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Why is poetry so important?

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Caleb Femi

Young People’s Laureate for London

This Libraries Week and ahead of the Young People’s Laureate Tour 2017, Caleb Femi talks about his role as the Young People’s Laureate for London and the pivotal role poetry can play in young lives.

Inspiring future generations

The Young People’s Laureate is all about engaging, not only with poetry but with young people too through specifically looking at issues that affect them. Compared to a Poet Laureate, the role of the Young People’s Laureate is different in that you’re essentially a facilitator of poetry amongst young people, for young people. It’s not about you, it’s about young people; all the time.

Your role is about facilitating young people, giving them the confidence to be on stage, to write poems, and let their poems be out there. I feel like it’s a more genuine way of having an impact.

The importance of poetry

Poetry is important in the same way all art forms are important for young people. Art is what sets us apart from the mundanity of life, it’s adds colour to our day and enriches the world around us. This form of expression is especially important for young people, because you’re at that point when you’re figuring yourself out, discovering who you are and how the world is impacting on you, what you are helpless against, what you can change, your sexual orientation and how you define your identity.

Art, especially poetry, is the best way for you to do this because it’s a such a rich library of empathy, of commonality, of individualism, of collectiveness. Poetry is like a bank for you to draw upon.

The Young People’s Laureate Tour

During this year and next year, the Young People’s Laureate Tour is working in 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 in each borough to engage young people by helping them to put on poetry events, workshops and performances for other young people.

A lot of young people who I’ve spoken to come to the library because it’s a good resource for accessing free wi-fi. When you think about it, this type of service essentially what a library is there to provide. It’s a place to access the world, and what better way to do this than through the internet? But what’s also great is being able to work with these young people to offer something more, and help turn the libraries become something they can call their own.

Make a difference

I hope that the Tour gets a lot of young people involved, motivating them to do what they want to do and gaining the confidence to go beyond their own expectations. Whether it’s poetry-based or not, just invigorating and 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.

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.

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


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