Leah Thorne at Balfour House

Leah Thorne

Leah Thorne is a performance poet, appearing in theatres, poetry venues and festivals nationally and internationally. Her poems are featured in anthologies and magazines in England and the United States. Her poem Real Jews was featured on the promotional sweat-shirt for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival '97 and her poetry for very young children has appeared on the TV programme Rainbow Days.


As the leading communal building of the Jewish community in Britain, Balfour House contains an unusually diverse mixture of people with whom the poet would work. The concept of Balfour house becomeing a Poetry Place has been warmly welcomed throughout the buuilding.


My Poetry Places residency takes me into a building that, at peak hours, is guarded by police officers, a building that demands I slip in past security questions and through bomb-proof double doors.

Once inside, the task is Jewish rescue and renewal and legacy. This is Balfour House, the headquarters of key mainstream Jewish community organisations, and over a period of twelve weeks I encourage others to 'come to voice', and I search for my words.

I am ordinarily known as a Jewish performance poet, in a country where Christianity is the state religion, the word 'Jew' can be said in a reverential whisper or with under-the-breath disgust, and Jews are believed by some to be in control of the banks and the media. I can be visible and a second later, invisible. I can 'pass', although the terror of 'passing' is often not acknowledged, even by myself. My experience of being an English Jew is often one of compartmentalisation.

There was no such fragmentation at Balfour House. In weekly lunchtime workshops, over bagels and chopped egg & onion and admonishments for me to "eat, eat", a group of us debated what made a poem Jewish, and we amused and moved each other with our poetic takes on our culture, our religion, our heritage.

And I spent a vibrant, passionate twelve days, finding poems in the photo-laden corridors, in the motivational literature, in a Purimspiel [a joyful festival], through the tannoy system, at the Women's Luncheon at the Dorchester Hotel [keynote speaker, John Major, for some reason], and in the general bustle and intensity of Jewish communal life. I sat in on developmental meetings, followed the 'kol boynik' [odd-job man] around, eavesdropped on conversations shouted across open-plan offices, tried to be a fly-on-the-wall in the security office.

I have ended up with a set of poems that, for me, will always be inextricably linked to Balfour House. I am not sure they can breathe alone.

Young Poets Network