Meet the Experts

Meet the Expert: Jacob Sam-La Rose

Meet our 2020 poet-in-residence, Jacob Sam-La Rose, one of the country’s most inspirational poets whose passion is using poetry as a tool for education and interaction. His work has been published in numerous anthologies, and he’s held workshops at schools and universities worldwide. Jacob also works as a programme director for organisations such as the Barbican. Read on to find out more about his role at our sites and for his poetry-writing tips.

About Jacob

"I’m a poet, programme director, educator and editor. I’m responsible for the Barbican Young Poets programme, I’m the national ambassador for I Know I Wish I Will (a poetry competition for young people aged five to 25), one of my collections is taught on an A-level syllabus and, among other things, I’m currently experimenting with generative text machines as tools for creative writing. 

I developed a taste for poetry in my early teens, but it was something I became particularly invested in through my early twenties. I loved the idea of being able to put language to work in powerful ways. Many of the poets I admired were able to offer insight into experiences I didn’t necessarily have any connection to and yet, through their words, their subjects became tangible and real.

It’s great that poetry is enjoying increased popularity at the moment – reaching out to new audiences via YouTube and Instagram (the platforms might be new but the cycle of raised attention in poetry isn’t). There are ways in which the best poems fill very necessary spaces for us, particularly in an age that seems to be characterised by fracture and division. And there’s a way in which the best poetry offers a brilliant balance of the things we have in common and the things that make us unique, packaged in a naked, unadulterated form.

I was excited by the prospect of delving into English history, interrogating English identity and investigating some of the narratives that contribute to some idea of what Englishness is. I wanted to peel back layers of history, yes, but I also wanted to engage with some sites as they are now."

Two women on a sofa


1. To write poetry, you need to read it
When I started to take poetry seriously, I went to the Poetry Library on the South Bank in London and read everything I could put my hands on. There was a lot there that I didn’t appreciate or even understand, but making the effort to engage with that work helped me to appreciate the relations between what I wanted to do with my writing and what I didn’t want to do with my writing. It also helped me to appreciate that there are so many different ways of writing poems.

2. Find a way to get someone else’s thoughts on your writing 
Feedback can be really useful, even if you ultimately reject it. It helps if you avoid asking someone if they like your poem but instead ask what a particular line or image meant to them.

View of a desk including a typewriter

3. Don’t just think of the poem as something you’re trying to show someone else
Listen out for what the poem is trying to tell you. Every poem is an opportunity to discover something.

4. Be true to your own voice 
There’s value in emulating the poems you might admire but there’s a lot of power in the language you use every day. 

5. Try on a different perspective for size 
What happens when you try to write the poem from the perspective of someone (or even something) else in the scene or the moment you’re writing about?


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