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Take Up Space

Take Up Space is a poetry project that took place over six weeks in two men’s prisons in London, HMP Thameside and YOI Feltham in partnership with Catch22

Performance poet Joshua Idehen and Artsadmin’s Education Producer Siobhan McGrath worked with men aged 18-25 years old to write and develop poetry that they performed to their families and an invited audience at the end of the project. 

Take Up Space explored who we are in different physical and emotional spaces and how many versions of a person there can be. The participants chose to write about spaces, from intimate hotel rooms and their mothers’ kitchens to London postcode areas and cities. 

Read this selection of poems written by the participants over just six sessions, each followed by Joshua’s comments on the work created. We have also collated some of the feedback from the participants below. 

Hotel is a room en- suite
A luxury bed and all white sheets
Breakfast in bed with a nice cup of tea
Night time glass of Ciroc and its peach
It smells clinically clean like bleach
but outside smells like pollution
right next to the airport so there’s no solution
Hotel is doors opening and closing
I wonder where everyone is going
But there’s no point in knowing
Ordered room service so that’s more money I’m owing

Hotel is a bed with no creases
You pay for a night so there’s no leases
There’s some pictures on the wall
King size bed so now I feel small
Sheets are comfortable and silk
Fresh and crisp and white like milk
I look out of the window and admire the view
Look up at the sky and it’s prison cup blue
Everything looks modern and fresh
So I‘m lying there felling blessed 

There’s many different types
Some shit
Some nice
Some cheap
Some pricey
Some warm

Some icy
Some you can speak hood
Some you have to talk nicely
They’re all over the place
You probably see one everyday
A secret little hideaway 

Dear hotel, you are so relaxing and modern
I loved you before I came to prison
You used to be my home
But sometimes it would be lonely
I hate the way you would kick me out in the morning
But I can’t lie I slyly miss it
I’ll be back soon but for now I’ve got to get used to prison. 


“Ryan has a sensitive and simple conversation-ease to his writing; disarming, like you were reading a text from a mate. Peppered in are some breathtaking metaphors and heartbreaking moments.”


London is disgusting, grimy
Too many things remind me
London is a dungeon
Where people fight for their lives
See she’s a colloseum
Not everyone survives
She’s my beautiful cherry
The one for me
Like a dog on his paws waiting for his master to return
She befuddles me
Even as I grow these old wounds won’t go 

London is where the strong live and where the weak dies
The weak slaughter and get slaughtered trying to stay alive
My brother, look after your daughter swimming in the water

London is a place of false pretence
Hybrids of angels and demons sitting on fences
London is the place to make dough
With the right yeast your currency exponentially grows you know 

They say diamonds are made from pressure
Don’t worry things will get better
She’ll take everything if you let her
You get nothing if you’re not a go –getter

London is a kraken
A legend of old
Her tentacles in everything, she’s dangerous as well. 

She’s like the lottery, promises she can’t keep
A city underground
Where everything is connected in some way, somehow
From Prime Minister to Mr to thug.
They’re invisible in the ghetto
An ugly sight in the rich estates
See it on their face
What you doing here?
Someone call the police
I know all the blacks and you’re not one of them 

London is a crimson red diamond encrusted orobus
Wearing a monacle
Eyes purple and beige
Covering her age
Much like her shape
Endless in time
Scales and tails
Sharper then claws
More powerful than Jaws 

There is no food, she feeds on herself
She’s a classic being
Been doing it for years
A dangerous love
She’ll have you in tears
I don’t care what anyone says
I love her 


“Marcus is a poet’s poet, somewhere between a Toni Morrison and a Lauryn Hill. Metaphor-wise, this poem has my favourite verse, the one starting with “London is a crimson red/diamond encrusted orobus…”


I see a hall and on each wall there are barred windows that barely open. Hidden yet visible to all are the cameras watching and waiting for a penny to fall

The room has many chairs yet they are stuck to the ground and leave you unable to draw closer to your visitors.

Separated by a wooden table there may as well be a window in between.

Being here in this room ain’t exactly what I’m used to.

The sound of the keys always irritated me, yet that same sound is what I need in order to see my loved ones again.

So here it is, a letter to my beloved friend.

Dear room,
I thought happiness was a drug but then I found love
Or perhaps I should say that happiness found me
Incarcerated in prison, yet still I felt free 

Three times a week I’d make myself known to these walls
Three times a week I’d walk into a place where I felt tall
HMP Pentonville, a place where I and my pen stood still
Yet still, I could cry with a smile the way that my mind was filled 

Although I hate to say it
I fell in love with the memories I made with you
Moments so special by the people infused
But if I could choose
I would never have met you
Shit, I‘m confused 

Dear room,
There’s so much to lose
My mind has been battered and bruised
When I close my eyes I can still hear the laughter I created in you 

I mean, everyday was special, but I remember one day in particular
October twelfth 2016
The day of all days with no tables in between
On a couch I sat down alone with my thoughts
And of course I was taught to stay patient
But as the heavens opened my love became blatant
Wow, I’ve never seen a new born before
Up close and personal
My angels walked through the door
From kicking in her belly to kicking in my arms
At just three days old
The sun shines bright as it leaps for joy
At just three days old
His scales are covered in gold.


“Possibly one of the most touching pieces I’ve had the pleasure of workshopping. Every single stanza was crafted with a careful understanding of the narrative and themes at hand. A beautiful poem.”


Participant Responses