How do you get school pupils interested in poetry by Giancarlo Rinaldi

Glasgow-based performance poet Imogen Stirling has been on that mission in rural south-west Scotland over the past year or so.

She admitted there had been an element of subterfuge to her work in and around Wigtown.

"I’ve learned that you just can never use the word poetry because that puts people off immediately,” she said.

"And, I mean, rightly so to be honest, I had no interest in poetry when I was in school and I didn’t really resonate with the way that it was taught to me at all.

"So it did take me quite a long time from having sort of dipped into poetry at school to come back to it because I really just didn’t think it was for me.”

However, there are ways to get it across.

"I think it’s more about bringing out the performative elements and the storytelling elements,” she said.

"We’re really fortunate in that there’s so many exciting performance poets at the moment.

"There’s so many artists who are blending poetry and raps, which is a much more accessible art form, I think.”

She said she tried to showcase some of that work and show students how the spoken word could be used to talk about things which were important to them rather than ending up in "some dusty book on a shelf”.

"I think it’s just about feeling comfortable in your own expression,” she added.

School visits are one part of her work in the region alongside setting up the Wigtownshire Young Writers Development Programme which helps teenagers from 14 to 18.

"We come together once a month, to work together and help develop their skills as writers,” she said.

"It is as much about skill development as it is about socialising with other writers and also looking on to see what a career in writing could look like.”

Her own journey into performance poetry has been a circuitous one after studying theatre and literature.

"I’d worked abroad as a musician for a couple of years, came back to Glasgow and found that this really rich performance poetry scene existed, which had never been there to my knowledge when I’d been here studying,” she said.

"I fell into that and sort of frequented a lot of the open mic nights and that sort of thing around here and then wrote a show for the Fringe in 2018 and it’s really kind of been all go since then.”

It has brought her to Wigtown Book Festival this year to perform Love The Sinner which she describes as a "modern retelling of the stories of the seven deadly sins set as characters in a contemporary Scottish cityscape”.

Who knows, in future, maybe some of her current students will be inspired to follow in her footsteps.

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