Performance poetry and the creation of a creative nation.
This kind of attention to the language and rhythms of a poem serves to expand oral and written vocabulary. Research tells us that children with well-developed oral skills are more likely to have higher achievement in reading and writing as well.
Ontario Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat.
My recent article on pay and privilege in the workshop sector, calling on educational institutions to pay teaching creatives fairly, and on teaching creatives not to sabotage this dynamic but fragile sector by working for free or derisory payments, has generated much discussion.
My whole point in making this argument for professionalisation of the workshop sector is that in education, as in all other spheres, the liberator is not the one who does things for people but the one who shows them how to do things for themselves. Donning the halo and working for free in disadvantaged contexts may make the artist feel good about themselves but what is really being taught is that the underprivileged cannot do this for themselves. It’s absurd to work for little or nothing when there is money available to pay you anyhow. Despite the cutbacks, every school in Ireland, with the tiniest of efforts, can afford to pay decently for a workshop from their own resources and/or through outside funding.
In the age of cutbacks especially, only paid work offers a viable prospect to the young poor who are trying to decide what to do with their lives, how to get out of the rut the Celtic Tiger dumped them in as it left. Don’t teach them, by working for free, that they can’t be artists.
Besides, most of us need years of continuos and varied engagement and training to become a good teacher of anything. I know that I am far far better than I was when I started. You can’t, unless you are rich, stick at it long enough to get any good without getting properly paid.
Untrained and basically inexperienced people of any ilk in front of young learners, especially disadvantaged young learners, should be an absolute no-no in Irish education at this stage.
But, of course, it’s not just artists that would benefit from a professional workshop sector. Today I want to write a little bit about the enormous value to the the individual learner and to Irish society as a whole of what performance poets in particular can offer to educational institutions.
I also want to propose that willing performance poets be integrated into the public education system and paid a wage which will allow them to contribute their uniquely cross-platform, synthesising skills to a national drive for multi-media literacy.
In exchange for helping the country make the enormous and absolutely necessary leap into the multi-media era, the country should pay performance poets enough to be able to take the time to create their own work. A grants system with a difference, basically.
It is my experience that performance poetry can be a powerful educational tool among many client groups and in a wide range of institutional contexts. If you are unsure how performance poetry differs from page poetry read this and this.
Thinking about, writing, and performing poetry encourages self-reflection and enhances self-belief and self-worth.
It promotes a dynamic engagement with our local environment and with the wider world we inhabit, increasing our understanding of all these.
By facilitating and encouraging the development of the learner’s individual voice it activates and amplifies the desire for self-expression.
It positively and creatively channels both our negative and positive emotions and provides a socially, psychologically and spiritually useful means of exploring and acting out our dreams and our longings.
Performance poetry can be a tool for active and autonomous learning: the skills passed on by the facilitator can be carried forward for continuos long term use and development by the learner.
But there’s more, much more than this to offer, and at stake. Performance poetry is the perfectly synthetic educational tool for the multi-media age. As well as boosting self-expression, it teaches how to work creatively as part of a goal focused team, how to dynamically engage a diverse audience, how to cope with failure, how to keep at it and at it until it all comes together.
It teaches how to stand out from a crowd and be proudly and fiercely yourself as only you can be. Is there any better lesson to be learnt?
And more again: to survive as an independent people and a nation, Ireland needs, within ten years, a million young people who are able to operate as creatives on a global scale. We need a multimedia citizenship and we need it fast.
As well as teaching how to read, write, critically reflect and perform, performance poetry teaches how to create and work using multi-media devices and the many tools and platforms of the internet. It can encourage young learners to become independent and creative users of multi-media technology. They learn as a by-product of their enjoyment of their own creative powers.
Becoming a nation of independent and creative users of multi-media technologies is possibly the only option we have outside of permanent and miserable dependance on super-bureacracies and multinationals. Therefore I think it is urgent that performance poetry, with the emphasis on its creative multimedia engagement, is integrated into public education in Ireland.
There are many of us performance poets now and there will be more and better tomorrow. Performance poetry, due to its autonomous genius and its suitability to the multi-media age, is a major growth area in the arts in Ireland, attracting some of our best and most dynamic young talent. Unfortunately, due to austerity, many of the most talented are having to quit and/or leave the country. It’s in our hands to stop this from happening and to keep the talent and all the possible public social benefits arising from it in the country.
This means, in the first place, taking creativity-in-education far more seriously than has so far been imagined in Ireland. In my next article on the subject I will make concrete proposals about how this can and should be done.