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Slam poetry with Maxine Beneba Clarke: Teen Writing Bootcamp

08 July 2022

At the Library’s Teen Writing Bootcamp in May-June 2022, writer and poet Maxine Beneba Clarke taught teens the building blocks of slam poetry. Here, she shares some tips and reflections from the workshops. 

Over four Thursday evenings, young poets across Australia participated in the online Slam Poetry Teen Writing Bootcamp through the State Library Victoria. During these sessions, with myself as a tutor, we watched and critiqued spoken word poetry and discussed the history of slam poetry and its proliferation in Australia. 

The young poets undertook writing exercises, including using refrains to create rhythm and using sound and expression in performing poetry and writing poetry to music, utilising meter, tempo and timing to give their poetry the desired impact, and using lyrical language and other language devices in their work. Each week, they were given an extension exercise to guide the creation of a new poem or completing a poem started in class.

The poets we studied during the course included African American spoken word poet Zora Howard, Greek-Australian poet Luka Lesson, hip hop poet Saul Williams, young slam poet Maia Mayor, Melbourne spoken word poet Jacky T, and Gil Scott Heron (the infamous 'Godfather of Rap') with his seminal work the Revolution will not be televised.

The classes were also an opportunity for participants to write about things on their minds, and chosen topics were broad and unique. Themes included religion, sexism, climate change, love, gender, protest, the pressure of school and exams, and mental health issues. It was great to see students using poetry to express and explore things on their minds in a supportive out-of-school environment.

The running of these sessions online meant that the class was open to many young poets who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to intend – one participant even disclosed that they travel around the country with their family rather than attending school in a fixed location. The diverse young poets in these sessions were from different cultural and geographic backgrounds, which was also great to see. The students were engaged, earnest and enthusiastic, and many were generous and confident enough to share the work they generated during the class exercises with me and the rest of the participants. Everyone showed mutual respect for the creative work of their peers, with some suggestions of linking up to continue to share words in the future.

The passion of these young poets, their support of each other’s work and efforts, the quality and power of their work – and their commitment to attending a poetry class on Thursday evenings – makes me excited for the future of Australian poetry.

More to explore

Find out more about the Teen Writing Bootcamp programs. 

This program has been made possible with the generosity of Serp Hills Foundation and The JTM Foundation.