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Home » Focus, Netherlands

Poetry is Listening Backwards and Looking Forwards

Submitted by on 12 Jul 2012 – 12:33

Y'poetryBy Mick Witteveen, Y’Poetry 2012 Project Manager

Y’Poetry is a poetry project for young adults aged between the 15 and 17 years old from various European cities. The Y in Y’Poetry stands for ‘young’ and the name of the project is pronounced ‘Why Poetry’. The project invites students, schools, poets, teachers, artists, cultural institutions, volunteers and parents to unite in actively exploring poetry using the theme of ‘the city’.

The driving force behind the project is the School der Poëzie (SdP), an organisation based in Amsterdam that aims to give children, young adults and adults an enjoyable and effective introduction to the various aspects of poetry: listening to it, reading it, writing it and reciting it. Y’Poetry is a collaboration between the SdP, the Eastside Educational Trust in London, Villanella in Antwerp and Theater an der Parkaue in Berlin.

The project is based on all the different facets of poetry and a concrete link is established with schools and teachers. Students read and analyse celebrated poetry from various countries and are asked to write their own poetry. All students write at least one poem. The schools and individual teachers are introduced to innovative teaching methods and become acquainted with teachers from schools in other countries. The theme of ‘the city’ provides the perfect opportunity for students, who live in various parts of the participating cities, to explore their urban environment through poetry. Participants from the east of Berlin write about how they perceive their city, and so do students from the north of London. The poems all have the same theme, but they are all completely different. Each poet chooses their own individual approach. The city is more than just a centre where you can go shopping or have a night out; it’s also your daily environment – your street, your neighbourhood. Observing, interpreting and imagining, that is what these young poets are doing in their texts.

Noemia Duarte from Berlin wrote in her poem Savignyplatzthe noise in the street doesn’t / bother me, because the music in my ears / is relaxing and warms my body /…

Otis Schwab from Amsterdam in his poem Happinessone by one / on the road / to happiness / that is somewhere / hidden / among all the stone / …

Poetry is much more than sitting huddled in the corner with a book; poetry belongs on the stage and each partner involved in Y’Poetry organises a special preliminary round. Held in a theatre in the city, these preliminary round shows place the students’ poetry firmly in the limelight. Students share the stage with professional acts that express their experience of poetry in a variety of performances. Antwerp hosted a show featuring music, dance and a live visual translation of the poetry being recited and in London, the poet and presenter/poetry slammer provided a stunning show that perfectly illustrated the power inherent in poetry.

The students recite their own poetry at the show and receive feedback and assessment from an expert jury. Christiane Lange from Literaturwerkstatt was one of the members of the jury in Berlin and TV presenter Ann de Bie in Antwerp. The jury judges the poetry and the quality of the recital at the preliminary rounds before selecting the students that will go on to represent their city, and country, at the international final. Eight students are selected from each city to appear at the international final in Amsterdam.

“What can I say about the international final? I don’t think there are words that do the event justice. It’s fear, courage, love and a touch of pride. But in any case, it is certainly fantastic. It wasn’t the first time that I took to the stage and it certainly won’t be the last, but I have to admit I do suffer from a bit of stage fright…” Vasco Lange, finalist – Berlin

Alongside the focus on allowing a young audience to directly experience poetry, all Y’Poetry partners work towards improving the expertise of school teachers, parents and other art institutions by organising masterclasses and seminars about poetry and education. The international seminar Why Poetry, the importance of poetry education and the stubborn reality provides participating organisations, teachers, poets and literary organisations from countries including Poland and Spain the opportunity to enter into discussion and exchange cultural knowledge. Language barriers are broken down on all fronts and new connections are established.

The undisputed highlight of the project was the international Y’Poetry Final which saw the 32 winners of the preliminary rounds recite their visions of the city at a fully-booked Theater van ‘t Woord in Amsterdam. Translations of the poems were shown on numerous screens during the recitals and alongside the students’ recitals, the evening also featured performances by musicians, dancers and a professional poet.

Chaired by Dutch poet Mustafa Stitou, an international jury comprised of members of the British Council, the Goethe-Institut and the Flemish Centre of Arts judged the poems. Chairman Stitou about the winning poem: “I was taken aback by the perspectives presented, as well as by the imagery she used. The poem progresses gradually towards a climax which while casual, certainly hits the mark.”

Y’Poetry 2012 was without doubt a success. Students from various districts of London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Antwerp were introduced to poetry from a range of countries and had the chance to get to know each other. Teachers and representatives from international organisations were inspired by the project and the working method  by the School der Poëzie. Social media channels are now being used to introduce Y’Poetry to a wider audience and new partners have already expressed interest in the project. The School der Poëzie and its international partners look forward to continuing this extraordinary project in the years to come, involving even more countries and students!

What an amazing weekend! The students have been telling all their friends how great it was!
Thanks School der Poëzie who made it so memorable.

The trip was excellent and gave poetry real prestige and status for the students, parents and teachers involved. I loved the teaching ideas which I will definitely use at home with my own teaching.

Mrs A. Norton, Fortismere School, London



I am my city

walk lost in my winding thoughts

swim in my tears

rest in the small of my back

cool down in the shade of my heel


open my eyes

climb over my walls

break them down, stone by stone


Give me your sadness and your worries

I will store them in my heart

together with the broken promises,

missed dates

a forgotten ‘SEE YOU SOON’


Love me, not just at sunrise

when the last wisp of mist

fades into the river Schelde


but also in the dark hour

of the dark night

when one gets a nightmare

and the other tries to forget


I am my city,

live me


Cato Roelandt from Antwerp Belgium was awarded first prize by the jury for her poem I am my City

(translation: Sonja van Toorn)

Promised myself to write a letter

with shaking, turning hands

and tobacco stained fingers


My lips and words, stumbled over themselves

while you bit yours, no words fell out

Shades of black and blue

mottled your china-white neck

a conversation not worth having


You said you liked to lie in your bed, your nest

You left the house about once a month

Barely there, rush and rapid fading


I liked to imagine our hands could melt into each other

we would be still while delicate rain could dance

a performance for our staring eyes


I was fainting, falling, forgotten


I still see shades of green and blue

in the eyes I never really knew


Hazel Bergeron-Stokes from London won the second prize for her poem Promise