Unwritten Poems

  • Jamaica, UK

Britain’s First World War poets changed the way we view military conflict and had a deep impact on the national psyche. Yet the stories of the 15,600 volunteers who signed up to the British West Indies Regiment remain largely unknown.

What does it mean to fight for a ‘mother country’ that refuses to accept you as one of its own? As a collaborative project, co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, BBC Contains Strong Language and the British Council, Unwritten Poems invited contemporary Caribbean and Caribbean diaspora poets to write into that vexed space, exploring the nature of war and humanity – as it exists now, and at a time when Britain’s colonial ambitions were still at a peak.

The poets commissioned for the project are Jay Bernard, Malika Booker, Kat Francois, Jay T. John, Anthony Joseph, Ishion Hutchinson, Charnell Lucien, Vladimir Lucien, Tanya Shirley and Karen McCarthy Woolf who edited the anthology. Their poems are collected together in the anthology Unwritten: Caribbean Poems After the First World War (Nine Arches Press, 2018). 


'Telling these untold stories is paramount'


In the run up to the publication of the anthology, six of the commissioned writers have written about about their experience of taking part in the project and how they approached writing their new poems. You can read their blogs below.

Uncovering Caribbean experiences of WW1 by Karen McCarthy Woolf

Filling in the gaps by Tanya Shirley

A sense of urgency by Ishion Hutchinshon

There are more stories to tell by Jay T John

Telling new stories by Kat Francois

Whose voice am I hearing? by Vladimir Lucien


Unwritten Poems at Contains Strong Language, Hull, 28-30 September 

 Unwritten Poems Contains Strong Language BBC Arts HD1080p BBC BRANDED

Unwritten Poems will be presented at Contains Strong Language, the BBC's festival of poetry and spoken word in Hull from 28 to 30 September 2018.

The commissioned poets will take part in live readings as well as a recording of a special edition of The Verb for BBC Radio 3 exploring the Unwritten Poems project, which will be broadcast on 11 November.  

For the full programme of events and to book free tickets, please see the website of Contains Strong Language.


Unwritten Poems at the Birmingham Literature Festival, 4 October


Unwritten Poems will be presented at the Birmingham Literature Festival on 4 October 2018 to coincide with National Poetry Day. Commissioned poets Jay Bernard, Malika Booker, Kat Francois, Jay T. John, Ishion Hutchinson, Charnell Lucien, Vladimir Lucien and Tanya Shirley will share their work from the new antholoty. The event will be hosted by Karen McCarthy Woolf.

For more information see the website of the Birmingham Literature Festival.


Unwritten Poems at the Calabash Festival, Jamaica

 Poetry Workshop Jamaica c British Council

In partnership with the Calabash Festival in Jamaica, three of the commissioned poets led workshops with early career Jamaican poets on the themes of history, archive and memory in Kingston in June 2018. Four of the commissioned poets, Jay Bernard, Malika Booker, Ishion Hutchinson and Karen McCarthy Woolf, also led a workshop on the project at the Calabash Festival, where they discussed their research and their own writing on the topic. 

For more information see the website of British Council Jamaica.


Peace and Armistice


Working towards peace 

As the world commemorates the centenary of the Armistice that brought the First World War to an end, the British Council is participating in Remembrance and exploring the role of culture in conflict resolution and peacebuilding today.  https://www.britishcouncil.org/working-towards-peace



Unwritten Poems is co-commissioned by BBC Contains Strong Language, 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, and the British Council and is delivered in collaboration with Wrecking Ball Press, Nine Arches Press and the Calabash Festival. To order a copy of the anthology Unwritten: Caribbean Poems After The First World War please visit the website of Nine Arches Press. 

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