Earlier in the year, the Hippodrome’s First Steps Poetry programme ran for the first time. The programme has been created to amplify youth voices, build community, and introduce young people to experienced poets to shape their future work. Inspired by poetry from across the globe, 10 young people aged 14-22 from a wide range of backgrounds including digital art, spoken word, traditional acting and writing and theatre, joined the programme to explore the art form as a means of expression and creative output.

Over six sessions in the spring, the group were guided by acclaimed spoken word poet Sipho Eric Ndlovu and Theatremaker Fateha Begum to understand the role that poetry plays in life and protest. The young poets explored the different writing styles which inspired their creative work as well as engaging with live poetry and theatre experiences.

The group studied poets from all around the world, from Bangladeshi resistance poet Nazrul Islam to lyricists of Roots Reggae with the aim of expanding their worldviews of protest poetry internationally as well as them to play with language, pace and performance.

The practitioners covered the context of the work and asked the poets to respond to the themes by writing poetry and conversing about how it made them feel.

In addition to the programme sessions, each participant was given the opportunity to attend poetry and theatre performances such as Verve Poetry Festival, Never Grow Old at the Legacy Centre of Excellence, Hit the Ode and UniSlam. These experiences helped to push the group out of their comfort zones and experiment with new styles of performing poetry.

Poet and participant on the programme Jada said:

“I joined First Steps Poetry to enhance my creative writing skills and reconnect with an art form I once loved as a child. The programme offered me a safe space to share my views of the world and gave me platform to elevate my voice, as well as an opportunity to listen to some powerful poetry from new, young poets right in the heart of the city.

“The programme was a fun, authentic, collaborative experience. Each session was jam packed with laughter, sharing, learning and growth. I really enjoyed exploring poetry through various cultural lenses from world famous poets and my peers, who I now have the pleasure of calling my friends.”

The programme culminated in participants performing for the first time at the National Youth Poetry Showcase, which takes place each year in our Patrick Studio, as part of UniSlam, an annual university poetry slam and summit. The showcase offered the young artists a chance to perform in a room alongside some of the biggest names in poetry.

Ashlee Elizabeth-Lolo, Learning Artist and Community Coordinator at Birmingham Hippodrome said: “When developing this new programme, we wanted the young people participating to have space to connect and form a community. Birmingham has a fantastic poetry and spoken word scene and is a city filled with passionate writers. We are really proud to have hosted Verve Poetry Festival and UniSlam for many years, so it was a great opportunity to introduce our young writers to these regular events.”

“The UniSlam performance ignited a flame in each young person; fuelling their love for poetry and a hunger for more opportunities to perform. They loved the thrill of being on stage and felt their confidence soar. Every young person on the programme came alive during the performance and it was so wonderful to see them blossom into the future poets of Birmingham.”