Karl Nova has just been awarded the 2018 CLiPPA (CLPE Poetry Award) for his debut collection of poetry, Rhythm and Poetry. Nova, a rapper and poet, was clearly a favourite with the huge audience of children who attended the ceremony, and impressed the judges too: ‘This book really stood out with its refreshing use of the rap genre, its musicality, its immediacy and thoughtful reflections on the creative process’, said Chair Grace Nichols.
Charlotte Hacking interviewed Karl about his poetry for Books for Keeps.
Congratulations on winning CLiPPA 2018. How do you feel about winning and what opportunities do you hope it will bring?
I feel so happy, it felt really good. I was shocked at first, I honestly thought maybe John Agard or Sarah Crossan would win and when they announced my name, I was in shock. I took the award with me to a school in Luton where I do a residency once a week to show them and for the children it meant so much. They saw a guy who wrote a book, worked really hard and who’d been working with them for a while and he won an award that they could touch and see his name on and it really gave them a boost too. I hope this will give me a platform now to bring more poetry to more kids. It’s a transformative thing to work with them and bring out their creativity; that’s the most important thing this does for me.
When did you become a writer of poetry? What helped you develop into the award winning poet you are today?
I started writing poetry at the suggestion of my younger sister. I was going through a lot in my teens and she noticed that I’d always written a lot of little raps and things and told me I should write more. So I started writing for myself; I wasn’t going to show it to anyone. I had stacks of notebooks, but I would hide them under my bed. Then I got into music and started making songs and performing rap, all the time still writing poetry, but doing it for my own recreation. What really took it to the next level was when I started doing workshops with schools and I realised I needed more material to bridge the gap between myself and the students. Working with them reminded me of everything I went through in my teens and as a child, and that’s where poems like Peer Pressure came from.
How has your background as a hip hop artist contributed to the way you write poetry? How is it different to writing your music?
This is a really interesting question. Being a hip-hop artist feeds into my work as a poet, I don’t really separate them in my mind, but when they come out on paper I know which will be a song and which will be a poem for a book or a recital. When I started writing raps, I wanted to write so well that if someone looked at my lyrics on paper and read them, they knew they were as good as if they were hearing me perform them or if they were hearing them over music. I wanted it to be like standard poetry. I was also inspired by people like Saul Williams, who is an amazing spoken word artist, and by watching Def Jam poetry DVDs; this was a real turning point for me. They would perform the most incredible poetry, which inspired me to want to be as good as these artists were. When I was writing the book, I wanted to be an authentic voice and for that voice to be heard clearly. I started thinking of poets I like, like Maya Angelou, who has a very unique voice in her performance and also in her writing and that’s what I aspired to do.
Your collection spans many topics and themes, from peer pressure and cyber-bullying, to your love of London, your family and music. How did you put the collection together?
The collection was quite hard to put together. I wanted to write for me, about the things I love, like my mum and like London; my childhood memories. Also, about my own engagement with writing and poetry and some lyrical exercises, crossing over with my music. There were so many pieces I had to leave out because the editors were looking for a collection for primary aged pupils and they might have been too mature. I fought for some stay, such as No Beef, an anti-violence piece that deals with important messages. I see this as a coming-of-age book. The first bit is about the childhood memories then, as the book progresses, it gets a bit more complex and into meatier issues. I also think that adults can get a lot out of the book; to me it’s like a Pixar movie, kids can connect with it and then there’s a layer for the adult to look into themselves and get something from it too.
How do you see the impact of your poetry on the children you visit?
I have a philosophy that poetry is written to be spoken. I wanted to make sure that I am a fresh voice that the reader can identify with and that the poetry in the book was as alive on the page as if I was standing in front of them performing it. I’ve seen the effect my performances have on children when I visit schools. I really want to show that rap is a valid form of literature; when I perform, I can really see their minds opening to the idea that rap is poetry and that poetry is wider than they thought it could be. I’m taking all the literary devices they are learning about, simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, hyperbole and I’m feeding it back to them through rap. It both validates their own experience and affirms what they are learning in school. Then, when I throw the writing challenge back at them, what they produce is amazing. They understand the themes in my poems and it inspires them to write about what’s important to them in their own authentic voice; I’ve seen them write about mental health, the impact of social media, real and important things they are going through. One day I’d like to be able to capture the poems the children write themselves and put them into a book, they really are that good.
And finally, what more can we expect from Karl Nova the poet in the future?
I’ve already started putting together some poems for a new collection that is just starting to come together. I’m writing all the time, on my phone, when I’m working with schools, when I’m doing events, poems are coming all the time. I’m also working on a new fiction title, an adventure. Imagine a rapper, a hip hop guy writing adventure fiction, drawing from what’s great about books like Harry Potter mixed with hip hop, that’s what it’s going to be. And I’m definitely excited about judging on next year’s CLiPPA!
Charlotte Hacking is the Learning Programmes Leader and member of the CLiPPA judging panel at CLPE, an independent UK charity dedicated to helping schools develop literacy learning that transforms lives.
About CLPE and our work with poetry:
Established in 2003, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award (CLiPPA) is the only award to recognise excellence in published poetry for children in the UK. It encourages and celebrates outstanding new children’s poetry and is presented annually for a book of poetry by a single poet or collection of children’s poetry published in the preceding year.
2018 celebrated the 4th year of the hugely popular CLiPPA Shadowing Scheme. Running in schools alongside the CliPPA judging, the shadowing scheme has so far reached more than 600 teachers and 14,000 children. As part of its commitment to support teachers to teach poetry in an exciting and creative way, CLPE creates teaching materials for all shortlisted books. This includes videos of the shortlisted poets, accessible for free on the Poetryline site. Shadowing schools have the opportunity to win copies of all the shortlisted books and to attend or perform at the CLiPPA 2018 Poetry Show.
CLPE’s Power of Poetry course brings together published poets and an anthologist with teachers to develop their knowledge, confidence and expertise in their own poetry repertoire and the teaching of poetry. Research evaluation from the training shows that poetry provides a means for children to find and develop their own voice bringing a wide range of benefits, particularly development of their own writing. Opportunities to practise and perform poetry adds to the understanding and enjoyment of it and having a performance goal, such as through the CLiPPA shadowing scheme, is a real motivator in children engaging with poetry. The research demonstrates the real need for a focus on poetry as a vehicle for improving children’s engagement in and enjoyment of reading and creative writing in schools.
CLPE’s summary of findings and full evaluation report from the Power of Poetry project can be found at: https://clpe.org.uk/library-and-resources/research
The Poetryline website can be accessed at: https://clpe.org.uk/poetryline