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Thursday, 10 October, 2002, 05:47 GMT 06:47 UK
Putting the passion back into poetry
Benjamin Zephaniah
Benjamin Zephaniah is famed for his performance poetry

Adisa is Britain's performance poet of the year - a job which allows him to indulge his passion 24 hours a day.

"I love communicating," he said. "I like the directness of poetry - in a few words you can send someone from happiness to tears - I thrive on it."

The 33-year-old has made poetry his profession, having moved to London and given up his day job running a magazine distribution business five years ago.

But he is well aware that not everyone shares his enthusiasm - in fact, just 0.4% of all consumer book buys in 2001 were poetry.

Adisa uses his work to inspire schoolchildren
A spokesman for Books Marketing Limited said the figures, which come from a survey of 7,000 nationally representative homes, meant that about 1.5 million poetry books are sold annually.

"This figure sometimes goes up - for example when the Nation's Favourite Poem book is released every few years, or when a film like Four Weddings and a Funeral features a poem," the spokesman said.

"WH Auden books flew off the shelves after Stop the Clocks, Cut Off the Telephone was read out during the film's funeral scene," he added.

But for many people poetry remains something they left behind them at school.

Griff Rhys Jones
Griff Rhys Jones has fronted the Nation's Favourite Poem
Adisa thinks this is because of how it is taught - he has bad memories of secondary English lessons.

"You're asked to dissect the poem - 'look on line 3A and see why it is there, dissect the metaphor' they tell you.

"They don't put any passion into it and it puts you off."

But his work with children has convinced him this problem can be remedied - he finds them to be "switched on to the rhyming and rhythm".

Adisa has found that it is easy engage the youngsters' interest.

Although he is also a fan of Shakespeare and William Blake, he uses hip hop stars such as Fugees lead singer Lauryn Hill to kick off his workshops.

The poet also thinks rap is also a great way to engage the children's interest, citing the "intelligent rapper" KRS-1 as his all-time favourite.

Adisa has performed his poetry around London
"Song lyrics, rap and poetry are part of the same family," he added.

Adisa has recently been working with special needs children at the school attended by murdered schoolboy Damilola Taylor in Peckham, south London.

He obviously loves working with them, and led workshops set up by the charity Springboard.

Anna Guyer, who works at the charity, said the 50 children benefited hugely from working with Adisa.

"He's six feet five tall and incredibly charismatic - the kids thought he was great," she said.

'Guns and knives'

"Children who are often at the bottom of the class get one-to-one attention, which gives them a huge confidence boost.

"We need to think of things to motivate kids to help them want to learn - poetry allows them to think differently and express themselves on paper."

Springboard also allows children to write poems about life in the inner city.

"We ask them to put all the things they would like to take out of the world into a box they'll never see again," said Ms Guyer.

"They put in guns and knives - it helped them to talk and write poetry about their environment."


Several of the poems were put into a book - something which gave them a "great sense of achievement".

Adisa is convinced that this is the way forward for poetry - for children to be inspired from a young age, so they develop a love of poetry.

But his last word goes to urging a wide a cultural agenda for poetry to reach its biggest audience, adding that rather than just bury their nose in a book, people should "go to readings - give readings - that's the real way in to poetry".

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