A celebration of live performance poetry featuring three top poets and local teenagers will take place in Coventry to empower the city’s youth.

The University of Warwick is staging Empowering Young People: Celebrating the Power of Poetry with Young People at B2, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry on Thursday September 1 from 6pm to 8pm. Tickets are free to register.

Fresh from an appearance at the Commonwealth Games, Coventry-based spoken word poet, rapper and youth mentor John Bernard will be joined by award-winning poet and former UK slam champion Joelle Taylor, who earlier this year won the prestigious TS Eliot poetry prize 2021 and Australian Slam Champion Philip Wilcox.

John said: “I wanted to get involved in this project because I am a big believer of people needing to understand and accept their uniqueness and our voice is one of those unique things that we take for granted.

“Empowering the young voice today is paving the way for the future leaders, future poets, and future musicians of tomorrow. The reason I am doing what I am doing today and not in prison is because someone empowered my voice and with power comes the ability to empower.”

As founder and artistic director of The Poetry Society’s national youth slam championships SLAMbassadors, Joelle Taylor has helped the career of many rising poets including John. Her award-winning book C+nto explores her experience of being a butch lesbian and the closure of many clubs and safe spaces during Covid.

All three talents will be performing alongside aspiring young poets from Coventry Boys and Girls Club who will also be reading their own work. A group of up to 15 teenagers from the organisation took part in a six-week poetry workshop run by the university in collaboration with the three performers.

Event organiser Karen Simecek, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick whose research specialises in the philosophy of poetry, said: “This has been a dream project.

“In partnership with Coventry Boys and Girls Club and John Bernard, Joelle Taylor and Philip Wilcox we have created a workshop and teaching resources to help young people in the city find their voice and experience the empowerment of being heard.

 “The poets each did a workshop session and have been helping the young people to find a voice.

“Across the two-hour celebration of performance poetry, the artists will each be giving a 15-minute set featuring their work and in between there will be performances by some of the teenagers.

“It’s something to watch Joelle read her own work – you feel it from her heart.

“John is very inspiring with his poetry and always comes with the point of view that you each have your own voice, and no one can speak for you. A wonderful talent.

“Philip is the multi-award-winning 2015 Australian Poetry Slam Champion – and he does a lot of audience participation which the young people liked.

“We have some really talented young writers taking part in the evening performing their own poetry who are just 15 to 18 years old.

“Recent academic studies have found that young people from marginalised backgrounds not only feel silenced, but that people do not want to hear what they have to say. We wanted to achieve the opposite.”

As more young people across the UK are turning to poetry to express themselves inspired by Kae Tempest, George the Poet, and Amanda Gorman, this research project aims to draw attention to the power of performance poetry in empowering young people who struggle to have their voices heard, particularly in matters of social justice.

Youth empowerment is an issue close to John’s heart.

The city poet, who is also on the line-up of the BBC’s four-day Contains Strong Language Festival in Birmingham from September 8-11, said: “The time that we are in is difficult for so many young people. They have had to go through missing school for months, the anxiety of not knowing what the future holds for them, some have lost themselves in the process and you can understand why. A project like this that deals with more than just the creative side but helping young people regain their voice is definitely what is needed and that is why I think the project matters. 

“I enjoyed all the workshops that I was able to attend and from my perspective I think the young people really enjoyed the workshops. The came in not knowing what to expect but left challenged, empowered and inspired. I know two of the young people I work with on a weekly basis cannot stop talking about poetry now and have started planning their own poetry film.”

The University of Warwick has a whole programme of public facing events taking place throughout the year as part of their Resonate programme. Check out www.resonatefesatival.co.uk for the latest events.

Tickets for Empowering Young People: Celebrating the Power of Poetry with Young People at B2, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry on Thursday September 1 are free but need to be registered in advance here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/empowering-young-voices-celebrating-the-power-of-poetry-for-young-people-tickets-382817656917


Belgrade Theatre
Arts Centre
Belgrade Theatre


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