The Poet Packing a Punch

by Holly Cara Farr

Matt Windle, boxing champion and Birmingham’s very own poet laureate, puts a fresh spin on the poem at the North Cornwall Book Festival.

Matt’s poetry workshop kick-starts Thursday, livening up the chilly church hall with his upbeat attitude as he introduces himself to the children. ‘You can call me the poet man,’ he says. Without a moment’s pause he begins with his rap-style spoken poem about the future world and its education. As he finishes applause erupts around the room from the young workshop attendees.

Matt creates a relaxed atmosphere with his quick quips, assigning the children their first task – a ‘word burst.’ The room falls silent as they start scribbling down random words when suddenly Matt interjects with, ‘Anyone gonna put pasty down?’ This garners a few giggles.

When their time is up he begins reciting another poem, encouraging the children to fill in the gaps with the rhyming words. He then sets them a challenge: come up with words that are impossible for Matt to rhyme. After collecting all the words on a piece of paper and using it as a guide, he starts an improvised poem using everything from ‘porridge’ to ‘potato’ with laughs from the audience along the way. The way that Matt engages the children with poetry reflects his young start in the industry. He was named Birmingham’s young poet laureate at only seventeen years old – the same age that he began boxing. In the last ten years he has established his reputation through workshops in schools where he incorporates his two passions into classes like ‘poetry with a punch.’ Today, however, is purely about the poetry.

The room fills with chatter as the children are given their final task – to write their own piece. Matt walks around the hall and stops at each table to discuss ideas with everyone. After the ten minutes is up, the children get an opportunity to come up and share their work. One brave girl stands and recites hers, a poem about why she writes poetry. Everyone shares the first couple of lines of their poems which brings the workshop to an end.

For Matt, it’s more about ‘working with kids and engaging them,’ rather than the poetry itself. After being kicked out of school at a young age, he now wants to help steer children on a good path. His fresh and relatable approach to poetry means that by the time the workshop is finished the children all leave grinning, perhaps inspired to carve their own path in the writing world.