From the Verge to the Verse
By Damian LeBas
This Armistice Day, Lewes Town Hall played host to young word-smiths from up and down the country at a prize-giving ceremony for Gypsy and Traveller poetry.
Traveller students and their classmates gathered with families and friends to celebrate the winners of this year's GRTHM Competition.
But for some young Travellers, writing is about more than just lyrics and laughter.
Danniel Bennett was one of the winners. His poem 'Being Me' has been printed in the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Poetry Book. He and his family travelled nearly 200 miles from to come and read his poem on the day.
But, says Danniel, making it to Lewes was a small journey compared to some of the experiences he's had as a Gypsy boy at school in Bircotes, Nottinghamshire.
“I wrote the poem 'Being Me' because at my previous school, my first day there, I got told by my geography teacher that “We don't want your kind in this school”.
“I was put in isolation, taken out of lessons, and all sorts. I'd even been campaigning with my dad to save the school, and we saved it, but they were still prejudiced and racist.
“One day I came home from school and I was really upset. So I went upstairs with a pencil and paper and wrote the poem.
“I hope when I'm older, hate and prejudice to people's culture will come to an end. I hope my children grow up they don't have to experience what I have at school.
Prizes were also awarded for portraits that highlighted Gypsy and Traveller life.
Sam Smith from Cranford site in Hounslow won a prize for Highly Commended. “I done a picture of Billy Joe Saunders, a load of photos behind him, it took me about three or four weeks to do it, and my cousin there stuck a picture of him on, drew a couple of trees behind it and he won!
Sam's mum Clara hopes the next generation will have the best of both worlds: their own businesses, and an education to back it up.
“My daughter wants to be a health visitor. She would be the first of our family to go on to college. I want Sam to do well, I want him to have his own business. I want them to have the education I never had.”
As part of the 2010 GRTHM celebrations a national poetry competition was held. School children and young people were invited to write a poem based on the rich history and culture of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Kathleen Guthrie manager of the Hull Travellers Education Service volunteered to organise it.
The prize giving ceremony in Lewes Town hall, East Sussex was organised by Jackie Whitford, manager of the East Sussex Traveller Education Service. There were about 150 winners, parents and school staff attended and the prizes were given out by the Lord and Lady mayor and Richard O’Neill, who also hosted the event.
GRTHM 2008 held a poster competition which attracted hundreds of colourful and beautiful entries. In 2009, children and young people were invited to write a short story and over 800 entries were received. This year’s poetry contest had an even greater response. The Traveller Education Team in Kingston upon Hull received more than 1,100 entries from imaginative and creative children from Foundation Stage right through to Key Stage 4.
The entries, as in previous years, were amazingly diverse. Once more it was wonderful to see that so many had included illustrations and photographs, some which we’ve been able to include in this book.
Initially judges were Kathleen, Claire Lockwood and Tracy Booth, Senior librarian, children and young peoples Service, Hull City Council. Finally the main two judges were Richard O’Neill, professional storyteller and Eleanor Thom, British writer.
One of the aims of GRTHM is to counter-balance the widespread ignorance of Traveller communities that often leads to hatred and conflict. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month celebrates our culture and history by tackling the negative stereotyping and prejudices that have led to this situation.