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Joseph Coelho: Poetry can remove the fear of writing

POETRY COMPETITION: Poet Joseph Coelho is passionate about the impact the art form can have on young people

What made you want to get involved in the Premier League Writing Stars competition?
It’s such a lovely combination of football and writing and literacy. It felt like a really positive way to show lots of children, a wide range of children, the delights in writing poetry.

Often I’m in the classroom getting kids to write but those kids that are more interested in sport might not always feel like writing is something for them so I love what the Premier League are doing in combining those things and just showing lots of young people that writing is for everyone.

If you’re into sports, then you’re probably going to have a lot of interesting things to write about and if you’re into writing, doesn’t mean you can’t be a fantastic footballer.

You’ve written a poem especially for the competition called Beautifully Different, Wonderfully the Same. Tell me about the inspiration behind it
It was drawing on a plethora of things that we think about when we think about diversity and the things that bring us together. I found it a really wonderful challenge because the poem has several jobs. Not only does it have to stand on its own two feet but it also has to appeal to a wide range of ages and be useful as a writing prop where students can be inspired by the structure and the theme.

So I wanted to create a poem that would have something for everyone. So sure, a nod to football but also a nod to feelings and emotions and with a little bit of rhyme but not too much rhyme so you could be inspired to create a rhyming poem if you want or to create a poem that has no rhyme, which is totally valid and fine.

Football’s such an emotive sport that I think people do get really in tune with their emotions during a football match. It celebrates togetherness and diversity because it brings lots of different people together.

Tell me about the impact you’ve seen poetry have on some of the young people you’ve worked with
I’ve been working in schools for over 16 years now and I’ve seen all sorts of things. What teachers often say is, ‘Oh, that child over there never writes and today they’re writing’ or ‘That child never gets up and reads and today they’re getting up and reading’.

I think poetry has this wonderful ability to remove the fear of writing. It’s such an accessible art form and you can create the first draft of a poem in a relatively short amount of time so that means young people that are challenged by reading and writing can actually create a product very quickly, very succinctly.

I’ve had several occasions where elected mutes, so young people who are choosing not to speak, have actually got up and spoken and read a poem out to their whole class, which is a huge thing.

You’re on the judging panel this year. What are you looking for from this year’s competition entries
I’m really excited to see pride, to see unusual takes on things, for a poem to make me see the world in a slightly different way, to think about diversity in a different way, to see a poem that is using a figure of speech or a poetic device in a new and exciting way, which might to the adult listener sound like quite a tall order for young people but they do it daily...I’m constantly amazed by what young people can do.

I’m really looking forward to being delighted and surprised with how the young people are inspired by the poem and the theme.

What tips would you give to this year’s entrants?
First of all, to remember that there’s no right or wrong with poetry. What got me engaged in poetry was the fact that it’s very open. I could write poems about absolutely anything and that was fine and that was valid. But on the flip side, if you choose to, there are lots of options to write very structured, formed poems, like a sonnet or a haiku.

Premier League Writing Stars is a poetry competition open to primary school pupils in England and Wales. Entrants must pen a poem around the theme of diversity – celebrating our differences and similarities – for the chance to win some exciting Premier League prizes. Teachers can register at to enter their pupils’ poems before the closing date on Friday December 21.

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