“I started at the age of 11, writing poems in the back of my maths book. It was my little secret. I didn’t know what I was writing was ‘poetry’ at the time-Caleb Femi”
Caleb Femi, a 26-year-old English teacher from Peckham, was recently appointed the role of Young People’s Laureate – a newly created role by Spread The Word that grew out of the organisation’s Young Poet Laureate Scheme. The Young People’s Laureate is a “special” job, which entails being an advocate for young people in London, United Kingdom – and Caleb is excited to get started.
Caleb describes his poetry as “unapologetically honest”. Having drawn inspiration from poets such as Nate Marshall, W.B Yeats, Denise Riley, Justin Vernon and Kei Miller, Caleb started writing poetry because he “found comfort in it”.
“I started at the age of 11 writing poems in the back of my Maths book,” he told the IPF. “It was my little secret. I didn’t know what I was writing was ‘poetry’ at the time.
“It means so much to be entrusted with a such a huge role and I looking forward to the wonderful things that are yet to come.”
Caleb Femi on the potential role of poetry
Through Caleb’s new role, Spread The Word hopes to fill a “cultural gap”. Research has suggested that 16-24 year olds in education, employment or training were 66% more likely to go to the theatre, compared to 44% of young people who were not.
However, Caleb is no stranger to engaging others in poetry. In fact, he believes “having more people in poetry is the ultimate goal”. Through his new role, he hopes to shine a light on the potential poetry has to bring people together, as well as re-engage young people with the art.
“I hope to re-engage young people who have, for one reason or the other, become disenfranchised with poetry. I hope to get them reading, listening to or writing poetry outside of school or educational settings. I want to help them cultivate their own voice through poetry.”
Caleb believes poetry has “a huge potential” to pave the way for people to have “difficult or taboo conversations”. By using poetry, the Young People’s Laureate hopes society will begin having these conversations, and become more tolerant in the process.
Who is the new Young People’s Laureate?
Why was Caleb Femi chosen to be London’s new Young People’s Laureate?
Joelle Taylor, an independent poet on the judging panel, said that while there were “a solid list of applicants, Caleb Femi is the perfect choice”. She told the IPF:
“Judging the People’s Laureate… [was] about selecting an artist who is breaking ground in their work and their approach to sharing that work with younger people, and their ability to inspire writing among a new generation of Londoners.”
Joelle said Caleb “embodies the spirit of innovation” through his writing and performances. Most importantly, however, she believes he has the drive to communicate that work to the younger generation. Describing Caleb’s poetry as “elegant, incisive and complex”, she said his work indicated a “new and exciting direction, where boundaries between page poetry and spoken word are finally and resolutely bridged”.
But Caleb isn’t just a Young People’s Laureate – and a great poet. He has been involved in a number of other projects, such as SXWKS, a creative collective that comprises of many artists and art forms. According to Caleb, the collective was designed as a way for young people to “support each other and collaborate across artistic disciplines”.
What the art means to Caleb Femi
Becoming a poet isn’t something many young people aspire to do these days. So has Caleb ever been told poetry is an “unrealistic career option”?
“Many people have said that before and I have always laughed it off because even if I had decided that I was done with poetry, poetry would not have been done with me,” he said. “I have always ran with the motto: ‘You won’t know until you try.’ And that is enough to keep me going.
“Poetry is therapy for me, before anything else it serves as a way of keeping me sane.”
Caleb Femi has received commissions for his poetry from the Tate Modern, Southbank Centre, Barbican and the Lift Festival. To find out more about his work, visit his website and follow him on Twitter.