistic Director), poets Joelle Taylor and Alex Vellis, artist Greg Stobbs, musician Richard Navarro and projection artists Butch Auntie, have created a moving and magical experience.

As well as Arts Council England, Canterbury’s Poet Laureate is supported by The Marlowe Theatre Development Trust.

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