Oct 012012

Chicago's Avery Young with Peter Kahn

This was an exercise for the MA Writer / Teacher programme I have started at Goldsmiths set by Peter Kahn – the World’s only fulltime spoken word educator in schools who is training me and 5 others (Indigo Williams, Dean Atta, Cat Brogan Keith Jarret and Raymond Antrobus) to do his job. So far Apples & Snakes, The Arvon, Spread the Word and the Albany Theatre are sponsoring partners for the program. The Eastside Educational Trust is close to joining and we are in discussions with the South Bank Centre, the Book Trust and The Barbican Theatre

My gift to the universe is performance poetry. We all have one, this is mine. In order to give this fully it is necessary for me to be able to teach it. If I inspire people with my work I have planted a seed. If I teach people my art form I will water these seeds. I will help to cultivate a healthy garden of talents that will strengthen the ecology of poetry with growth, diversity and resilience. By entering this greenhouse I aim, in turn, to become a better poet.

Now more than ever there is a need to re-engage people with the ancient fireside tradition of spoken word. In this digitally mediated, televised world children are consuming 3 hours of advertising and 4 hours of television daily. Minds are becoming bleached and voices muted. Homes become gastro sheek chain bars. Loud music – less talking – more drinking. Conversation becomes eclipsed by the one eyed man in the corner of the room. A generation loses its voice, its stories, its poetry.

The teaching of spoken word is a profoundly political act. A healthy democracy requires engaged and informed citizens who are able to hold their political masters to account. Dialogue, debate and freedom of expression have mischievously conceived the social movements, acts of liberation and popular victories that have grown into the children of social justice and democratic freedom. As media ownership concentrates into fewer and fewer hands, as our visual landscape gets eaten up by those who can afford to advertise, as online surveillance and censorship increases, would it be an exaggeration to say that spoken word creates one of the last bastions of genuine free speech?

Beyond the generation of effective communication, poetry makes you emotionally literate. In a rational,
technocratic world we have lost nothing less than a way of seeing. Folklore gets silenced by signage, legends give way to advertising slogans, metaphor gives way to workplace jargon. Poetry dissects the heart and unpacks the chambers of its mystery in a way the surgeon’s knife never can. How can we give our students a ‘personal and social education’ without enabling spaces to reflect, interpret and write?

Chicago All Stars (former students of Peter Kahn) @ Shake the Dust in Egland this year

When I stand in front of a class of students I know that each one has a unique set of abilities, skills, experiences and passions. Each has a gift to the universe that, if wasted, will never be recreated in any other medium. Some will go on to become performing artists, most will not, but all of them will be spoken word artists. Weather it’s a town hall, a family dinner or a manipulative lover, they will need to speak out and make their voices heard. Samuel Coleridge once said that poetry is ‘the best words in the best order’. Who in the world cannot benefit from using words well and delivering them elegantly? Whatever you say – say it with poetry. Let’s create a generation of well rounded, confident and articulate young people by giving them the chance to write their insides out.

An ex – student of Peter Kahn

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