We start 2012 with a special interview with Dr Helen Gregory, performance poet, lecturer and researcher in the benefits of youth poetry slam.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I teach psychology at the University of Gloucestershire and carry out research into the arts as part of my job there. I’m particularly interested in poetry, since I’m a performance poet myself and run poetry stages at Glastonbury and Larmer Tree festivals. My doctoral research explored poetry slam and I’ve continued researching this area since.

Tell us about your research and why you wanted to conduct it

I began with a general interest in poetry slam and spoken word, but my interviewees’ enthusiasm increasingly drew me to youth slam. Many of those I spoke to were full of admiration for this, presenting youth slam as a means of improving young people’s self-confidence, community engagement, teamwork, academic participation and, of course, writing and performance skills. I wanted to discover whether there was any substance to these grand claims.

What are the main things you have looked at in terms of youth slam and what were your most interesting findings?

My main focus has been on what youth slam means to its participants. This has led me to interview mentors, coaches and young poets at programmes like Leeds Young Authors, SLAMbassadors UK and WORDCUP, and to observe youth poetry workshops, slams and other events. There is still much more to be studied here, but my findings so far have only served to convert me to the cause! Youth slam and spoken word really do seem to have enormous potential for the personal, creative and educational development of young people.

Based on this, why do you think youth slam is important in the UK?

The young people I’ve spoken to have a tremendous enthusiasm for youth slam, which seems to have surprised even them! Youth slam programmes have helped them to develop as writers, to speak up for themselves and to form connections with like-minded individuals; many have gone on to act as leaders in the slam community and beyond. I have spoken to young people who have led spoken word events, taught performance skills to their peers and applied for funding to carry out independent projects. That is not to say that everyone will necessarily excel in/through slam, but there are some amazing success stories.

Where would you like to see youth slam going in the UK?

In times of economic austerity, the arts are often neglected. There is a tendency to see things like youth slam as luxuries which can be dispensed with in tough times. I do not think this is the case. I would like to see more investment in youth slam and spoken word, both for art’s own sake and for the myriad other benefits which these programmes bring. There are many adults who work in this field for little or no money. Their dedication is admirable, but admiration is not enough. Their work, and that of the young people they coach, should be recognised in a way which allows it to continue and grow – and that means financial investment.

For more on Helen’s work see: www.hgregory.co.uk

Photo by Bohdan Piasecki.