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From the poet's mouth: introducing Caleb Femi, Young People's Laureate for London

Modernising poetry and using it as a mode of escapism and tool for social and political change, Caleb Femi, Young People's Laureate for London talks about the power of poetry

What does your role as Young People's Laureate for London involve?

My role involves working with young people to help them find their voice and express their thoughts and feelings through poetry. This is usually in collaboration with schools and organisations – and I love it!

What inspired you to get involved with poetry?

Ever since I was young I have always loved words. I would listen to music lyrics on repeat, and be captured by what was being said, rather than the beat. However, it was only once I was at University that I realised I had a real way with words, and could tap into my emotions and memories to create something beautiful. One day our lecturer asked us to read our own poetry on stage in front of our peers. I'm not sure if it was my poem or my reading, but after that moment I felt so connected with the people in that room. I learnt that poetry connects you with others and helps us find commonalities.

What message do you want to convey to the youth of London?

That poetry is the closest thing to capture the ineffable – and that they shouldn’t be afraid of expressing their opinions on the world through this creative platform.

Your commissions include the Tate Modern, The Royal Society for Literature, St Paul's Cathedral and the Guardian. Do you have a favourite?

Honestly, I couldn’t pick. My poetry is about real people and memories – a chance for me to reflect on moments in time. When writing, I tap into so many different experiences and what I felt during them. Therefore, all my work differs, as does my love for each body of work.

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As a filmmaker, you’ve released two documentaries. Grime music, road culture and masculinity are topics you often discuss. Why are these topics so important to you?

These topics reflect my identity, they are part of what makes me me and so I can only make art, true art, based on the topics that I know best.

You once said you wanted to ‘normalise poetry’ for disenfranchised young people and ‘show them how their voices can be heard’. How important is it for young people to vocalise their thoughts and opinions?

So incredibly important! I believe that poetry can make the world a better place. Poetry allows anyone to communicate honestly and freely – people's inner most thoughts and feelings can be heard through poetry! When we use poetry to communicate how we truly feel, we are also encouraging others to listen. A world where every voice is heard – isn’t that a beautiful thing? We live in an era that no-one in the history of humanity has ever seen before. No-one has ever lived the way we have lived. In this new age of media, we’re communicating in a new and totally different, interesting way. What this means is that more than ever we have a chance to vocalise our opinions with a simple tap and swipe. It’s brilliant if you embrace it with open arms.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your role so far?

The biggest highlight has simply been the platform that the Young People’s Laurate for London provides. Being given this title has meant that I’ve been able to share my work with people who may not have come across it otherwise. My work broaches difficult topics, with the ultimate aim of engaging marginalised young people. I believe that poetry is a growing platform for young people to express themselves, and this title allows me to propel my work and my message to these people.

You moved to London from Nigeria aged seven. Where are some of the best creative outlets in the city?

You can find creativity anywhere in London from places like The Roundhouse to the streets of Peckham. That is what makes London such a great place for creativity.

How do London forms of expression compare to Nigeria’s? Can they learn from one another?

Fundamentally, they are the same. That’s what makes expression and creativity so special – it can transcend borders.

Do you believe that poetry can enact positive social and political change?

Yes! I will often use my poetry to send subliminal messages to people to help them make sense of the world, their place in it and hopefully to affect positive change.

What can you tell us about your upcoming 'Meet With a Poem Campaign' with Julius Meinl?

It’s simple – just like my poetry, Julius Meinl encourages people to reconnect with themselves, others and all aspects of culture. It’s very rare that you have a brand with such a strong commitment to the world of poetry. This World Coffee Day, Julius Meinl is encouraging people to hit pause and take a break from their hectic lifestyles. The brand is partnering with cafes, restaurants and hotels in 17 countries to encourage people to meet up, and use poetry as a departure from the everyday and speak about topics which have previously remained unsaid. And there’s free coffee involved, which is an added bonus!

To find out more about the Meet With a Poem Campaign, meinlcoffee.com

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