Every day is a battle with language. There are endless ways of expressing what you feel and think, but most of the time we just speak, not even aware of what words we use.

My name is Louise Halvardsson (“Lou Ice” on stage); I was born in Sweden but have lived in Brighton on and off for ten years, and am not far off from being bi-lingual. Still,  almost every day I meet new words or expressions I’ve never heard before.

I recently read (in The Xenophobe’s guide to the English) that there are about 500 000 words in the English language, but the average person only uses about 3000 words compared to Shakespeare who used about 8000.  In poetry though, it’s not about how many words you know, it’s more about how you use them.

Being able to work as a Shadow Poetry Coach for Shake the Dust (and to represent my region online through blogging) has really boosted my confidence, a feeling of being accepted despite my accent and limited vocabulary, and that’s what I hope to pass on to the young people I will be working with: it doesn’t matter who you are – everybody’s got something to contribute.

I’ve come a long way since I was in my early twenties and got up on stage at my first open mic event in Brighton (well, Hove actually), reciting a short poem I’d originally written in Swedish:


I wrote my own law book

It only had one paragraph:

1. You’re not allowed

to regret anything

Punishment: Go back

and make it ten times worse


Having English as a second language isn’t only a disadvantage. On the contrary I’m coming to the language from a different angle, and that’s another thing I hope to encourage in young people, making them look at ordinary things in a slightly different way. For example, a Swedish guy I know asked my English friend the following question: “What’s the word for a wooden sofa in the street?” It took me a moment before I realised that he was talking about a bench. But the way he expressed it, is much more poetic.

Next week I’m doing  my first workshop with poetry coach Mike Parker and my head is buzzing with ideas and excitement. The students at The Samuel Cody Specialist Sports College who we’re going to work with are already used to drama and performing, so I’m looking forward to the challenge of inspiring the young people to write their own poems both for the stage and the page.