27 Jun 2012

Shake The Dust Stars

My work with the Shake The Dust Poetry Slam, working as a Poet Coach with a group of young poets from Sir John Hunt Community College, ended in the limelight of the Barbican Theatre, Plymouth stage on Saturday June 15th.


Live on stage, one of the Sir John Hunt  Poetry Slam team members

After several months of attending the school with my Shadow Coach Rebecca Tantony, the Slam final was a full-on day of workshops, voice-work, and group games with the other competing schools and their coaches.



Mark Laville leading an exercise with all the poets and coaches, Barbican Theatre Plymouth


Our team engaged with every challenge thrown their way and achieved so much, and enjoyed the day immensely.

It has been a thoroughly rewarding process to meet the 8 young people - selected from an initial group of 20 - who we worked closely with. Some were recommended by their teacher to be 'strong' writers, and others came to be selected after Rebecca and I read work they created in response to a number of class exercises.
It is a privilege to work this way - setting exercises that suit the interests of the wider group and that might (or might not) be useful for an entirely creative outcome; then working to develop skills with a focus on an unknown collective potential, and the needs and abilities of each individual. No OfSted boxes to tick, no stakeholder interests in anything except the empowering process of enabling young people's words and voices, and their taking part in a multi-school celebration of that. Oh, and deadlines. Always the deadlines!

 Rebecca and some group members, playing



the team hard at work


Inevitably, when people are given opportunities to write and speak about their own culture, issues, hopes, and concerns, the potential for any work that might be created is powerful, in that it stands in its own truth and relevance. It also provides an opportunity to discuss or simply express the meaningful, sometimes painful or formerly unknown issues in their lives.
The poems that we worked on reflect brave, funny, insightful, tender, furious content; the form and structure of the poems reflects a fully creative process, including the building and developing of collaborative, creative relationships with each other.

  editing session


 Poets editing


As educators, Rebecca and I had time - though it often felt like not enough of it - to engage our learners in a process that offered skills in confidence building, self expression, dealing with fear, understanding personal boundaries, and group relationships.

 Having time for developing these essential skills is crucially important to me as an educator - which is why I would not consider being a regular teacher. With too many children's needs to consider, in the cramped hours of the school day, stressed by excessive record-keeping and with agendas set by as many numbskull politicians as knowing ones, creativity is not at the core of teaching philosophy today - even thought this is advocated by many of the World's best renowned educators.

The teachers we worked directly with during Shake The Dust, Sophie Lovett (Head of English) and Natasha Eveleigh (drama teacher) were hugely supportive to our methods, through encouragement, practical support and by their absolute belief and enthusiasm in their students, and in believing that a poetry slam was a process as well as a wonderful outcome.


Throughout the day our team demonstrated their abilities, their good natures, courage in the face of huge personal and public challenges, dignity, an abundance of humour and their warm hearts.

At the end of the day they won the trophy for Most Courageous Writing.

Rebecca and I are already missing our regular visits to the school and wish everyone we worked with, much happiness, and a life full of performance poetry challenges, experiences, and joy.