If you are a fan of what people have come to term “new-age” poetry then you must know Yrsa Daley-Ward. You should know her. 

Alongside the African-American poet Nayyirah Waheed, Zimbabwean bard Tapiwa Mugabe and Nigerian writer Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Yrsa Daley-Ward, who is of West Indian and West African descent, is part of a small, elite community of black writers who are breaking down barriers. 

In her words:

“It’s lovely to see women of colour poets,” she says. “Old poetry can be so inaccessible. Not just for people of colour but for people who aren’t super erudite, who don’t read, don’t love Shakespeare. Some people just want to connect with feelings.”

She was born in the northern town after her Jamaican mother (a nurse) had an extra-marital affair with a Nigerian man who came to the UK to study, leaving his wife and children behind. He died before Daley-Ward was old enough to meet him.

Ysra Daley-Ward. Photograph: Platon for the Observer

Talking about her poem with THE GUARDIAN, she mentioned a reading in south London where a man came up to her in tears. “He asked me to send it to him. I thought nobody was listening,” she says

Mental Health, has made fans of people who have never given a thought to poetry.

Mental Health Poem: 

  If you’re walking down an aisle with a

dim, florescent hue

  by the tinned fish and canned beans

  strip lighting above, cracked tiles


  with the realisation that most things

  are futile

  and get the sudden urge to end it all

  don’t stop. Call a friend.

  Call your mother if you have one

and, if you can stand her,

  listen to her talk about the price of

  canned fish and tinned beans.

  Call the speaking clock. Know that

  whatever time it says is the time that

  everything has to change.

  Leave the damn aisle.

  Don’t go anywhere where they sell

  sweets, chips, booze,

  fast love or lottery tickets.

  See that just outside there are people

  lined streets that are emptier than

  your insides,

  skies darker than your own

Look for yourself, because it never

  helps to hear from anyone else.

  If you are one of those ‘running

  around town like mad’ people,

  people who jump from tall buildings,

  buildings with glass fronts and not

  enough air

  if you are failing to fix a broken story

  if you have been cooped up for far

  too long in a very high tower in a

  dangerously low state

plenty of TV channels and TV

  dinners. Plenty of biscuits, chocolate

  desserts, cake and plenty of wine but

  no love for miles and miles

  if you did not get up for work today

  if it has been afternoon for hours

  and the silence is keeping you awake,

  if you only remember how to draw

  your breath in and out like waves of

  thick tar cooling,

  if you are wishing it later,

  pulling the sun down with your

prayers, leave the damn bed.

  Wash the damn walls. Crack open a


  even in the rain. Even in the snow.

  Listen to the church bells outside.

  Know that however many times they

  chime is half the number of changes

  you have to make.

  Stop trying to die. Serve your time


  Do your time.

  Clean out the fridge

Throw away the soya milk. Soya milk

  is made from children’s tears. Put

  flowers on the table. Stand them in a

  measuring jug. Chop raw vegetables if

  you have them.

  Know that if you are hungry for

  something but you cant think what

  you are, more often than not, only


  only bored.

  When the blood in your body

Is weary to flow

when your bones are heavy though


  if you have made it past thirty


  and if you haven’t yet,

  rejoice. Know that there is a time

  coming in your life when dirt settles

  and the patterns form a picture.

  If you dream of the city but you live

  in the country

  milk the damn cows.

  Sell the damn sheep.

  Know that they will be wishing you well

posing for pictures on milk cartons or

  running over lush hills to be counted

  at the beginning of somebody else’s


  See, they never held you back.

It was you, only you.

Photo Credit : naamnw.org

CLICK HERE to read the full interview

Ysra Daley-Ward. Photograph: Platon for the Observer

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