Poetry and Young People: Four Professionals from the Literature Sector Look at How Their Interlinking Projects Aim to Investigate and Strengthen Young People's Engagement with Poetry through Informal and Digital Opportunities

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The Young Poets Network

Angel Dahouk, the Poetry Society

The Poetry Society is 101 years old. It is one of the longest established poetry institutions in Britain which, from its very beginnings, has placed education at the heart of its work in promoting a 'more general recognition and appreciation of poetry'.

Today, the Poetry Society works extensively with poetry in education: placing poets in the classroom and beyond, working with both qualified and trainee teachers through Poetryclass, and offering a range of competitions and mentoring for young people including the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award and SLAMbassadors UK. The Poetry Society also runs bespoke projects such as the Look North More Often initiative, in partnership with the Royal Norwegian Embassy. Aimed at primary school children, this initiative takes the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree as inspiration for thinking and writing around themes of peace and friendship, as well as introducing children to the history of the annual gift and allowing them the opportunity to learn about a different culture through poetry.

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2011 is, of course, a very different world to 1909, and the cultural needs of young people are ever changing. In its former years, the Poetry Society printed and distributed a quarterly journal called The Voice of Youth--in one edition, Enid Blyton set a poetry writing challenge which took the rather fluffy theme of 'kittens'. Today, the Society publishes an online ezine called YM, showcasing poems and articles written by our youth members, and taking the more elusive themes of 'crash' and 'beasts'. Once notorious for its verse speaking awards, today the Society stages spoken word competitions. The essence of poetry has not changed; it remains about language, exploration, self-expression and social commentary. But the way in which we read, write, connect and consume poetry has completely transformed as a result of the digital age. At the Poetry Society, the belief continues that new media can be a creative and empowering means by which young people can learn, network and develop.

This belief forms the basis of the Young Poets Network which has received funding from the Poetry and Young People Project. Working in collaboration with digital literature organisation if:book, the Young Poets Network is a new initiative dedicated to developing young people's informal engagement with poetry. A new interactive online resource will build a community base for both the poetry sector to publicise their activities, and for young people to search and access poetry opportunities available to them. The Young Poets Network recognises that, while young people may have the encouragement and support of parents and teachers, they are also engaging with literacy in creative ways beyond the realm of formal education. The website will also serve as a platform to experiment with new digital content enabling young people to connect directly with poets and professionals.

There are two main components to the Young Poets Network which will form two phases over the upcoming year.

The first phase will focus on increasing the visibility of existing poetry groups, organisations and opportunities available to young people wishing to develop their interest and creative talents in poetry--as readers, writers and as audiences. Beginning with a mapping exercise, which will consolidate all opportunities from after-school poetry clubs through to national competitions, information will be made readily available by means of a dedicated online database with searchable categories, so that young people are able to easily locate and access poetry opportunities for their specific age group, their region, etc. In addition, poets from across the spectrum will be commissioned to produce resources and toolkits, both written and audiovisual, to share their knowledge and insight, and to guide the development of young poets. …