Engaging young people with poetry

12 October 2017

Ahead of the Young People’s Laureate Tour 2017, we speak with Spread the Word’s Young People’s Laureate for London, Caleb Femi

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The Young People’s Laureate Tour 2017 takes place from 24-28 October and visits Barking & Dagenham, Bexley, Croydon, Merton and Newham. Caleb along with a host of other poets will be delivering workshops and performances for young people aged 13-25.

The Tour is run by Spread the Word in partnership with the Association of London Chief Librarians and supported by Arts Council England. A New Direction has been helping the Tour in building partnerships in each of the five boroughs.

What is the Young People’s Laureate for London and how would you describe your role?

The Young People’s Laureate is all about engaging not only with poetry but with young people too, and specifically looking at issues that affect them. Compared to a Poet Laureate, the role of the Young People’s Laureate is different; it’s a facilitator role. You’re a facilitator of poetry amongst young people, for young people. It’s not about you, it’s about young people; all the time. It’s always about young people. To facilitate young people to be on the stage, to write poems, and let their poems be out there. I feel like it’s a more genuine way of having an impact, of being this source of engagement; social engagement.

Why do you think poetry is important for young people?

Poetry is important in the same way all art forms are important for young people. Art is what sets us apart from the mundaneness of life. Art is what adds colour to our day. Art is what reminds us what is important. So it’s important, it’s a hundred percent important. Especially as a young person because you’re at that point when you’re figuring yourself out, you’re figuring who you are, how the world has impacted on you, what you are helpless against, what you can help; your sexual orientation, your identity etc. Art, especially poetry, is the best way for you to do that because it’s a library of empathy, of commonality, of individualism, of collectiveness. Poetry is like this bank for all that.

What’s the work you are doing currently with the Young People’s Laureate Tour?

During this year and next, the Tour is working in ten outer London boroughs that have been identified as cold-spots for arts provision. With Spread the Word [London’s literature development agency] we are working with library services to engage young people in putting on poetry events and providing workshops and performances for other young people in each borough.

A lot of young people who I’ve spoken to come to the library because it’s a good source of internet, of free wi-fi, so they come. And, essentially, when you think about it, that is what a library is supposed to be; a place to access the world. And that’s what the internet gives us. But what’s great is to work with those young people to offer something more, and help turn the libraries back into something they can own.

What do you hope that the tour will achieve?

I hope that the Tour gets a lot of young people involved in galvanizing themselves and doing what they want to do. Even if it’s poetry-based or not - just invigorating, reinvigorating, young people and just being like: “Look. You have your life. Your life is in your hands. Where do you want to go with it? This is the time for you to stop allowing people to make decisions for you. Tell people where you want to go and how you want to go there.” It’s our role as facilitators, as organisations, as libraries, as people, to make that happen.

To find out more, visit spreadtheword.org.uk/YPLTour