Emily Webb, Change the Word Director, reflects on how it all came about.
Change the Word started as just an idea. A desire to bring people together to share stories, to share ideas, to share the spaces we’re in and the places we’ve come from. A belief that words can probe and distil and challenge and reimagine and celebrate our world. That in doing so, words can change it. In a society where voices are becoming increasingly fractured, freedom of expression is being stifled and truth can no longer be trusted, words can unite us and create new connections and new understanding – of ourselves and of each other.
The Good Chance dome, our ‘Theatre of Hope’ in which the idea for Change the Word was born, fills every day with sounds – drumming, poetry, music, laughter. The dome has an unusual sonic quality. The vibrations ricochet off the curved canvas walls, so that wherever you’re standing you can hear people talking on the other side of the dome as if they are speaking directly into your ear. Individual voices can be heard loud and clear, and yet together they fuse into a communal sound that is more powerful than any voice alone.
Every voice in Change the Word is unique, and sings through this collection of poetry. You can hear the individual memories, dreams, hopes, as if they’re being spoken directly into your ear. But just like in the dome, those voices have united in a tapestry woven from fifteen different countries, into a beautiful hymn to what it means to be human.
In our Change the Word anthology, you can also discover Coventry through the eyes of the many people who have lived here all their lives or who have recently made it their home. It is a city with a history of welcome – and Change the Word has been wholeheartedly welcomed, by Coventry City of Culture, by Shop Front Theatre, by Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre and by the host of other organisations and individuals who have made this project possible. We have been privileged to start our journey in a place full of such openness and generosity of spirit, and are looking forward to the next steps on the path as we travel to other cities around the UK.
At the start of each Change the Word workshop, we warm up with stretches to the ceiling, loosening limbs and wiggling our mouths to wake up the body before we wake up the mind. We walk around the Shop Front Theatre whispering lines of poetry and shouting them at the tops of our voices. And at the end, we shout together ‘My name is..., and I have the right to speak!’, our names piling on top of each other higgeldy piggeldy before the words spoken in unison ring with clarity and pride.
Change the Word may have started as an idea, but now it is real – held within the pages of this book, in the hearts of every member of the collective, and in the minds of everyone who reads these poems. I hope these words will travel on the winds that can be found blowing throughout the poems – through Afghanistan, America, Cameroon, Eritrea, Indonesia, India, Iran, Ireland, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Pakistan, Singapore, Zimbabwe, and of course Coventry – and that as they sow their seeds, new roots will start to take hold, and buds of new ideas and new ways of seeing this world will start to grow.