Have recently been involved in two discussions where people were saying they wanted to use poetry to engage the public (one in research, one in disability awareness). I felt a bit mean for sounding cautionary notes. Perhaps I needed to put it with more friendly nuance as in:
i) Don’t forget that poetry itself often struggles to engage the public. Lots of people think poetry is “Not for them”. If they think your thing is “Not for them” too then you’re going to need a smaller room.
ii) However, as a medium for getting people to participate and think and write, poetry is one of the best forms.
iii) Are you sure you want to call it poetry though? Also it’s good to pay poets who have experience of this stuff to facilitate it. Bad poetry* and bad poetry facilitation can put off those remaining people who might have given it a chance.
iv) “Let’s do a poetry reading at the end” may not bring the crowds flocking.
v) Who do you want your crowds to be anyway? Have you any idea of the low attendance and involvement in arts events generally/among the age or geographic demographic you want to reach?
vi) Yes, spoken word is increasingly popular.
No, Kate Tempest is probably busy. Spoken word audiences are still relatively tiny-unless your thing goes viral.
vii) No, I can’t guarantee your research about Latvian nose flutes will go viral if someone does a slam poem about it.
viii) If you must, put poetry with another thing -pictures/sculptures/film/comedy.
ix) and are you sure you have to call it poetry though?
x) Bad poetry is worse than bad any-other-art form. Bad ballet for instance would still be sort of compelling.
*Apparently it is very judgemental to suggest there is such a thing as bad poetry. I suggest people thinking this go to a very long poetry reading one day. I generally use the term “Bad poetry” synonymously with “Boring poetry”. Obviously what makes people bored is subjective. My tolerance threshold has been reduced after many years around poetry. It is, however, very rare that someone in an open participatory workshop writes boring poetry.