Croydon’s first-ever Poet Laureate was appointed in celebration of National Poetry Day last week.
Shaniqua Benjamin, spoken word poet and founder of Young People Insight, was officially appointed by Croydon Council as the borough’s Poet Laureate on October 1.
Benjamin, 28, has previously written poetry for the council, including for Croydon’s bid to be named the London Borough of Culture for 2023.
The council informed her about becoming a Poet Laureate last year and the title was officially announced last week.
Benjamin said: “When I found out I was super excited.
“Now it feels very, very strange and surreal, hearing people actually saying it.
“Even five years ago I would have never imagined this.”
Benjamin wrote her first spoken word piece in 2015 to launch the Young People Insight programme and quickly realised her love for poetry.
Young People Insight was founded by Benjamin and is aimed at empowering young people’s voices through writing.
Benjamin said: “I found my voice through poetry.
“My favourite thing about poetry is being able to empower and inspire and inform others and amplify their voices.
“I want people to not be afraid of poetry, not be afraid to write. I want to make poetry more accessible.”
Benjamin covers a range of topics such as mental health and crime through her poetry.
Several youths from the Young People Insight programme, who Benjamin says were a key part of her journey, also performed at the launch of her role last month.
Councillor Oliver Lewis, a cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport, spoke on the importance of supporting Croydon’s creative youth.
Councillor Lewis said: “There has been an increase in spoken word artists in Croydon and Shaniqua has been at the forefront of that.
“We want young creative people to be able to succeed in the creative arts and this is one way that we can support them.”
Benjamin’s first residency will begin at the Museum of Croydon where she will undertake the project Voices of Croydon.
The laureateship lasts for three years and Benjamin will play a key role in appointing the next Poet Laureate in October 2023.
You can check out SWLondoner’s interview with her back in April here.
Featured image credit: Chetna Kapacee