Helen Calcutt

Poet and activist for mental health awareness

Helen standing in front of a podium giving speech at graduation, wearing cap and gown

Helen Calcutt was awarded an Honorary Degree in Winter 2023. Here you can read her degree oration.

It is my pleasure to introduce our Honorary Graduate, Helen Calcutt. 
Helen is an award-winning poet, dance artist and choreographer, with more than a decade’s experience of performing, designing and facilitating various forms of creative expression in the UK and around the world. 
She is the author of three volumes of poetry and her writing has featured in publications such as The Guardian, The Huffington Post and The Brooklyn Review. She is the Artistic Director of ‘Beyond Words’ – a ground-breaking new company that seeks to translate written language into dance. We are also privileged that Helen is part of our Loughborough Family; she has been a Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing since 2017 and spent a year as our Poet in Residence in the then School of the Arts, English and Drama. 
Having graduated from the University of Wolverhampton, Helen published her debut poetry collection, Sudden Rainfall, when she was just 23 years old. It went on to become Waterstone’s best-selling pamphlet of 2016. Her highly anticipated full-length collection, Feeling all the kills, will be published next spring. 
In 2019, Helen curated the acclaimed anthology, Eighty-Four, which features male and female voices sharing their personal experiences of mental health issues and grief. It is both an uncensored exposure of the truth, as well as a celebration of the strength and courage of those willing to write and talk about their experiences. The powerful anthology was both a Poetry Wales Book of the Year and shortlisted for a Saboteur Award in 2019. 
The following year, Helen released her poignant collection titled Somehow. This series of poems display the poise and precision of a poet at the height of her powers, weaving her personal journey into something relatable and filled with the light of understanding.  
Alongside such thought-provoking poetry, Helen choreographs and performs as a dance artist. Blending words with performance, she specialises in the interplay between language and movement to create performances for theatre, site-specific productions, television and film.  
Originally trained in commercial dance and jazz, Helen now has a particular focus on contemporary movement and the Cuban rhythms of salsa, reggaeton and rumba. She has choreographed, directed, performed and co-created with numerous acclaimed organisations including The Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Sonia Sabri Company, and the deaf dance company Def Motion.  
Helen has also created her own distinct gestural techniques through the cross-arts company ‘Beyond Words’ that she established. By combining contemporary movement, gesture, breath and voice, this groundbreaking new choreographic project seeks to ignite words and celebrate their physicality, blending dance and text in ways beyond the expected norms.  
Throughout her career, Helen has used her poetry, dance and choreography to make creative expression accessible to all. 
As a specialist in Cuban salsa, Helen offers professional classes and teaches her own unique dance techniques in workshops and one-to-one sessions.  
She is an active member of the Brum Pro Class – a not-for-profit initiative offering regular dance classes, events and workshops for the growing professional dance community-based in the city of Birmingham and beyond. Through the Brum Pro Class steering committee, Helen speaks for and represents the rights and needs of professional freelance artists.  
She also regularly facilitates for Writing West Midlands, The Poetry School, and HAY’s Young Women’s Writer’s Programme. 
And in 2022, Helen was able to showcase her work to the world as one of six poets selected to perform at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in Birmingham, directed by Iqbal Khan and choreographed by Corey Baker. In front of an audience of 35,000 at the Birmingham Alexander Stadium and a televised audience of millions worldwide, Helen performed her poem ‘Mother, The City’, which was specially written for the ceremony’s opening scene. 
There can be few artists today who are able to so effortlessly blend the written word with movement and dance, to create an elegance and beauty that both inspires and challenges. Helen truly is the embodiment of poetry in motion. 
Chancellor, it is my honour to present to you and the whole University, in recognition of her outstanding contribution to creative writing and her work raising awareness of important societal issues, Helen Calcutt, for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.