I've never felt like a grown up. People tell me this is a common feeling. There's this slowly dawning realisation that all adults, including yourself, are just kids who got taller and learned to hide their curiosity, silliness and excitement better than before. But even that aside, I'd never truly thought of myself as an adult. Bare in mind in the last ten years I've bought a house, owned a dog, learned to drive, earned a degree, begun a teaching career, started my own business, started pairing socks, got married and subsequently got un-married. All of these endeavors are pretty darn grown up. However, nothing ever made me feel like a grown up. I still felt youthful, and much like I did when I was sixteen. I just hoped that nobody noticed I wasn't a real adult and I'd keep getting away with it.
That all changed last month. While hosting an event, I introduced a very talented young poet as "a talented young poet". I cringed as the oh so "grown up" words escaped my mouth. It's one of those horribly geeky things to say in front of a teenager. It was embarrassingly dad like. I almost wanted to heckle myself.
However my cringe-worthy teacher/dad style introduction caused something to suddenly dawn upon me. In this scene, I'm not one of the young ones anymore. I am a grizzled veteran. At 26 I'm hardly ready for my bus pass but "old" is a relative term. I'm not as old as some of my friends, my granddad or Stonehenge, but I'm certainly far from the youthful end of the poetry scene.
Basically...there are kids out there, and they are terrifyingly good and we will all be out of the job soon. So give up writing now.
I joke. But having moved into the mentoring, training and educating side of poetry, I've began to get a new sense of satisfaction from seeing young poets develop and flourish. I remember a time when poetry was, for me, a selfish pursuit. It was about self promotion, getting my voice heard, getting my words published and appearing on as many stages and platforms as possible. This is still important to me, I have a narcissistic streak a mile wide that forces me to find some way of receiving an applause preferably at least once a week, but I've gained an appreciation for seeing the progress in others. Dare I say it, I get more of a kick out of this than seeing my own career progress.
Watching young poets, especially those who I have trained, excel in poetry slams, get their work published or even just grow in confidence and as human beings gives me enormous amounts of satisfaction.
Today I received a whopping great load of satisfaction. Today I got my butt kicked by a ten year old child.
Occasionally opportunities come up where poets and performers are asked to apply for one thing or another. We do this semi regularly, as when we are lucky they come through. It's part of the process. Rejection is like water off a duck's back. I'll apply to a dozen opportunities in the hope that one may come through. But every now and then one comes up, where the chances of getting involved are slim but you decide you really want it. It's a recipe for disaster. For me this came in the form of the chance to be involved in a TV pilot. I shan't go into details as the project is still in early days, but in short, it was a brilliant opportunity with a chance to get my work heard on national TV. So, I went for it. While talking with the producer, I mentioned my work in primary schools and we got onto the subject of young poets I may know. A child sprang to mind, Frankie, the runner up from the last Basildon Primary Slam, whom I had trained as a spoken word poet for a year. I tipped off the producer and suggested she contact the family.
I soon received an extremely polite, warm and lovely rejection phone call. Not a cold email, a decent phone call. I didn't feel like I was getting dumped by text, which was nice. This was the kind of rejection you can't argue with, when somebody has clearly listened to your work, enjoyed it but felt "it wasn't right for the show at this time". They had my details and would call me if anything came up. I'm a big boy, I don't mind. Maybe they hated it and they were being polite, or maybe I'm a square peg and they needed something for a round hole. Who knows. Either way, I was slightly disappointed, but not upset enough to start writing poetry about it.
What followed however filled me with more joy than I think any acceptance of my own work could have given. The producer had completed a Skype interview with Frankie, listened to his work and thoroughly loved it. He was scheduled for a filming day in the city, and he went off and worked with a professional camera crew and director, recording his poetry for what will hopefully end up on national television.
The boy kicked my butt, no two ways about it. But in the same way that a parent wants a better life for their kids, do educators not want to eventually be surpassed by their pupils? That's what Kung-fu movies taught me anyway. Admittedly being beaten by a ten year old won't do much for my already battered street cred, but I honestly couldn't be prouder.
This is what Poetry to Succeed is all about. Today a young man had the experience of a life time, pushed himself to do things he never thought he would or could do and represented his family, school and town in such a positive way. Kids like this continue to smash negative perceptions about local youth and prove they absolutely have what it takes. All of this was made possible by exposure to poetry, his own hard work, and by giving him encouragement to pursue the creative arts.
So yes, a ten year old kicked my increasingly ancient butt. And do you know what? It's the best thing that's happened all week.
(Photo credits: Paul McLean, Laura Curran)