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Young Identity No Disclaimers

Chats with Young Identity's Shirley May and Frankie Blaus ahead of their anthology launch show.


On Tuesday 11 December, spoken-word collective Young Identity will be launching No Disclaimers, an anthology full of diverse and powerful writing, at HOME, Manchester. Ahead of the event, I interviewed the group's co-founder and CEO Shirley May, and Frankie Blaus, one of the anthology's editors. This month's Word Life page also features poetry by Young Identity members, so do have a look at that, too.


Shirley May Young Identity

Young Identity founder Shirley May

Nicole May


Could you tell us the story of Young Identity, and what makes it special?

I started Young Identity ten years ago with the help of a few friends. It was to offer young people an opportunity to speak out and speak up. Workers like Reece Williams, Nicole May, Nasima Begum, Billie Meredith, Isaiah Hull, Toreh O'Garro, Roma Havers and Frankie Blaus give so much of their time because they believe in the work. It would also be remiss of me not to remember groups that had gone before that I helped to create, like Inna Voice and Sanctum. When I started, it was about bringing young black writers to the forefront because the work of the black artist is so marginalised. It has evolved and changed to encompass a diverse group people, who understand what identity truly means. And all of the grey in-between. We are a family and within a family everyone as a role.

Could you describe the process of putting together No Disclaimers? What were the challenges?

I found that it was another thing on a very full plate of things to do so it was easy for me to appoint a team rather than just one person be the sole editor on it. A challenge was that, because you have a lot of people involved in the process, it took a lot longer than we intended. This has been the learning on all our parts. We had to become ruthless, or we would be still waiting for people to do their edits.

The phrase “No Disclaimers” has become something of a legend at Young Identity – what does it mean to you, and why was it chosen for the book’s title?

We are a large group of people - if you spend hours explaining away what the poem means or you spend time saying it's not very good, it eats up time when other people need to share, and we should understand your work if it is coherent.

Can you give a taster of the writing we can read in the anthology – what kind of themes and styles come up?

The book is beautiful because of the many voices that come together. However, those voices give the book its own melody and rhythm while allowing individual voices to remain very much their own. Some people have written in form; others have used the freestyle flow to share their narrative. All have a story at the heart.

What can we expect from the launch night?

Good poetry and an entertaining night, with lots of young people signing their books and being amazing and unique.

Could you describe the anthology in three words?

A fabulous gateway.

Frankie Blaus Young Identity

Frankie Blaus from Young Identity

Alex Morgan


How did the anthology come to be, and how did you find the editing experience?

We put out an open call: everyone in the group was encouraged to send in up to four pieces of writing that they felt best represented their unique voices as writers, and I’d say that was my favourite part: receiving all that work, sitting with Roma Havers, Kayleigh Jayshree Hicks, Billie Meredith, Joel Cordingley, Nasima Begum and Shirley May, reading through a sea of poetry. It was such a lovely week, though it was also the hardest time in the whole process - with that much poetry, you have to determine how much you can feasibly edit and format for the page in a limited time frame; we worked with a total of fourteen writers on this project! The administrative effort was a job in itself, but we knocked it out of the park in a week and spent the rest of our time editing the work with the poets featured in the book. Given that No Disclaimers is the first release for a lot of the writers involved (and my first role as co-editor and co-curator of a book), having turned this around in a matter of months has been immensely satisfying, and I’m so glad to share this wonderful collection.

What does the Young Identity catchphrase "No Disclaimers" mean to you personally?

Whenever we try to disclaim our writing or otherwise write ourselves off, the room shouts back ‘No Disclaimers’ - meaning ‘stop yammering and read us the poem!’ - meaning ‘give us your words, not the words of others that have polluted your mouth and this room’. ‘No Disclaimers’, to me, means never apologising for who you are. We’re a diverse bunch: a lot of the voices that Young Identity props up are voices that a lot of people want to extinguish; we talk about things that a lot of people would rather forget about. Homelessness. Racism. Xenophobia. Misogyny. Homophobia. Transphobia. ‘No Disclaimers’ is, in a lot of ways, a challenge: live your life, speak your truth, because history shows that nobody else is willing or able to do that for you.

What can you tell us about the work in the anthology?

The writing that Young Identity produces is a microcosm of the poetic renaissance we are witnessing amongst young people in Manchester and all over the world. Our work leads with emotion - we write from the heart. That is not to say we are not critical of our hearts and what they have been taught to eat and regurgitate. We are just as concerned with how we represent things. We understand the power of language. My personal favourite is as follows:


All night I’ve been throwing glances your way
like pennies into wishing wells,
as your hand alights on mine, that second swells.
There I am Icarus:
lost in the moment right before those wings crisped.

I doubt you can see this boy
huddled in the hook of a crescent moon,
he’s looking askance to the stars
‘Why did those lips curl and carve open this bitter heart?’

Mornings when he’d wake
only to hear you speak of
the dreams that condense along your lashes
and trickle down your cheek.

He’s seen evenings spent
taking moonlit strolls down
the corridors of your complexities
to reach the gallery of your mind’s eye.
He could waste a lifetime
admiring the pictures painted
by every thought you’ve ever had.

I know all too well this feeling
of one thought too many, maybe one day
I’ll learn better how to spend that penny,
but probably I won’t.
Probably you don’t ever think of me,
most likely my shadow has never
even dipped a toe in your stream of consciousness.

As I recall that time when your hand alighted upon mine,

and how,
I was left bereft and inchoate
dignity trips as it leaves as hands fumble
and cascade over each other
as my tongue does stumble
and stall.


How did you first get involved in Young Identity, and what is special about the group?

I was nineteen, I was very gay, and I was very angry. My then partner, Karl, encouraged me to attend the group that I had, for a long time, admired from afar. The first time I saw Young Identity was the curtain raiser performance they gave for Kate Tempest’s ‘Brand New Ancients’ at Contact Theatre in February, 2014. The thing about Young Identity is that our curtain raisers are often as memorable as the shows we open for! Part of our specialness is in that memorability, though that’s merely a symptom. There is so much heart, love, and understanding in this group. There is no judgement. It’s just a place where people come to express, and they do so in such an invigoratingly honest way that it is infectious. And people can just show up: all of our workshops are drop-ins.

What can we expect from the launch night?

In the interest of making things a bit more accessible, our readings will be done as “read alongs”. We will have a stack of books on the night that people can rent from us while poets are doing readings, just to make sure that every single word is heard and understood and that everyone can enjoy the event in a way that makes sense for them. You can also listen to our editors do some light DJ sets (YouTube playlists through a sound system), pick up books by some of our other writers, and see some of our most electric performance poets close out the night.

Could you describe the anthology in three words?

Fierce. Unapologetic. Heartful.

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