Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society
Hannah Silva: credit: Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society

Hannah Silva is a British writer and performer known for her innovative explorations of form, voice and language. Her solo performances layer up vocal sounds and poetry, creating sonic explorations of meaning and sense. Her latest performance Schlock! splices Fifty Shades of Grey with a novel by Kathy Acker, celebrating ‘the slipperiness of words, reinventing them so that none of them are safe’ (The Guardian). Total Man was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. She has been featured in Wire magazine and on BBC Radio 3. Her poetry collection Forms of Protest (Penned in the Margins) was Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes. Her debut record Talk in a Bit is out now, with Humankind Records.

Radio: Silva won the Tinniswood Award for Best Radio Drama Script with her verse play Marathon Tales (co-written with Colin Teevan for BBC Radio 3); Jump Blue, an Afonica production for BBC Radio 3, about the Russian freediver Natalia Molchanova received a special commendation in the Best Single Drama category at the 2017 BBC Audio Drama Awards, with Fiona Shaw shortlisted for best actress. Her latest work for radio includes The Music Lesson (Sparklab Productions, BBC Radio 4 – finalist Best Single Drama, 2018 BBC Audio Drama Awards) and Solitary, about a woman in solitary confinement in a British prison (Afonica, BBC Radio 3 – shortlisted, Best Single Drama, BBC Audio Drama Awards; Christine Bottomley winner, Best Actress). Upcoming radio plays include “Indigo Children” directed by Jude Kelly, a Sparklab production for BBC Radio 4.

Hear more about my work in this podcast for Culture Laser

The vocal acrobatics of musician and writer Hannah Silva test the physical limits of language. The Wire

She uses techniques like cut-up and collage, sound poetry and physical theatre to create something that’s unique but nods to older forms like shamanism, pre-religious ceremonies, Dadaism, and the kind of games that children play with language. Ian McMillan, The Verb, BBC Radio 3

Words and word-particles spark ideas and ignite feelings. Messages crystallise and as rapidly dissolve … Her verbal fractures, ellipses and elisions conspire to erode commonly held assumptions, prejudices, banal imperatives and oppressive taboos. Julian Cowley, The Wire, on Talk in a bit.

This dense, complex, intelligent hour…celebrates the slipperiness of words ★★★★ Lyn Gardner, The Guardian on Schlock!

Radical, political, courageous ★★★★★ What’s on Stage on Opposition

A structurally daring and challenging production that reminds you how visceral and powerful live performance can be. ★★★★ Natasha Tripney, Exeunt Magazine on The Disappearance of Sadie Jones

Like a piece of music, or a Modernist painting, the piece gives up its secrets by degrees, the fragmented structure serving not only to convey psychological turmoil but also to allow space for interpretation; it challenges the imagination, encouraging debate and reappraisal in the hours and days after seeing it, and there are pockets of real brilliance that expand and grow the more you consider them. It also allows for an authentic portrait of the reality of living with mental disorder, the eruptions caused by casual comments, moments of tenderness juxtaposed with angry incomprehension. Belinda Dillon for Exeunt Magazine on The Disappearance of Sadie Jones

The spartan text is conjured into shimmering gamelan lushness, interleaved layers pivoting about shared catchwords, superimposed, staggered, coalescing into riffs and refrains then diverging via counterpoint into cacophony. Total Theatre on The Disappearance of Sadie Jones

Silva’s poems are unlike anything I’ve read … Her background in music, theatre and sound poetry inform Forms of Protest from the foundations up, and that the poems’ technical intricacy and often dispassionate removes are transferable to the page at all is a remarkable achievement. That so many successfully convey their political anger and emotional precision is a large part of what makes Forms of Protest a valuable book. Dave Coates, DavePoems.


Opposition, photo by Eileen Long
Opposition, photo by Eileen Long