September 27, 2017

National Poetry Day: Interview with Caleb Femi

I’m celebrating National Poetry Day on the blog today. Poetry is an amazing art-form but since University I stopped engaging with it properly. One of my favourite poetry books on my bookshelf at the moment is Poems That’ll Make Grown Women Cry. So today, I’ve interviewed the brilliantly talented Caleb Femi, the Young People’s Laureate for London. He is also an English teacher, filmmaker and photographer and was recently featured in the Dazed 100 list of the next generation shaping youth culture.  We talk the importance of poetry, switching off, how to engage with poetry more often and following your passions.

How did you first discover your love of poetry? Did you ever think it could be a career?

The reason why I started writing poetry was because I needed a space that allowed me to talk about things that scared me, that intrigued me, that amused me, things that made me vulnerable like telling the first girl I was in love with how I truly felt about her. The important things are usually the things left unsaid and poetry gives me the courage to say those things.

Ever since I was young I have always loved words. I would listen to music lyrics on repeat, and be captured by what was being said, rather than the beat. However, it was only once I was at University that I realised I had a real way with words, and could tap into my emotions, memories and people in my life to create something beautiful. One day our lecturer asked us to read our own poetry on stage in front of our peers. I am not sure if it was my poem or my reading, but after that moment I felt so connected with the people in that room. What I learnt from this is that poetry connects you with others and helps us find commonalities. This is why I love poetry. Now I’m lucky enough to make this a career – something which I never thought was possible.

What are your favourite communities/places for young poets in London and the UK?

There are many places and communities for young poets to thrive in London. Iconic locations like The Barbican, Roundhouse and Southbank Centre are places you can just hang out in and meet poets. Many organisations like Spread The Word, Apples & Snakes as well as poetry nights like Jawdance and Boxed In help in the development of the craft too.

For people who want to write poetry but don’t know where to start, what do you recommend doing/going?

First of all, start with honesty and stay true to yourself in everything you write. A dishonest poem is not a poem. Second of all, I would recommend reading and listening to poetry in order to understand and improve technical aspects of your poetry.

You’ve worked across a range of mediums: on stage, making documentaries, and of course writing. Do you have a favourite? Do you prefer shorter or long-form storytelling?

Poetry is one of many different ways in which I express creativity. I love challenging myself to explore different mediums to put across the same message. I’m currently working on a theatre production called ‘Goldfish Bowl’ which is an exposé  on the way we view ourselves and others, all told through spoken word, live grime and breath-taking visuals. Poetry will always remain my number one focus, and is definitely my favourite medium. However, I do find that poetry inspires everything I do. It affects my writing, my film-making, my teaching – and how I view the world!

Poetry seems to be back in a big way, with TV adverts even creating spoken-word poems. Do you like the idea of poetry being mainstream?

Yes! Because poetry can make the world a better place. Poetry allows anyone to communicate honestly and freely – peoples inner most thoughts and feelings can be heard through poetry! When we use poetry to communicate how we truly feel, we are also encouraging others to listen. Finally people are recognizing that poetry can help create world where every voice is heard – isn’t that a beautiful thing?

Do you think poetry is needed now more than ever for young people in today’s digital world? Does it help you switch off?

Poetry is becoming an easy medium for young people to find their voice. Our generation has learned how to appreciate and embrace technology in all its forms. I’ve used technology to connect with other poets, find new poetry and showcase my own work.

As a poet, I’m always thinking: ‘what’s the new thing am I bringing to poetry?’. Past poets such as Percy Shelley and Emily Dickinson have had their stamp in life, but we live in an era that no-one in the history of humanity has ever seen before. No-one has ever lived the way we have lived. We have the internet: how is poetry catching up to that? How is poetry catching up to social media? In this new age of media, we’re communicating in a new and totally different, interesting way, and poetry is evolving to this.

Poetry provides a departure from the everyday. It is a chance to stop, reflect and settle the mind. I find when I read and write poetry, I am completely in the moment and not thinking ahead to the next thing. For me, it’s a form of meditation.

Who are your favourite poets?

Warsan Shire, Ocean Vuong and Claudia Rankin are all very exciting poets of the moment. Just the other day I had the chance to meet Yrsa Daley-Ward. She is bringing a fresh and contemporary approach to poetry. She’s a true storyteller and uses poetry to shine a light on her experiences. She also uses Instagram to connect young people to her work – it’s great to see.

What have you got coming up that you’re excited about?

Poetry will remain my focus for the upcoming months, and I hope to continue working with brands shining a light on the positive power of poetry, like Julius Meinl. Later this year I have a short film being released called ‘And They Knew Light’, which takes a fantastical lens to life on an inner-city London estate, challenging the perceptions of its youth culture. There are a few other top secret films and productions in the works for 2018 – stay tuned!

Can you explain more about your role as the global ambassador for the Julius Meinl Meet With a Poem Campaign?

Yes! I’ve joined forces with the Viennese coffee brand, Julius Meinl, ahead of their Meet With A Poem campaign on World Coffee Day. It’s a chance to bring together two things I love: coffee and poetry! I’m a big coffee drinker, and find that coffee really ignites my creativity. The initiative will see cafes, hotels and restaurants across 17 countries take part, and is a chance for people to meet up, enjoy a coffee together and use poetry to inject meaning and depth back into relationships.

This post is in collaboration with Julius Meinl’s Meet With A Poem campaign. #MeetWithAPoem

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