Unlock the talent inside

Since 1962 the Koestler Awards have played a unique, national role in motivating prisoners, secure hospital patients and immigration detainees to take part in the arts. The Koestler Awards are simple and powerful – we reward achievement, build self-confidence and broaden horizons for some of society’s most disadvantaged and marginalised people.

Our work harnesses the uniquely transformative power of the arts to help individuals learn the skills and gain the confidence to live creative, positive and productive lives. Each year we receive more than 7,000 entries from over 3,500 entrants across the UK in 52 categories. More than 2,000 Awards are granted by over 100 esteemed judges, and each year culminates in a curated exhibition at Southbank Centre which showcases the incredible power of the arts to transform lives.

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A Mentor’s story

My first session as a Koestler Arts Mentor

The Koestler Trust runs three days of training for our mentors. We consider carefully which successful mentee applicant they’ll be matched with, and complete background checks to ensure compatibility. Mentors receive a pack of information about their prospective mentee including examples of their work and then exchange letters before they have their first meeting.

‘You never know who’s sitting at the next table – those people in the queue – who are they? Is it HIM? Two poets lurk in a Bristol cafe, locate each other by text message and are soon in the back garden talking.

Sometimes you never know who’s sat across the table, we had the whole afternoon to find out. From a mentoring point of view I wanted to strike up some rapport and common ground as quickly as possible. I decided against turning up with a dusty copy of the Collected Works of Horace and a furrowed brow. I wanted to share words not teach or lecture.

We started with a discussion about what poetry is, the preparation I’d done was very useful, alongside Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Langston Hughes were Lennon & McCartney, Jarvis Cocker and hip-hop rapper Slug. This set the tone for the rest of our meeting and I could sense us both relax. To build on this I made it clear that for me there is no right or wrong in poetry and that the sessions would be prejudiced by my own obsessions, interests and eccentricities.

I could see straight away that we shared a genuine love of words and that there was great scope for us to have a very interesting twelve months. I had set a piece of pre-meeting work which I was pleased to see had brought a response, the task was to describe what was interesting about a favourite work of art, we were soon talking about layers, hidden images and strange angles, all good stuff for poets!

Poems written in prison were read, I had previously only seen them on paper, where to be brutally honest they seemed a bit lifeless. Out loud the sense of rhythm, music of language and languid delivery gave the words a whole new depth.

We ended the session by sketching out some plans for the future, open mic events we could go to, poets to see and libraries to visit, I left a list of resources which could be explored in the local library and broaden knowledge of the live circuit and of how poetry is developing.

Like any good poet I will finish with a worn out cliché: ‘we saved the best for last.’ Strangers two hours previously, we parted company shaking hands on a busy street, my poetic buddy’s comment repeating in my head as I walked back to the station, ‘I’ll tell you what Michael, I was worried y’know, but you’re, well you’re normal, just like me.’

 


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