The Word Association Mentorship Programme 2022   

Making 12 former TWA course participants into better writers… 

“I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all the poems several times now. Every single one of them was a privilege to read and I am in awe of the creativity and the courage of everyone who submitted.”

Melanie Branton, TWA Mentorship Programme 2022 mentor

The brand new, Arts Council England funded, The Word Association Mentorship Programme is a flexible online nine session creative writing mentoring and talent development programme that will allow 12 chosen mentees to focus on honing their craft under the guidance of a team of wonderful poets. Anyone who has attended any of our previous writing courses (Words To Live By, Standing Proud, Ssh-OUT! and #SoftLads) was welcome to apply.

We’ve selected six mentors, based on our experiences of their workshops, performances and published work. We’ve also picked mentors who are the loveliest of people and we know will look after our mentees well. Our mentors are Casey Bailey, Melanie Branton, Nafeesa Hamid, Bohdan Piasecki, Emma Purshouse and Dan Webber – a dynamic selection of widely published, celebrated, slam winning, multi genre, Poets Laureate and headliners. Our dedicated directors Giovanni ‘Spoz’ Esposito and Holly Winter-Hughes, and delightful regular facilitator Lorna Meehan will also be on hand to offer additional support. We’ll tailor each mentee’s experience according to their individual needs, offering everyone the chance to work with each mentor but also giving extra attention to specific areas of writing, publishing and performance as required.  

(L-R): Casey Bailey (photo: Paul Stringer), Melanie Branton, Nafeesa Hamid, Bohdan Piasecki (photo: Tyrone Lewis), Emma Purshouse, Dan Webber (photo: Andy Hollingworth), Giovanni ‘Spoz’ Esposito, Holly Winter-Hughes and Lorna Meehan.

All of our previous participants were invited to apply for the mentoring programme by sending in their single best poem. Our mentors looked for people whose work expressed quality that could be nurtured through mentoring, and our 12 final mentees were anonymously selected on the literary merit of their submission. They will be offered 9 x hour long one-on-one online mentoring sessions throughout May, June and July (allowing flexibility for ill health, other commitments etc).  

As the standard of submissions was so high, we decided to allocate six highly commended places to poets who came close to making it through. To mark this accomplishment, we are offering them two mentoring sessions each.

On July 15th we’ll hold a celebratory event where participants can share the work that they’ve been developing over this focused period of development with each other and a wider audience.    

We have some treats in store for anyone who isn’t selected or is unable to commit to the full programme, as throughout May and June we will also be hosting a series of free online workshops facilitated by our mentors. These will be open to all past participants. As part of the wider project we will also be releasing a free ebook full of writing resources, prompts and publishing tips and opportunities. This will be available to the general public. 

 (Please note that we will be running our Words To Live By, Ssh-OUT! and Standing Proud writing courses and producing anthologies as usual this year. This programme is a new and separate).  

Who are our mentors? Discover more about their work here…

Casey Bailey is a writer, performer and educator, born and raised in Nechells, Birmingham, UK. Casey is the Birmingham Poet Laureate 2020 – 2022 and the Greater Birmingham Future Face of Arts and Culture 2020.

Casey’s second full poetry collection Please Do Not Touch was published by Burning Eye in 2021. Casey’s debut play ‘GrimeBoy’ was commissioned by the Birmingham Rep in 2020. He was commissioned by the BBC to write ‘The Ballad of The Peaky Blinders’ in 2019. In 2020 the poem was internationally recognised, winning a Webby Award. Casey has performed his poetry nationally, and internationally.

Casey was named as one of ‘Birmingham Live’s’, Birmingham ’30 under 30’ of 2018, Casey is a Fellow of the University of Worcester and in 2021 was awarded an honorary doctorate by Newman University.

Melanie Branton took up spoken word at the age of 46 and her eclectic work, which ranges from quirky, off-kilter comedy to gut-punchingly candid confessional, addresses themes including historical linguistics, class, mental health, and not having a boyfriend.

She has performed at spoken word nights the length and breadth of the country, as well as at the Edinburgh Fringe and at festivals including Womad, Shindig and the Bristol, Exeter and Wolverhampton poetry festivals. Her published collections are Can You See Where I’m Coming From? (Burning Eye, 2018) and My Cloth-Eared Heart (Oversteps, 2017) and her work has appeared in numerous journals, webzines and anthologies.

“Melanie Branton is an unexpected poetry slap. The kind that makes your face tingle and your eyebrows sky rocket. She is funny, clever, ironic, dry, gripping, needed and you won’t see her coming until she is standing in your face.” – Liv Torc

“Quite brilliant […] Melanie Branton’s ability to conjure light from the darkness, comedy among the tragedy, and a magical absurdity out of the everyday.” – Brian Bilston

Nafeesa Hamid is a writer, workshop facilitator, performer, and creative producer. She was born in Pakistan, bred in Birmingham. Her debut poetry collection Besharam (2018, Verve Poetry Press) was highly commended for the Forward Prizes 2019. She is subsequently published in the Forward Book of Poetry 2020 (2019, Faber Poetry), as well as Forward Poems of the Decade 2011-2020 (2021, Faber Poetry). She is also published in The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write, a (2017, Saqi Books) anthology edited by Sabrina Mahfouz.  

Nafeesa has performed nationally and internationally; she was a guest for Jo Brand’s show on BBC Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy, as well as a BBC Edinburgh Fringe Slam finalist (2018). Nafeesa is alumni of Mouthy Poets Collective, Hippodrome Young Poets (B’ham) and Derby Theatre Graduate Associates. Nafeesa was founder of Twisted Tongues Derby/ Birmingham and co-founder of Gully Collective/ Gully Zine; a collective focused on bringing together and showcasing South Asian artists from Brum and beyond. She is currently a Rifco Theatre associate artist developing new monologues for stage.  

Bohdan Piasecki is a poet, translator, and creative producer from Poland based in Birmingham with an interest in multilingual writing. He founded the first poetry slam in Poland in 2003, before moving to the UK to pursue a doctorate in translation studies. He was Lead Tutor for a number of poetry courses (such as the Roundhouse Poetry Collective, Bellows, BAIT, and Red Sky Sessions) and currently works as Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. 

 Emma Purshouse is a freelance writer, performance poet and slam champion.  She was the first Poet Laureate for the City of Wolverhampton.  Emma writes for both children and adults.  Her children’s collection, ‘I Once Knew a Poem Who Wore a Hat’ (Fair Acre Press), won the poetry section of the Rubery Book Award in 2016.  Her poetry collection ‘Close’ (Offa’s Press) was shortlisted for the same award in 2019.  Emma’s first novel ‘Dogged’ (Iginite Books) was published early in 2021.  

She has performed her work at spoken word nights and festivals across the UK and is one third of the poetry collective Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists. 

Her appearances include, The Cheltenham Literature Festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Much Wenlock Poetry Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe, Shambala, Latitude, and Womad. She has supported John Hegley, Holly McNish and Carol Ann Duffy. 

In 2017 Emma won the ‘Making Waves’ international spoken word competition which was judged by Luke Wright.  

“A whirlwind of wit and humour” – Write Out Loud. 

Dan Webber is an award-winning LGBTQ+ poet and producer based in Derby. He has appeared at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Reading Fringe Festival and as part of the 25th Birthday Celebrations for Leicester Comedy Festival. His first collection ‘Genre Fluid’ was published by Big White Shed in June 2019, a show of the same name won Best Solo Show at Morecambe Digital Fringe in August 2020.  Commissions include work for Coventry Pride, The National Forest (with Arts Melbourne), The Brewhouse Arts Centre, Derby Feste and SHOUT Festival, Birmingham.

This project has been funded by Arts Council England. We are hugely grateful for their support!