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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Rae de Soleil

Photo by Marc A Barker

Growing up in Romania and moving to Sheffield to study in 2012, Rae de Soleil is a firm fixture on Sheffield's poetry scene. Having been writing since the age of 14, their most recent work focuses on the reflection of social structure in everyday lives and in 2019, Rae launched their debut poetry book, 'Adulthood is a lifelong conversation about what we used to do as kids' – a compelling juxtaposition between trauma and its transcendence. Within each word, Rae weaves the ills of society and its oppression, unravelling the personal-political. Their boldness in exploring this anguish creates an intimate rendition of childhood life, and Rae delves into the complexity of being a young adult with stories of unhealed wounds, still to be told.

Through their writings, Rae aims to deconstruct the pain of living in a capitalist society, continually learning how those of colour on the margins are affected, and seeking to create a brave space of vulnerability.

We spoke to Rae about their visionary practice and how they use words to process thoughts, as they prepare for the second release of their poetry book, with updated designs from illustrator Ryan Smith.

How would you describe your work?
With difficulty (laughs). I write thoughts and ideas, which sometimes become poems or narrations. Other times, I have visions of paintings, objects, or installations, things I've never seen before. A few months ago, I attempted a short film about reconnecting to the self and the present moment following childhood trauma, which I explore in my debut poetry book 'Adulthood is a lifelong conversation about what we used to do as kids.' I'm currently mesmerised by fluid painting and use different types of acrylics to play around. I'm in the very early stages of combining all of these elements in a comprehensive conceptual performance piece.

How do you choose the themes you work with?
I wish I had so much control to choose them. There's much less willpower in it. My work is a product of society's inaccessibility and the mental health phenomena that it produces. It's the result of recycled trauma from one generation to another and the cost of perpetuating and imposing violent patriarchal, white supremacist, and capitalist life structures on humans. I try and find meaning in my anger and turbulence so that I can temporarily escape the confines of this society.

What are you working on at the moment?
Sustaining what I've created so far and healing as much as I can. Then, I will launch my second run of books, which now includes illustrations and graphic design from Ryan Smith (Box Press Publishing). I am preparing an interdisciplinary night for the release party, which will build upon the performance art piece that I did at S1 Artspace as part of RESOLVE Collective's residency.

Who, what, or where should be better known in Sheffield?
The poetry and music scene – outside the inaccessible or lifeless verse, and the good-but-there's-more-to-the-scene indie/alternative rock bands. Nights like Verse Matters, Gorilla Poetry, and Sheffield Poetry Society's open mic. Writers like Warda Yassin, Jack Young, Danaë Wellington, and Akeem Balogun. Musicians like Avital Raz, Otis Mensah, and K.O.G. & The Zongo Brigade. Community figures like Annalisa Toccara [co-founder of Our Mel and also writer of the intro above!] and Desirée Reynolds. Places like the Foodhall Project and the Showroom cinema, S1 Artspace, DINA, the Cellar Theatre, and Theatre Deli.

What would you change about the city?
Addiction, mental health, and homelessness services. I would love if addiction and homelessness services would focus on outreach, and all three would form persistent teams who are consistent in helping people break through their trauma and past experiences and truly transition to a life that meets their needs.

Significantly more investment in projects run by the community with community leaders, not through politicians or charity CEOs.

Anti-racist education in all public institutions and companies, run by Black and other people of colour with no white person making any money or looking good as a result.

I realise, however, that you can't change a city without changing yourself, and I'm working hard at sustaining this revolution within myself before demanding that others do anything that I'm not already contributing to change. We're all responsible for and have a right to a fairer experience in this city.

To order Rae's debut poetry book, visit their website.

Photo by Anna Edwards

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