London’s first Young People’s Laureate, is 26 Year Old Caleb Femi, who is also a English Teacher, Poet, Filmmaker and Photographer.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I am a huge music fan and I like to binge on different series and read a lot of poetry, these are the two things I do in my spare time.
How did you get into poetry?
Through studying poetry academically; I did English A-Level and I studied English Literature at university. During the early stages of studying poetry at university, there was one lecture where everybody was told to write a poem and talk about it. As my luck would have it, I was one of those chosen out of 300 people randomly to read my poem. From that experience, everything escalated to where I am today.
Which poets inspire your work?
Nate Marshall, Kei Miller, TS Eliot, Robert Frost, Warsan Shire and friends from my collective.
How did you get in Filmmaking?
I was tired of not seeing enough Black British themed shows, so from there I decided to make my own stuff.
How was it to get into filmmaking, did you get a lot of support?
It was easy. At the moment there is really an insurgent and movement of Black British people that are just doing stuff for ourselves such as what the Nigerian Networking Community (NNC) are doing. Everybody got behind my idea because they could relate. It felt really smooth. There is an unspoken network of us who are doing similar things, where we support each other, promote and go to each others events.
Your debut documentary was ‘’What Did Love Taste Like in The 70s?’’. What was the inspiration behind the documentary?
One day whilst with a few friends, we got into conversation about how much music we have heard growing up from hall parties such as fuji etc, has shaped who we are today and from there I just filmed it.
How did you start working with children in schools and what inspired you to do so?
I went to Geoffrey Chaucer where my friends and I were kicked out in year 11. I left the school with 12 GCSEs which was unheard of. Out of 7 of us, I was the only one who left with GCSEs and from there our lives went down two separate paths after two years of finishing school. Unlike my friends, I was able to go back into education because I had GCSEs. My friends could have gone back to do their GCSEs but being 18 where you have to pay for the courses, they were thinking more about needing to pay for their next meal. With no support from family, they weighed their options and did not choose getting their GCSEs but chose another option.
I had to think about the main difference between them and I, as a lot my friends were just as clever as me. It came down to the fact that I had teachers that cared; I was put into a class where the teachers cared, whilst my friends were put in classes where teachers did not care. I understood the difference that teachers can make in peoples lives, especially when you are a black teacher, you can understand where they are coming from, and hence I decided to be a teacher whilst I was in university.
You also do the Globe Poetry Club, how did you get into that?
I get invited to teach at schools. It was weird going back to Geoffrey Chaucer, now Globe Academy, and emotional as I was kicked out of the school but now I am going back to make an impact on children’s lives.
What is the responsibility of a Young People’s Laureate and what do you hope to achieve with your new role?
Essentially, the role is to engage young children with poetry, giving them a voice, showing them that poetry can be a way of speaking and getting involved in the conversation of the world. Also, getting to them to write poems even if just for themselves and to read poems and appreciating the art. I like to help the children in finding some sort of solidarity and escapism through poetry.
What I want to achieve is to revive poetry, as the curriculum has really killed the vibe behind poetry. I want to show children that you can define what poetry is, and that it is for the modern age, it does not have to sound like Shakespeare.
From filmmaking, to photography and now your new role as a Young People’s Laureate, how are you able to manage all your various roles?
By making them involve each other. Doing poetry, it is connected with the Young People’s Laureate role, which is also involved with photography, and photography with videography. I make everything overlap into the other.
How did you get into photography?
That was the first creative thing I had ever done. When I was in sixth form, I was seeing a girl who had been bought a camera for her birthday. She always had the camera around and I got more curious as time went by. Eventually I started taking pictures and she taught me how to use the camera and I started taking pictures of nature as I was drawn to landscapes.
My latest series is on black men, trying to take softer images of them. This is because I feel like when it comes to young black men there are a lot of pictures that emulate hard masculinity, although sexy, it is perpetuating a certain expectation in the male psyche. As a non-black person seeing these images it perpetuates an air of aggressiveness, I like to show softer images.
Where would you like to see yourself in the next five years?
I want to have a wider network of collaborators and have a wider depth of work under my belt. I want to be proud of what I have created. I do not want to be in a 9 -5 job. I want to be more proud of the Black British. I would also want to do things in Nigeria and other places.
What role do you think communities like the Nigerian Networking Community can have in facilitating networks in the young Nigerian Community in diaspora?
By creating more awareness of people like Josh Bright and myself. NNC should continue acting like a middle man and bringing everybody together. Also NNC should help with directing people with what is going on in the world through dissemination of news of different people. Doing events would be good, to get people together.
What important lesson would you like others to learn from you and your journey?
Fearlessness. Do not be afraid to fail or create what you want, even though there are no examples of anyone doing it, which should even give you more motivation. Also, understand the field you are going into, do not just barge in there.
Follow Caleb on social media: