Nick Baxter from Brixton-based Poetic Unity explains the vitality and vitalness of poetry in the lives of young Londoners.
Traditionally, poetry was lumped with being 'stuffy and elitist'. It was white men from centuries past — Shakespeare, Blake, Keats — who were associated with London and poetry. Now, slams, battles, showcases and open mics mean the art form has leaped from the pages of dusty tomes, into vibrant streets, bars and venues. This is the metropolis of Caleb Femi, George The Poet, Cecilia Knapp, Kayo Chingonyi and Selina Nwulu. Things have changed, and it's important they keep changing. Here are five reasons why we need to keep young Londoners hooked on poetry.
1. Poetry gives you a strong voice in a loud city
From academic expectations to lack of job security, young Londoners face unprecedented pressures and challenges. Poetry allows the chance to explore and articulate their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in a unique and personal way. Whether it's through writing or performing, this is a way to unleash imagination, find a voice, and gain a sense of empowerment and agency.
Jayda David — who regularly attends and hosts workshops with south-London based charity Poetic Unity 25 — tells me: "It's one of the only outlets I have in regards to managing and processing my thoughts and emotions, be it personal or interpersonal. It's the only way I have confidence to truly express and articulate myself and state of being to others." Spoken poetry nights give young people a literal voice: from Genesis Poetry Slam to Out-Spoken, London offers the chance to speak up, speak out.
2. Poetry makes you feel less lonely
"Opportunities run scarce in the city that never sleeps,
Late nights are spent grinding our teeth,
At the thought of the success that we hope to see"
- Aicha Therese
London can be a lonely place. By engaging with diverse poetic voices, young Londoners can learn to navigate their own emotions and empathise with the experiences and perspectives of others. This empathetic mindset contributes to a more compassionate and inclusive society. As active spoken word artist and poet Aicha Therese, 24, puts it: "Poetry has made what can feel like quite an independent and lonely city, into a vibrant one bursting with love and support from fellow creatives."
Aicha has recently participated in a Mental Health Matters workshop hosted by Poetic Unity; these workshops create a safe environment to open a discussion on the topic and provide young people with the skills to express themselves through writing.
3. Poetry helps you find focus
By analysing metaphors, imagery, and symbolism in poetry, young people develop skills in close reading and interpretation. These analytical skills are essential not only for literary appreciation, but also for navigating the complexities of the modern world — and in this case, one of the world's most bustling cities. Poetry teaches young people to question assumptions and embrace ambiguity — a valuable asset in an era of information overload and fast-paced decision-making. Usir Bennett-Tabi, 18, explains: "The reason why poetry is important to me is that it helps me express my feelings, thoughts and past experiences on a page which doesn't judge or hate.
"The lines on the page are like the next platforms of train stations with more people at each line or each station."
4. Poetry gives you a fresh cultural appreciation of London
"My city has a lot of faces,
Some can be found in forgotten places,
Comfortably sound with a lot of graces,
The Sun could be down on his hungry town but in London he found him a shot at greatness,
My city has a lot of faces”
- George The Poet
By engaging with poetry, young Londoners can connect with their city's cultural heritage and appreciate the voices that have shaped its history. Of course, this means Shakespeare, but it also means exploring the works of figures from different times and backgrounds. In particular Poetic Unity focuses on Black history and the impact it has had on London: figures like Ignatius Sancho, Claudia Jones and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Poetic Unity's events at Black Cultural Archives have been a staple in the London poetry scene for years, providing a safe space for intergenerational connections and a breeding ground for some of the UK's best young poets. This event has seen the likes of Suli Breaks, Sophia Thakur and Yomi Sode grace its stage. It's one of the most consistent poetry nights in London, and its unique sense of community continuously allows new talent to flow through.
5. Poetry invites reflection and introspection
Poetry has the ability to lift the soul and support mental well-being. In a fast-paced and often stressful city, it also offers a haven for reflection and introspection. It provides a space to slow down, process emotions, and find solace in the beauty of language. For young Londoners navigating the challenges of adolescence, poetry can become a trusted companion, offering comfort, validation, and a sense of belonging. Says Aicha Therese —who regularly attends The Poetry Foyer, an event which is held every last Thursday of the month at Theatre Peckham — "Poetry has literally saved my life, several times. It has been the only guidance in hard times and a vessel for expression where I no longer need to hold my feelings inside me."
For anyone interested in exploring poetry as a listener or performer, check out the Poetic Unity website