When Nadim Shamma-Sourgen wrote a poem about taking his “brave feeling” off after school, along with his jacket, gloves and shoes, his mum Yasmine Shamma had a hunch it was something special. He was four and a half.
Now five, Nadim is about to become Britain’s youngest commercially published author with a new book dedicated to those words, titled Take Off Your Brave.
He first caught the poetry bug after being given a handout at nursery, mum Yasmine tells HuffPost UK. The handout included prompts from award-winning poet and teacher Kate Clanchy for parents to talk through with their kids.
One of them – “Think of a place where you put things down when you get home, make a list, then put down some feelings too” – got Nadim thinking.
“Nadim was very willing to do this, not just because it was an imaginative exercise, but because there was a real power in seeing his words being put down on paper in front of him,” says Yasmin. “Afterwards, I read it out loud to him, and said, ‘you’ve made a poem!’ He was so proud of his creation, and willing to do another a few days later.”
Nadim’s love for poetry soon took off. He enjoyed responding to prompts from his mum, but increasingly, he’d ask her to write down a line unprompted, out of the blue. “Now that he can write on his own, it’s taking on new dimensions,” she says.
Nadim’s move from amateur poet to published author was helped by Clanchy, who, when she’s not running the poetry club in her Oxford school, writes her own poetry – and shares other people’s. When she posted some of Nadim’s poems on Twitter, they proved an instant hit, with fans asking for more.
Despite the complex language of some of his poetry, Yasmine insists it’s all written by Nadim with very little influence from her. “They are his own precise words verbatim written down,” she says. “When he first started he was still learning to write, so he orated them to me and I wrote them down word-for-word as he spoke them. Later he began to write them himself.”
In the past, Yasmine tried (and failed) to correct Nadim’s grammar in places, but the budding artist did not appreciate mum messing with his craft.
“If I do this he will insist his original word is reverted to,” she says. “Nadim can read, and he’s never liked his words rewritten, even if they’re being corrected!”
The only influence of mum on the page is the line-breaks, Yasmine adds, inserted where Nadim took a pause or long breath. A lecturer in modern and contemporary world literature at the University of Reading, she hopes people will connect to the youthful energy of her son’s poems, and let themselves be a child for a moment as they see the world through his eyes.
“What I hope people will learn from the poems is that poetry is possible—it’s an open field, you’re allowed to play along and join in,” she says.
“I really hope other parents might think about ways they could sit down with their children and encourage them to try to make a poem too. It’s a liberating and empowering thing.”
Take Off Your Brave by Nadim, introduced by Kate Clanchy and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail, is published by Walker Books on May 6 (£12.99).