A few weeks ago at our local Youth Offending Office we hired an ex-offender to read poetry to our assorted crew of delinquents on the Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme (ISSP) before we took them out in the afternoon to play basketball. The reasoning behind this initiative was well intentioned. Here was an ex-convict who whilst in prison had learned to read and write and discovered a talent for poetry and creative writing. Now empowered, he wanted to give something back. And so here he was on a miserable Monday morning hoping to inspire our young offenders to swap the stanley knife for the pen, that said, many of them would still stab you with the pen given half the chance.
Indeed our poet lived up to the awards he had won. His poetry was energetic, lively and raw just like his life story. He was a charming scouser from the wrong side of the tracks and you couldn't but be inspired by the manner in which he had turned his life around and the teenagers warmed to him even though initially they thought he was a bit unusual.
However, whilst he was good at making words rhyme and injecting his scouserly wit in to conversation, at imparting life skills he was hopeless. He told the young lads present that spelling and grammar were not important at all and not to worry about it. All I could do was sit there and nod my head in exasperation. Surely for every hand written CV and application form they send out for a job they will need to adhere to standard English? However, this was not going to be an issue I learned in that every young criminal in the room possessed the combined poetic skills of Yeats, Byron and Wordsworth, according to this jovial Liverpudlian, and what's more they could become very wealthy in the process. The fact that at least half of them were either completely or semi-literate didn't seem to be an issue.
"So how much do you make a day?" asked one young prolific burglar.
"I get a few hundred quid for just coming here talking to you today to show you there is another way of life. I drive a nice car and wear the best of clothes and have most of the day to myself and all because I learned to read and write. You can earn good money giving talks to schools and in detention centres and to the Youth Offending Service. If you grasp at the chance to improve your reading skills you all can have a life like mine if you want it. I believe in you lads you just need to believe in yourselves. Words can set you free. You can have a life like mine if you work hard for it. I know inside everyone of you is a story you can tell with words. If you work for it you can be a writer or poet like me."
I must admit it was great rhetoric and I really liked the guy, but he was talking gobbledegook. For a start there is a limited demand for scouser poets that spell badly and believe that grammar is irrelevant. Im pretty sure he has cornered the market there.
I wanted to stand up and scream:
"Poetry and creative writing are lovely hobbies but you should learn to read and write because you will all need at least the basic level to even get a job washing dishes in a pub nowadays. You will not all be award winning poets like our nice friend here. He is one of the lucky ones. The country is full of talented creative types be they poets, actors and writers and most of them haven't a pot to piss in never mind awards hanging off the walls of their damp bedsits. So learn to read and write for its own sake and to improve your chances of even getting a job stacking shelves in Tesco where you will be competing with graduates with English degrees. If you take pleasure in writing poems about how you used to enjoy robbing from pensioners but nowadays prefer to spend your time lying in meadows writing sonnets then thats great but please dont believe a word this man tells you about it affording you the material comfort he has and if you don't believe me go home tonight and put the word poet in to the search engine on at least five or six jobsearch sites."
Instead of saying this I just sat there. My sentiments would not have been welcomed as I've said before injections of common sense are seldom welcomed in the youth dependency sector.
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