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Last week the results of the Literary Festival ‘Foundations’ competition were announced and students presented their amazing work. The audience were treated to wonderful poems, essays, short stories and photographs, before the winners were revealed.
First place was awarded to Lola Adeyemo, for her moving poem on the kidnapping of the Chibok school girls by Boko Haram. James Dunn’s poem ‘Untitled’, influenced by English seaside holidays that don’t go to plan, came second and in third place was Cristina Burack for her essay ‘Berlin Cubed’, which considers how she changed over three separate visits to the city.
The shortlisted photos are currently on show in the NAB exhibition space and will be coming to the first floor of the Saw Swee Hock on Thursday 5th March.
Thank you to all the students who submitted work and congratulations to the winners!
Read the winning entries below.
Stolen Dreams in Chibok, The
Foundation of A Nation’s Legacy by Lola Adeyemo
I think I hear them scream
I think I feel their heart beat
Images of real warriors
Treading on snakes and scorpions
Do you feel their fingers tremble?
As you conceive the atrocities
your incompetence dealt
The cards your complacency shuffled
Does that instant rip your soul?
What will it take to find your beauty?
Betrayer’s kiss –
Judas of our forefather’s legacy
A nation broken
As another dream is stolen
I think I hear their thoughts
I think I taste their tears
Searching for answers
Fairy tale endings
Bleak as it be
Praying for the prey
This could have been me
Questioning the last words I spoke to my father
Reminiscing about the songs from my mother
This could have been you
The egocentricity of your inaction
Rock our nation
Red hands in gold plates
Cold hearts in warm beds
Drum beats against bomb ticks
Mouths filled with distorted sweet
Strangled by greed
I think I hear souls bleed
I think I watch my sisters impaired
Condemned by indifference
And buried by insignificance
Their lives must count
Their sacrifice must resound
I think I hear mothers wail
I think I watch them toil
Searching for answers
Digging for meaning
Tossing in their beds
Minds consumed with fear
But, let this truth echo in your souls
We love you
Your names are imprinted in our nations’ heart
Your pain a scar in our spirit
We care about you
Your life forever a reminder of our inadequacy
Martyrs - on your loss,
We will build our legacy
Untitled by James Dunn
Lashing, cutting down on single glaze
the water bouncing off at angles
opposite to the cold, which carries on -
only our bones can stop that.
Rented caravan - static - exactly
replicates every other, equally spaced
and permanent on concrete foundations
rendering its supposed accident illusory.
you didn’t have to remove yourself from
the aluminium confines to take a piss
and return with dirt and bodily fluids
on your slippers stained green and ruined.
Food-poisoned, sour monochrome complainants
remain poised on their own foundations,
crumbling this time, sinking unremittingly
into clay; second-to-last holiday.
damp pillow, crypt-like reassurance of
her head, heavy now on my dead arm
that I will move after this sentence
or endure from now until morning.
wakefulness exposes me to keenly
welcomed effects of serotonin, unveiled
single glaze exposing yellow and blue
and the coffee pot and her.
Berlin Cubed by
I came to this
city three different times, for three entirely separate reasons, for three
varying lengths of time. Same city, three totally different experiences. Part
of the reason is that I changed in between the visits, each of which was
separated from the preceding one by three years. When you return to a place you
have previously been, you see it differently because you have evolved and
developed. Your recent experiences have altered the tint of the glasses through
which you see the world. Sometimes the return is a letdown, and the city does
not live up to the ideal you preserved in the display case of your mind. After
taking time to carefully dust off any sediment which might have clouded the
sparkle the city threw through memory’s glass walls, the return remains
lackluster, drab, not as grand in reality as when viewed through memory’s
framework, under brilliant lights and atop a pedestal.
Other times a
return lets you tackle unfinished business. You go back, you pick up a thread
that you had left hanging, and then you continue to weave a narrative that
seamlessly bridges your before and your now in that city. It is as if you have
never really been away. The city has been waiting patiently for you to come
back. It is less of a return and more of a homecoming.
And then there
is the third type of return. It occurs only seldom. This return is not
reality’s disappointing intrusion into your idealized memory, nor is it the
reawakening of a slumbering city princess unaware of the passage of time.
Instead, it is something totally new. The same city, but new people, places,
purposes. Almost no relation to your previous experiences of the city exist.
Each stay exists in and of itself, and the city breathes life into them all.
This type of return depends upon the person: they must have different goals and
aims each time they find themselves once more in a place they have been before.
But it also depends upon the city. Only a city diverse enough, unique enough,
dynamic enough, a city that pulses with energy in a million directions, a city
defined by its very undefinable-ness—only such a city offers this third type of
return. Such a city not only lets you experience it from the multiple angles of
your different visits but also enables you through, its depth of diversity, to
immerse yourself in an entirely different scene, one that compliments the
newest facet of your personality. You have developed, and the city has just the
thing for you now, so welcome once again.
Berlin was such
a city for me. Each sojourn in Berlin was for very different reasons and gave
me very different experiences. Unlike other cities I have lived in, I never
purposefully tried to return to Berlin; my path just lead me back there as I
pursued disparate opportunities over the years. These unconnected opportunities
brought me back to Berlin because Berlin—that chameleon city that can be
anything and everything to anybody and everybody—offered me what I sought each
time. Even when I didn’t know what I was looking for, the city gave it to me.
My first trip
to Berlin was as a tourist in February of 2008. I was living as a study abroad
student in Vienna, Austria at the time and decided to skip out on the group
travel rigmarole and instead go with a good friend, Julie, to discover the
capital of Germany. Everything was gray at that time of year—the sky, the
buildings, people’s moods. It seemed cold and industrial; only graffiti
brightened the streets with neon colors and chaotic designs. Instead of staying
in a hostel, Julie and I couched surfed with a young family in Prenzlauer
Berg, a husband and wife and their infant daughter. The man had grown up in
West Berlin and the woman in East Berlin, and over our first night’s dinner
with them, they recounted their experiences of the Fall of the Wall. The woman
recalled going to the grocery store for the first time and wondering why on
earth there were so many different types of toothpaste. What was the difference?
Why was so much choice necessary to provide adequate dental care? The man
recalled seeing bambi-eyed strangers walking around Kurfürstendamm in
awe. They gave us tips on where to go, and we cooked them dinner the next
We saw all the
main sights: Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstagsgebäude, Alexanderplatz,
Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery, Potsdamer Platz. We also
went into a dilapidated old building, one whose exterior would have doomed it
to foreclosure and demolition in the US, but whose inside was a labyrinth of
experimental art with paintings directly on the walls and installations on the
landings, a bar on the third floor in a dark, curtained room with low slung
chairs under once broken, now boarded-up windows, and a fifth-floor attic with
an angled roof and an open floor for performances. It was my first taste of how
in Berlin, what was Old can be New. Reinvention. Repurpose. Much like my
subsequent visits to the city itself.
I returned to
Berlin for the second time with what one could call a professional purpose. I
had been selected to participate in Das Lied, an international art
song competition hosted every two years in the city. I had graduated from
Northwestern University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Music in Voice and Opera and
Bachelor of Arts in History, and in September of that same year, I moved back
to Vienna to teach English as a Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant.
Teaching was the means to live once again in the musical capital of Europe; my
plans to seriously pursue singing truly motivated my return. My life revolved
around my singing. I took regular weekly lessons, coached repertoire nearly as
often, auditioned for choruses and summer programs, and gave recitals and
public performances. After my two teaching years were up, I aimed to enroll
either in the Music University in Vienna or attend an American conservatory for
my masters in vocal performance. My eventual goal was to sing professionally,
so when I received my acceptance letter for Das Lied competition in Berlin, a
few months after sending in my audition tape with confidence but tempered
hopes, I was ecstatic and in disbelief. I, Cristina, was invited to go to
Berlin to compete in one of the most prestigious vocal competitions for
upcoming singers! I would be singing for Thomas Quasthoff and Brigitte
Fassbaender, giants of the art song and Lieder world I wanted
to enter! I would have to perfect my 40 song selections in three months, find
an accompanist, make travel arrangements, give a dress rehearsal, and keep my
nerves under control.
The closer the
competition neared, the less in control I felt of my voice and myself. My voice
teacher would tell me I was singing well, but was I? It didn’t feel right in my
body. I couldn’t trust my voice. What felt right, she said was wrong. What she
said sounded right felt wrong. I planned my performance outfit for the
competition, something I felt entirely comfortable in. My teacher nixed it at
the dress rehearsal, saying it wasn’t mature enough. She suggested a more matronly
dress, higher heels, gaudier jewelry and clownishly exaggerated make up. I felt
like a puppet, all done up by someone else and with someone else’s voice
emanating from my body.
trip to Berlin was at once much more personal than my first trip as a tourist
and yet more foreign at the same time. I knew my way around the city a little
bit, and I stayed with a host family in Schöneberg, a residential
area in the south-western corner of the city. They welcomed me with open arms,
dog-hair slippers, and patience for my bathroom vocalises at seven in the
morning. My host mother told me about the Trümmerberge, or rubble
mountains, that lay in the neighborhood. They had been built by the women of
Berlin following the end of WWII. These women fascinated me, the steely
strength they possessed to pick up the endless pieces of bombed-out buildings,
to gather the stones that marked suffering and death and destruction, and use
them to change the landscape into the verdant, tree-filled escape it is today.
I was slated to
compete the second day of the first round, so I spent the free day before the
competition practicing in the regal Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler on Gendarmenmarkt in
the center of the city. The Hochschule had a carved stone façade and plushy carpeted
stairs. Echoes of Brahms and Wolf floated through its stone hallways on the
practice floors. Its arched entryway unfurled out onto a cobblestoned plaza
where an ionic-columned concert hall, a temple to music, sat ceremoniously in
the plaza’s center. All this matched my visions of a European musical backdrop.
But I felt out of place against it.
participants in the competition were at various points in their careers, but
most were actively performing. I was one of the youngest and least experienced
participants, and I listened with eager ears to the professional pursuits of my
co-competitors. Whirlwind travels (“Next week I’m in London for auditions, then
it’s back to Montreal to start a six-week rehearsal period for an opera, but I
have to go down to New Haven in three weeks to sing the Missa Solemnis with
the symphony”). Flakey accompanists (“Can you believe he had the nerve to show
up 10 minutes before my audition? I didn’t want to pay him, but I did”).
Annoyances of long-term apartments (“I hate it when the people before you don’t
leave any spices in the cupboard”). Premieres of new works (“I’m lucky, the
composer writes well for the voice and he really took my strengths into
consideration when writing the part, even asked for my tessitura!”). Typical
gossip (“Didn’t you hear that Martina threatened to quit teaching at the
conservatory if she didn’t get complete say over who was in her studio? What a
diva.”) Everything they did sounded so exciting—traveling all over the world,
collaborating with different musicians, being the vessels for entirely new
works—and they were friendly enough, but I felt out of place in their circle,
like an actor who has stumbled into the wrong scene. As I listened to their
conversations, I heard a little but very clear voice in my head saying, “Wow,
that sounds so exciting. I’m so glad it’s not me.”
I didn’t make
it past the first round of the competition. This early exit left me with a lot
of time to get lost in the city and lost in my thoughts. I had not expected to
get far in the competition, but I had expected that this experience in Berlin
would solidify my aspirations for a professional music career. Berlin was
supposed to be the doorway to my musical future, but it ended up being the
place where I was out of place. I was suddenly confronted with the question of
what I had thought was a given: a professional singing career. Nothing was
certain anymore, except for the cloudy February skies above me, the damp air
that hung like a shroud around me, and the hard concrete sidewalks below my
feet, whose cold leaked into my soles as I wandered aimlessly around the city,
In my mind,
Berlin was to have been my musical mecca. But instead of being a resolution on
the tonic at the end of movement one of my musical pursuits, setting me up to
gallop onward into movement two, it was an abrupt finale, like a frustrated
piano player’s fist crashing down on the keys before getting up from the bench.
Berlin ended up being my musical oracle, revealing a truth that I had
successfully buried within me under hour upon hour of practice sessions. My
realization threw me into a drawn-out tailspin, questioning everything, sure of
nothing. The city had not fulfilled what I had thought was my destiny. But it
had fulfilled the destiny that was actually mine, and that I had not yet
recognized. It gave me the clarity that my way was unclear. It gave me
certainty that my path was uncertain. At the end of my trip, I left Berlin
radically changed. This second visit reoriented my life, even though I couldn’t
yet see in which direction I was now headed. This orientation would have to
wait for trip three. But I didn’t know that. I didn’t think I would be back.
Two and a half
years later, in March of 2014, I found myself once again en route to Berlin.
This time it would be for longer, five months to be exact. I was traveling
there for something entirely different than before—an international exchange
program that would bring 120 young professionals from 31 different countries to
Berlin to work in a Member of Parliament’s office and experience German
parliamentary democracy. This time I would be surrounded not by musicians but
by aspiring politicians, or such was my preconception.
once said that politicians are wannabe rock stars. Would the people in my
program be that different in mindset from the spotlight-seeking singers of the
competition? Would I fit in with this new group of people? I had never studied
political science or worked in an overtly political capacity. Growing up
outside Washington, DC, where politics permeated the everyday, and one stint of
political canvassing was about as far as I got. Would I be an outsider among
the future Hollandes, Gaucks, and Ashtons? Would everyone there have a steely
glint in their eye and manicured talons, eager to take down their next victim
on their climb to the top of the political pyramid? Would the city taunt me
with memories of my last visit? Friends who had spent time in Berlin tried to
reassure me, telling me about how much they loved it, how alternative it was,
how great the nightlife was, how dynamic the art scene was. Would I, former
opera singer that I was, early-to-rise, early-to-bed, cup-of-tea kind of girl,
be hip enough for the city itself now that I had to live there? Or would I once
again arrive in Berlin only to feel out of place, a perpetual outsider?
My fears and
anxieties did not endure long past my arrival. The infectious rhythms of the
city—endless variations that constantly pulsated and modulated—knocked down my
inhibitions as easily as the walls of Jericho. This time, Berlin bombarded me
with graffiti, music, peeling posters advertising DJ performances, book
readings and rallies. I bought a bike at the chaotic flea market in Mauerpark,
a weekly mass of second-hand humanity, and began pedaling all around the city,
discovering its distinctive neighborhoods: Mitte, with its broad
boulevards, triumphant monuments, and modern buildings of political
power; Kreuzberg, a mass of languages that smelled of kebab drippings
and where night-goers filled the streets until long after I was asleep; Friedrichshain,
where former Soviet cement buildings hosted hipster coffee shops and cute home
decor stores displayed items organized by color; Charlottenburg,
decidedly suburban in feel with colored houses, flowered balconies and shady
river banks; Neukölln, with its alles-für-ein-Euro stores,
windows with head scarves in saturated solids and lively floral patterns, and
market stands on the sidewalks that tempted me with rainbow fruits.
I got to know
other people in the program who, like me, found themselves in Berlin because
they followed an exciting opportunity to an exciting place. They were not
racing down a straight highway towards political greatness but a meandering
path that let them explore their diverse surroundings. Oh, the aspiring
politicians abounded, but they got excited about the opportunity to snap a
photo with the Minister of the Interior. I got excited about seeing a World Cup
game projected onto a church wall with live organ accompaniment. And others did
too. These were my friends, the individuals who were not there with a mindset
to achieve but to absorb, to take in everything, do everything, try everything
across the broad spectrum of offerings that the city poured daily into our
attending musical events regularly for the first time since that fateful
competition. A friend who lived there and worked in music management opened my
ears to the diverse and innovative musical events going on in all corners of
the city. I attended symphonic concerts at the Berliner Philharmoniker,
heard a cembalo performance in a converted pumping station with a view of Alexanderturm in
the background, and saw a production of Bizet’s opera Carmen that
combined a post-financial crisis apocalypse with voodoo skulls and themes of
sexual violence that could have come straight out of Pedro Almodovar’s Matador.
Most days, I
would take the longer but more scenic route to and from work, biking over the
bumpy Gendarmenmarkt and passing the Hochschule für
Musik. I couldn’t help but smile as I would fly by the ever regal building
on my way from the Bundestag to home. There, a quiet dinner
and a book awaited me. Or maybe an evening open-air jazz concert in a park with
good beer and good friends.
As I think
about these experiences, I am tempted to ask, “Where was this Berlin when I had
visited it before?” But that would be the wrong question. The correct question
would be, “Where was this Cristina when she had been in Berlin before?” And
therein lies a knotted conclusion: without the Berlin of yesterday, the
Cristina of today would not be. This Cristina blossomed in Berlin but
eventually said Tschüss to go on to her next adventure in a
new city, armed with her recently acquired confidence. But the Cristina of
tomorrow can come back to Berlin and experience it yet again as something
Just like it
did for the women after World War II, Berlin let me build my own Trümmerberg.
I gathered the pieces of my former dreams and goals and carried their weighty
burden around until I could piece them together and build a hill where I could
climb to the top, stand on my dreams that were, and look over the terrain
around me with a new perspective. I could see where I had been and how I had arrived
at where I now found myself. And I could look to the horizon and see it
silhouetted with cranes, just as in Berlin, cranes that were busy building my
future to come.
As part of LSE’s 7th Literary Festival, students were asked to submit pieces of work on the subject of ‘foundations’. Students submitted poems, essays, short stories and photographs, with the shortlisted entrants invited to present their work. The shortlisted photos are currently on show in the NAB exhibition space and will be coming to the first floor of the Saw Swee Hock for the day next Thursday 5th March.
The three runners up were Nadia Violet Erlam for her spoken word poem ‘The Foundations of Love: Meeting the Divine’; Adam Smith for his photographs ‘Foundations of a New Afghanistan’ documenting the opening of new schools in Afghanistan and Beth
Warne’s poem ‘Foundations’, about two people who look too deeply in to a problem.
Read Nadia and Beth’s work below.
LSESU would like to thank all students who submitted entries for what was a fantastic competition.
Foundations by Beth Warne
the romantic about foundations
they tell us
Strip it all away”
need it really,
the pomp and the circumstance,
be a beauty.
the shackles, they say
simplicity that remains,
That is what
will save you.
across the room when it was done,
at the emptiness we had created there.
We had torn
it off, every scrap, with words as
destructive as paint stripper.
and wretched and what was left.
And ours we
Had I taken
All that had
he had been trying to build,
I may have
found place within it
The Foundations of
Love: Meeting the Divine by Nadia Violet Erlam
laughed so much! Red cheeks, gasping, creasing. We plonked around the wetness
as one. Wet and wellied. Colourful drips, drops. Juicy crystals on our flush
faces. Sharpened instinct brought such synchronicities and I fell in love with
One and every one again. Harmonised senses brings peace and love, refreshing
sanity in utter, and gorgeous, chaos. It was so beautifully bizarre. White orbs
sparked off your fingertips as you moved through sweet sounds and I saw stars
in the shadows. Such magic men and women. Sacred grace and precision danced
around us. We were so infused, and fell in puddles of hugs, hysterics and
unconditional love. It was divine.
patterns cones intricacy and intimate delicacy balance mathematical beats
dangerous safety unknown familiarity multiple realities pleasures frightening
reassurances orgasmic beauty. I feel so humble. Loving radiance friendship
hearts chakras each one pentagons elements rainbowsmoke sparkles vibes drones
groans grown glimmering machines spinning human evolutionary potentials dance
dance dancing with rage and love and spirals, all body and muscles, so sexual,
so sensual. Curvy femininity, strength. Life…intriguing existence. How
peculiar and what dripping beauty. Funnyness, funny faces. Splish splash
colours, tons of people sploshing colours! Oily vibrations and vibes
ricoshading off each other, rushing, rushin, washing, scrubbing, scraping that
pain and stress and suffering away with raindrops streaming down my face in
cracking humour and howling laughter. Trance. I am in trance. Transition?
Transmission. Transmitten. Avec complete exhaustion, left me totally and
Does the thought of cooking give you nightmares?
Do mealtimes often get your reaching for takeaway menus rather than recipe books?
A new BBC food campaign called Dish Up is aiming to get students having fun in the kitchen, cooking with simple recipes and learning easy techniques - and you can be in it!
They’re looking for people to take part in the campaign who can share their own eating and cooking habits: how often you cook, how much you spend, what your favourite foods are.
This is for initial research at this stage, although some people will be filmed and may later become part of the campaign for TV (so you should be happy talking on camera).
If you are interested in taking part, or know someone who is, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a few honest words on how you currently eat in an average week, where you live, and your contact details.
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