Introduction: Dean Atta’s poem, ‘I Am Nobody’s Nigger’ -an direct response to the Stephen Lawrence verdict earlier this year- achieved viral success and accolades from specialist and mainstream media, culuminating in a SBTV video and a recommendation from Mrs Doreen Lawrence herself, declaring she found the poem ‘powerful and thought provoking.’
We asked him to share with us the process of writing the poem, and the aftermath...
Thank you to Josh at Poejazzi for giving me a space on your website to share my thoughts about the ‘viral’ spread of my poem, and to Musa for being the first person to read my poem and encouraging me to post it on Soundcloud. As I stated in the Guardian interview, I wrote this poem in 30 minutes on the morning of Wednesday 4th January and by the end of that day it had been listened to over 8,000 times.
The current figure stands at 21,978 as I write this a month later. I was surprised by the amount of attention it received but I wouldn’t have called it a viral piece. I always thought something would have to have millions of hits for it to be considered ‘viral’ although it is rare for a poem to reach millions; it is not impossible, search Def Jam Poetry on YouTube or recent offering from Jeffuhson Bethke, ‘Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus’. Now that’s viral!
Did I miss out on reaching millions by choosing to post my poem to the lesser-known platform of Soundcloud? Why did I put my poem there first and not just make a YouTube video? For me it was just easiest to record the poem on my iPhone, using the Soundcloud app. Guardian dubbed me “the iPhone Poet”, although no-one from Apple has been in touch to offer me any sponsorship yet.
On the morning the poem first went online I received a phone call from Paris Zarcilla the Creative Director of the UK’s biggest youth media platform SB.TV, who asked if he could make a video for it. I was familiar with the SB.TV team through my work as Creative Director of the Spirit of London Awards for which they are our online media partners. So the coming together of us two creative directors made so much sense. It took us some time to coordinate our diaries and a get the video shoot together but we didn’t want to rush in order to just catch or ride the wave of the poem’s hype.
By the time we shot the video the poem had been featured in the The Times, Huffington Post, Guardian and countless blogs, including this one (Poejazzi) and I had put the poem on sale on iTunes to raise money for The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. I was getting hundreds of tweets, emails and Facebook messages from all over the world with praise and opportunities to further share my work. My Facebook reached its ‘Friend’ limit of 5,000 and I gained over 1,000 new followers on Twitter. Some of my favourite tweets came from MP David Lammy and rapper Bashy.
I name-drop to make the point that these guys already knew me; they didn’t discover me because of this poem (although many others did). I was already part of many networks who helped to spread my poem, not just because I asked them to but because they knew I was coming from a place of integrity and were willing to support me and my words because they knew I must have felt strongly enough about them to put them out there in the first place. Also because I’d probably supported them in a similar way in the past. Whether it’s the poetry community, people I know in music, journalists and bloggers who have been following and supporting my career or the poetry lovers who have seen me perform before or seen or heard my work online, almost everyone I knew came behind me at this moment in time when I had something so timely and truthful to say. For that and many reasons I am incredibly grateful and encouraged that I am on the right track with my career and that poetry is most certainly my calling.
About The Author
Dean Atta is an award-winning poet, playwright, performer and educator. Dean has won the Spirit of London Award for ‘Achievement through the Arts’ and the BEFFTA Award for ‘Best Spoken Word Artist/Poet’ and been commissioned to write poems for institutions ranging from the Damilola Taylor Trust to the Tate Modern. Dean’s work features on TV, radio and online platforms including BBC 1Xtra, Radio 4, 6 Music, Channel 4 and SB.TV.