Empowering young poets in the Northern Rivers
Poets Out Loud is an artist-led initiative, founded in 2019 by prize-winning poet, Sarah Temporal in the Northern Rivers region of NSW. It provides an inclusive platform for everyone to participate, from first-timers to established poets. Poets Out Loud survived COVID and the devastating floods of 2022 and continues to bring people together and share the power of spoken word poetry.
Poets Out Loud Youth Slam 2022 event, feature poet Huda performing, Photo Supplied
With funding from Create NSW for its Youth Program in 2022, Poets Out Loud workshops took poetry into schools, connecting with hundreds of young people in the region and empowering young voices through slam poetry. Founder and Artistic Director, Sarah Temporal shared the journey of Poets Out Loud with Create NSW and its many projects, in particular the Youth Program and Poets Out Loud Youth Slam, which uplifted audiences at the 2022 Byron Writer’s Festival.
What were the origins of Poets Out Loud and how it has grown?
Poets Out Loud began as an open-mic night I hosted in the M-Arts Precinct in Murwillumbah (a town in the Northern Rivers region of NSW). I was overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response; soon we had over 100 attendees per month.
Based on this local support, I was able to build up a number of projects focused on empowering youth and community voices through poetry and spoken-word. Four years on, I have directed 12 community arts projects and dozens of exciting events; everything from a Silent Disco of Poetry, to bringing international stars like Joelle Taylor to perform for regional audiences.
“People who have never seen themselves as poets can suddenly feel the impact their words can have on others.”Sarah Temporal, Poets Out Loud Founder and Artistic Director
Poets Out Loud was founded on the belief that poetry is for everyone. Why do you think poetry can have such a significant impact on individuals?
Poetry is such a wonderful medium for people of all ages to make their mark creatively. I think because open mic nights are such a safe, encouraging environment where you can get up on the spur of the moment, people who have never seen themselves as poets can suddenly feel the impact their words can have on others.
I’ve seen so many people open up to this experience. One first-time slam poet, aged 17, said “It’s really powerful and I’d encourage anyone to do it. All the nerves go away as soon as you’re up there. Just feeling other people connect with the poem was so special.”
Some of the young poets who have come through our program returned for their second or third year; one 18 year old is aiming to publish their first collection, and one 16 year old First Nations poet shares their poems online to advocate for better representation.
Can you share some of projects you conduct for the local community in the Northern Rivers?
Poets Out Loud projects aim to connect regional writers and audience with excellence in spoken-word from our region, from Australia, and beyond. We provide a platform for writers to share their work no matter what stage they are at in their writing journey.
In our recent Community Voices series, Poets Out Loud presented a special workshop and performance series to support recovery and healing, featuring poets from WA and QLD as performers and workshop facilitators.
Earlier in 2022, Poets Out Loud teamed up with The Bunker to host UK poet Joelle Taylor, a TS Eliot prize-winner, in her 2022 tour of Australia. Joelle led a workshop for 10 regional queer-identifying poets, and featured alongside these poets at our online performance.
Tell us about the youth program, which received funding through Create NSW’s Arts and Cultural Funding Program (ACFP).
Poets Out Loud Youth Program has run annually since 2020. It’s a project which empowers regional youth through slam poetry. Professional performance poets deliver workshops for young people aged 12-18 across the Northern Rivers, in preparation for a live performance to showcase their work. In 2022, the selected finalists of the Poets Out Loud Youth Slam were showcased as part of Byron Writers Festival to an enthusiastic audience of 200 people.
I received ACFP funding for Phase 1 of the 2022 Poets Out Loud Youth Program, enabling my team to deliver 15 free workshops to local schools and community. We were able to reach young people in rural and disadvantaged areas who may not otherwise have opportunities to work with professional writers. Altogether, 535 young people participated, creating their own Team Slam poem about something important to them, and performing it for their peers.
Wow, it sounds fantastic! What outcomes of the program surprised you most?
One of the most surprising and positive outcomes of the program for me was how many more opportunities for young people were initiated by word-of-mouth. A number of community festivals and organisations contacted me requesting our young poets to perform at their events. This meant that all the important topics our poets were writing about, like anxiety, climate change, and identity, were shared with wider audiences. The young poets also had a taste of building their own creative careers as they were paid for their work.
What do you consider the biggest strength of the arts community in your region?
I believe the biggest strength of our Northern Rivers arts community is our connectedness. From major literary festivals to grassroots poetry readings, there’s a sense that we all depend on each other. If one flourishes, all can flourish. I particularly saw this connectedness in our fundraiser performance HOLD in the aftermath of the 2022 floods.
Learn more about Poets Out Loud