Could poetry and spoken word combat bullying?

Poetry, rap and spoken word are brilliant at tackling bullying and helping students find their voice, says Mirain Evans

Bullying is a very real problem that affects us all – those who bully, those who are directly affected and the people who witness it. Here at the Wales Millennium Centre, we wanted to address the problem, using poetry, spoken word and rap.

Our Wicked Words project is an anti-bullying poetry writing scheme that’s linked to Wicked, which is currently running at the centre.

The scheme aims to help young people find a voice, and express their thoughts and feelings about bullying through poetry. We secured funding from Western Power Distribution, and we’ve worked in close partnership with Cardiff Against Bullying. With help from Barnardo’s, we identified individuals, organisations and local schools to take part in workshops, which local rap artist Mikey Holden delivered.

Workshops were held in the Cardiff area – Michaelston Community College, Radyr Comprehensive, Welsh-medium school Ysgol Gymraeg Coed-Y-Gof and also with children who are educated at home.

Mikey’s style of poetry gripped the participants right from the start. With his background in spoken word, hip hop and rap, the students found they could relate to his contemporary and personal approach.

Wicked Words at the WMC © Milciades Ortiz, Multi Storey Media
Wicked Words at the WMC © Milciades Ortiz / Multi Storey Media

During the sessions, Mikey encouraged pupils to express their experiences by writing a poem. He stressed how important it is for young people to speak out about bullying. Mikey said: ‘I wish this was available to me when I was going through similar circumstances.’

Each student then openly shared their personal bullying stories with the rest of the group, which Mikey and I were completely blown away by. We felt surprised and encouraged that they didn’t shy away from sharing, but at the same time, the session revealed the seriousness of each story.

I realised how widespread the problem is, and how dangerous it can be, as the lines of one student’s poem show:

‘Day by day I am a victim of bullying,
Sitting in the corner with nothing to do
Bullying would make me think I am stupid so I do not want to live anymore.’

Mikey also encouraged the pupils to write or perform their anti-bullying words in a style that suites them, so we had letters, rap, notes, poems and spoken-word style poems.

Michaelston Community College students reading their poems to the rest of the groups © Milciades Ortiz Multi Storey Media
Michaelston Community College students reading their poems to the rest of the group © Milciades Ortiz Multi Storey Media

This approach worked brilliantly. I believe that creative workshops like this really do show results, more so than simply text-book teaching about the issue.

The workshops were strong evidence that creative expression has had a really positive effect on the young people – and we had some wonderful, encouraging feedback. The workshop raised awareness of bullying, and Mikey’s approach clearly showed how to address bullying effectively.

‘You should know bullying hurts
It starts with one word.
One word you blurt –
Fat, ugly, worthless.
These are the words you hear,
Did you know you’re their biggest fear?’

(by Keiran Tucker, Radyr Comprehensive School, Cardiff)

Mirain Evans is creative learning officer at Wales Millennium Centre.