Monday, 20 August 2012

We Are Poets

"Poetry is dead, man."

It's a refrain I've heard a number of times in school and one which, on occasion, I've almost been tempted to agree with. I've seen poetry taught terribly to totally uninterested classes failing completely to engage with or understand the text.

When I've taught poetry myself, I've used Sir Chris Hoy, Drop Dead Fred and the Sex Pistols to enliven and enrich my lessons and, by and large, have left classes enthused and with the feeling that poetry really is something which speaks to them. John Cooper Clarke and the amazing John Agard are also powerful poetic weapons for a teacher to have in their arsenal - who could fail to be impressed by the latter's amazing rendition of The Charge of the Light Brigade?

Now, though, I have something stronger, more relevant, more empowering, inspiring and impassioned: We Are Poets.

The story of six youngsters from Leeds taking on the best youth poets in a global slam event is one of the most powerful documentaries I've ever seen. Filmed on the streets where I live and starring kids who remind me of students at my school, it has a huge personal resonance and relevance for me. More than that, it gives poetry and the spoken word back to the people it belongs to.

The six poets are selected from Leeds Young Authors, an amazing project promoting community and cultural awareness through literature. None of the group are 'academic' in the traditional sense. None of them are white, nor middle class. All of them, however, are truly gifted poets, using the spoken word to explore and illuminate the very real problems they experience on the streets of Leeds: racism, knife crime, relationships, absent fathers.

The portraits of the poets which preface the competition are magnificent introductions to them. Their stories of broken family backgrounds, conflicting feelings over their mixed-race parentage and mistreatment at the hands of Islamaphobes and racists speak loudly to the audience - and directly to a typically mixed race English class. These experiences influence their poetry markedly- and offer an amazing opportunity to use the film in your classroom to examine poets' motives and writing processes.

The passion of all involved on the slam itself has to be seen to be believed. Kids from every race, background and culture compete for perfect ratings from their peers in an intense battle which prizes the delivery of the poems as much as their content. It's a reminder that poetry arose as an oral tradition - and one which makes direct links to acting, rapping and performing.

Most important of all, however, is just how relevant these brave and brilliant youngsters make poetry seem. They use it as social comment, argument and rhetoric, to explore issues which affect young people today and to explore their own lives and cultures - and prove beyond doubt that poetry is as relevant and powerful today as it ever has been. I cannot think of a better way of enthusing children about poetry than getting these talented people into your classrooms. Now!

Unfortunately i've been unable to embed a video of the film into this blog, but you can view the utterly amazing opening sequence of We Are Poets  by clicking here. It's stunning and features Joseph Buckley's gorgeous poetry set over stunning cityscapes of Leeds.

To request a screening and a visit, email or follow them on Twitter @WeArePoets

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