We hear about Graham Smith’s first workshop session on Shake the Dust South East. Graham is working with poet coach Chris Redmond as a shadow.

The librarian is away, and the English teacher is looking harassed and is not sure who can cover her classes so she can be present during the workshops. So our day begins. But by 9am we have a bunch of Year 9s in the hallway, the library has been rearranged to leave a space for movement and tables and chairs arranged for writing. Our names are up on the board – Chris Redmond and Graham Smith – as well as ‘Shake the Dust’ and the word ‘Slam’.

Just before our first group comes in I ask the teacher what the students been told about today. She replies: ‘Oh, nothing really. We just told them to come to the library and that they were in for a treat.’

When the students are all sat in a circle, some looking bored, some giggling with their friends, others looking suspicious, we roll the word poetry into the middle of the room like a hand grenade: here’s your treat. Having been told the kids are “street-wise but not worldly wise” and have plenty to say for themselves, the silence at the word “poetry” is kind of deafening. Chris teases out some ideas they have about poetry but most of them only begin to look interested when two things happen.

Firstly, Chris outlines the whole ‘Shake the Dust’ project and the possibility of performing in a slam with other teams. A few eyebrows lift and some sit forward in their chairs. Secondly, Chris performs two poems for them. Whilst he performs I check the reactions of those sat in a circle. No one is looking out the window; all eyes are on him. When his first poem reaches a crazy crescendo – with Chris at the centre of the earth, becoming molten lava, his face red and his hands outstretched, fingers dancing in the air – there are a few nervous laughs but this is good, it’s meant to be comic, and one girl watches him open-mouthed as if it’s the most amazing thing she has ever seen in her life. Applause is instantaneous and spontaneous: the grenade has gone off and Chris has exploded their expectations of poetry as difficult words on a page written by “some dead dudes.”

‘Shake the Dust’ has definitely landed in Southampton.