PECKHAM-born Caleb Femi is a poet, photographer, filmmaker and English teacher. The first and current titleholder of Young People’s Laureate for London, Femi entered the world of poetry with the aim of highlighting the power of spoken word, broaching difficult topics, and re-engaging disenfranchised youngsters through his work.
A winner of both the Roundhouse Poetry Slam and Genesis Poetry Slam, Caleb was this year’s head judge for the Young People’s Poetry competition. Femi, who featured in the 2017 Dazed 100 list of the next generation shaping youth culture, is presently working on a debut book.
Currently he is collaborating with coffee brand, Julius Meinl and their Meet With a Poem campaign ahead of World Coffee Day this October. The Viennese coffee roaster is encouraging people to make small but meaningful steps to reconnect with each other through poetry and Caleb is a strong supporter of this mission. Glass talks to Caleb about the importance of poetry and ‘things unsaid’ in the modern world.
What an incredibly busy year you have had! What have been your personal highlights since being named Young People’s Laureate for London last year?
The biggest highlight has simply been the platform that this title provides. Being named Young People’s Laureate for London has meant that I’ve been able to share my work with people who may not have come across it otherwise. My works broaches difficult topics, with the ultimate aim of engaging marginalised young people. I believe that poetry is a growing platform for young people to express themselves, and this title allows me to propel my work and my message to these people.
What do you think makes your work different?
I am a firm believer that poetry is a means to express ourselves. I work with the Poetry Society and the Forward Arts Foundation to encourage young people to use poetry as platform for their voices to be heard. Rather than sticking to traditional forms of poetry, I also use other platforms such as film as to reach a wider audience.
Why poetry? Where did it all begin?
Ever since I was young, I have always loved words. I would listen to music lyrics on repeat, and be captured by what was being said, rather than the beat. However, it was only once I was at university that I realised, I had a real way with words, and could tap into my emotions, memories and people in my life to create something beautiful. One day our lecturer asked us to read our own poetry on stage. I am not sure if it was my poem or my reading, but after that moment I felt so connected with the people in that room.
Do you think poetry can inspire change?
Yes. I will often use my poetry to highlight subliminal messages to people to help them make sense of the world, their place in it and hopefully to affect positive change.
Do you think poetry can make the world a better place?
Absolutely. Poetry allows anyone to communicate honestly and freely – people’s innermost thoughts and feelings can be heard through poetry. When we use poetry to communicate how we truly feel, we are also encouraging others to listen.
Can you explain why you are working with a coffee brand (Julius Meinl) and what their Meet With A Poem campaign is all about?
It’s simple – just like my work, Julius Meinl encourages people to reconnect with themselves, others and all aspects of culture. Through my poetry, I aim to do the same. It’s very rare that you have a brand with such a strong commitment to the world of poetry. This World Coffee Day, Julius Meinl is encouraging people to hit pause and take a break from their hectic lifestyles.
The brand is partnering with cafes, restaurants and hotels in 17 countries to encourage people to meet up, and use poetry as a departure from the everyday and speak about topics which have previously remained unsaid. And there’s free coffee involved, which is an added bonus!
Why is coffee the perfect source of inspiration?
When you have a quiet coffee, you are essentially taking a moment for yourself. We live in a highly connected, fast pace society, and stepping back to enjoy a coffee provides the perfect moment for reflection and peace.
The campaign talks about things that have previously “remained unsaid”. Do you think that poetry can be a way to express the unsaid things?
Yes, absolutely. Poetry is one of the purest forms of conversation as it allows us to communicate from an honest and safe place without fear, regret or anguish, which is a very powerful and liberating feeling. The reason I started writing poetry was because I needed a space that allowed me to talk about things that scared me, that intrigued me, that amused me, things that made me vulnerable like telling the first girl I was in love with how I truly felt about her.
What’s does 2018 hold for Caleb Femi?
Poetry will remain my focus for next year, and I hope to continue working with brands shining a light on the positive power of poetry, like Julius Meinl. Later this year I have a short film being released called And They Knew Light, which takes a fantastical lens to life on an inner-city London estate, challenging the perceptions of its youth culture.
I’m also currently working on a theatre production called Goldfish Bowl which is an exposé on the way we view ourselves and others, all told through spoken word, live grime and breath-taking visuals. There are a few other top secret films and productions in the works for 2018 – stay tuned.
by Heather Doughty
For more information about Caleb Femi, head here
World Coffee Day is on October 1