Monday, 27 June 2016

Poetry Joe: The world is getting smaller, art is more necessary than ever

The world is getting smaller.

I've always been motivated by travel. At seventeen, when asked what I would like to study at university, the choice was obvious - choose the course with the compulsory fieldwork. 


Three years later I left UCL as a bonafide Archaeologist with several months of South American fieldwork experience under my belt, and an even deeper love and respect for the artefacts that history leaves behind.

Back then, writing for a living seemed like the dream job, a job where I could travel and work from anywhere. All I would need was a pen, a pad, a laptop and an internet connection (and a good idea and somewhere to send it!). I was inspired by films like Surrender, where Michael Caine plays a world-weary writer churning out bestsellers whilst he flits from country to country. Despite fifteen years in the industry, this peripatetic lifestyle has yet eluded me - but then again, the world has changed; it has got smaller. 

I first came across video conference calls used for art on a poetry gig I did many years ago for the London Grid for Learning. I was asked to join a storyteller and an illustrator in a session that was streamed live to around 30 schools. We stood in front of a huge TV screen that had been divided into four. In each quadrant we could see a class from four specially chosen schools who would get to interact with us whilst the other 26 schools watched. The event was a huge success. I was able to see the students, they could see me, and apart from a few technical glitches resulting in the odd delay, it all went swimmingly. I was left impressed by the technology and wondering what the future would mean for author visits and poets in schools. 


Children love poetry! 

Last year I was made a "Verified Guest Speaker" for the online platform Skype Lessons, getting a tick against my name and everything. I saw these free digital sessions as a way to offer author visits to schools who could not afford to have one. 


I fully expected to get the odd request from hard-up or hard-to-reach schools in the UK. What I did not expect was the mass of requests from abroad. 

I soon found myself up at all hours to provide poetry sessions to schools in the U.S., Australia, the Philippines, India. It seemed that my desire to perform around the world had been granted–though perhaps not quite in the way I imagined (sitting bleary-eyed staring at a computer screen at 1 a.m., trying to be chipper in front of a class of eight-year-olds who have not had lunch yet, is not quite living the dream). I was awed by the technology that could allow me to make connections across the globe. I found I could run poetry sessions with all the same dynamism and fun as in a face-to-face session. I was able to choose students to read out their work, and ask them to put up their hands to ask questions. We laughed together and learnt together and created poems together. It struck me that the world really is getting smaller. With that reduction in size come all sorts of opportunities. 

In May, I found myself invited abroad for the first time, to a school in Geneva, Switzerland. Whilst there I visited the UN and did a tour of the conference rooms, huge growing spaces where delegates from all over the world have sat and beaten out some of the worlds problems; where cease-fires have been signed. 


Conference room at the UN Palace of Nations, Geneva

I was taken aback by the art that lined some of the rooms. One conference room had many doors to avoid preferential entrance being given to any one nation. This room was adorned with a huge mural of black and gold showing mankind's advances in technology and medicine, the abolition of slavery, and the danger of war.  

I was struck by the importance of art in society.

Here, where cease-fires are signed, giant artworks peer over the leaders of nations, forcing them to consider their actions. The world continues to get smaller, our problems and fears continue to be more greatly shared and more greatly aligned and in a climate intent on making us feel apart, our art, our writing, our resolve to connect and care, more greatly needed.


Joseph Coelho is a performance poet and playwright. He has written plays for companies including Soho Theatre, Polka Theatre, Theatre Royal York, Oily Cart, the Spark Children's Festival, Islington Community Theatre, and Pied Piper Theatre Company. His plays have received special note from Soho's Verity Bargate Award and the Bruntwood Playwriting Competition. 

He has written and performed plays for Word Pepper Theatre, including The PoetryJoe Show and Pop-up Flashback. He is currently touring Fairytales Gone Bad - two poetic adaptations of fairytales in association with Half Moon Theatre. 

Joseph's poems have been published in several Macmillan anthologies including Green Glass Beads ed. by Jacqueline Wilson. Joseph has been a guest poet on Cbeebies Rhyme Rocket, where he was beamed up from the Rhyme Rock to perform his Bug Poem. His debut children's collection Werewolf Club Rules is published by Frances Lincoln and was the winner of the 2015 CLPE CLiPPA Poetry Award

Twitter @Poetryjoe
and @skypeclassroom
www.joseph-coelho.com




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