Introducing Deborah Stevenson, founder and director of The Mouthy Poets, consulting slam producer for Shake the Dust in the East Midlands…

Tell us about the work you do with young people

Like most spoken word artists, I do a number or different things. I teach, facilitate workshops, mentor, am a professional tutor of Poetry and Performance poetry at The University of Nottingham, research the positive effects of spoken word on young people and also run my own young poets collective, The Mouthy Poets. My work with Mouthy represents my ethos, through interactive workshops I teach them creative writing, performance and event coordination skills. As a result, they write and perform their own material. Furthermore, they coordinate and run the very events they perform in, raising money for Mouthy, an organisation that in essence they own.

I believe that by learning creative writing and performance skills, a young person is not just opened up to a career in writing, performance or even just the arts. Their literacy, communication and presentation skills are increased and these are skills needed in any job. Their CVs are also enhanced through the events they run, and even writing a CV becomes easier.

Basically, my work with young people is to help them communicate with themselves better. To look inside and say, who am I, what do I want to be and how can I identify and present those things in a specific, refined and seemingly genuine way? An objective similar to that of us as writers.

How did you become a poet?

A combination of three amazing poets and people (though they will no doubt be humble and deny it): Kayo Chingonyi, Louis Antwi and Jacob Sam-La Rose. I have known Kayo since I was around seven as we both went to the same church. When I was 15 he performed one of his poems at church. I had never seen anyone perform a poem before and I was in awe: not only could he build up images in my brain like lego, he was doing amazing things, like performing in the Millennium Dome, as a result. Louis Antwi, a poet I have since had the pleasure to perform and party with many times, pushed me from secret bedroom writer to timid workshop attender. This workshop, in The Roundhouse, was where I met Jacob Sam-La Rose, the most eternally ethusiastic poet I have ever met. He gave the the time, space, editing sheets, poetry packs and performance platforms I needed to fall in love with poetry and realise this was my element.

After they planted the seed, coming third in The Roundhouse Summer Slam 06, under Jasmine Cooray (second) and Kayo Chingonyi (first), I realised I wasn´t too bad at all this writing stuff either. And having my poetic journey followed by Channel 4´s Yeardot, gave me the goals, structure and exposure I needed to be propelled into a poetry filled life.

Tell us about a moment that stands out from your experience working with young people and poetry

Wow, there are so many. Probably the last Mouthy event Say Sum Thin II. They were in charge of a seven hour event, six spaces, 15 workshops, a shop, an art gallery and a three hour show. I spent the first hour running around like a loon then realised I wasn´t actually doing anything other than watching them run the show. They didn´t need me, they knew exactly what they were doing. And since then I have really seen the changes Mouthy has brought to their lives: from one Mouthy poet deciding they want to be a teacher, to another getting a book published!

What’s unique about poetry in Nottingham?

Poetry in Nottingham is massive in general. But spoken word by young people is something only just being discovered and that is so exciting. For a long time the multicultral youth of Nottingham have been singing, dancing, MCing and acting brilliantly. Now they are getting more and more opportunities to write it is clear that Nottingham is the perfect breeding ground for producing amazing writing from young people. They know hardship, diversity, confrontation, confusion and honest emotion, in a city with a buffet of inspiring herritage. Not to mention artists like John Berkovitch round the corner to draw inspiration from. In my opinion this is soon to be the next big city for spoken word. And Mouthy proves that, being only a year old and having 40 odd members and pulling in audiences by the hundred. (Say Sum Thin III will be at Nottingham Playhouse on Saturday 31 March, headlining Kayo Chingonyi).

What do you hope young people in the East Midlands will get out of Shake the Dust?

At the moment I am in residency at Bulwell Academy, working with a group of year 11s to create a First Story anthology. I was pretty scared meeting them, but when I got there are soon realised (and was told) that this is something they had wanted (but thought they would never get) for a long time. The young people of Nottingham are bursting with stories to tell and this will give them the opportunity to tell them. It will also give them a group of other poets to support them and ensure there is a legacy of spoken word opportunities for the young people of the East Midlands.

What makes a good slam poem?

For me it is all about process. I think if you know how you learn, how you write, how you perform, you can do anything. So take the time to understand what you like to do and how you like to do it. Me personally? I think a good slam poem implodes, it has a purpose, the writer knows what that is and as a consequence every full stop, hand gesture and tonal changes is there to reinforce that purpose. It could be to make the audience feel sick, question society or understand and relate to a moment in your life. That is up to the poet, but every choice from then on is a way to elevate it and make it stronger to your audience.

What would you like to see happening in the UK youth poetry scene in the future?

I would like to see slams with legacy, slams that support the young writers within them and give them a perspective view on how slam poetry can improve their future but also how they can use what they are learning to build the career they want for themselves.

Visit Mouthy Poets to find out more.