At 12 years old, Solli Raphael became the youngest person ever to win Australia’s most esteemed national slam poetry competition. We had a quick catch up with the author, speaker and performer to learn what inspires him, how he came to work with Greenpeace and appear on TEDX, and how he sees young people can make the change they want to see in the world.
Hey Solli, how did you get into slam poetry?
I started writing poetry when I was nine years old. When I was twelve I was looking at some rap on YouTube and a slam poetry video came up. I hadn’t heard of it before. I clicked on it and started watching it. I loved it. I watched more and more, then a couple of months later I started writing my own.I love Herr, Harry Baker, Luka Lesson, and Eminem.
Where else does inspiration come from?
So many different areas of my life. Sometimes it’s just around the house and of course with my poems about the planet and the environment I feel really motivated to make the biggest change I can to minimise the impacts global warming is having on the world around us.
How have young people responded to your poems and art?
The feedback has been so inspirational. Last year, an entire school from Melbourne…each student sent me a letter. So I have a massive pile of letters from a bunch of year four students. To see that they want to make a change themselves, because that’s my overall goal—to inspire and motivate my generation. I’m so moved and it makes me keep writing.
Have you read all those letters?
What stands out?
There are a couple that told me they loved my poetry, and before hearing my poetry they thought that poetry was boring. They said that everyone at their school started writing poetry, and I even got to be a judge of their first-ever school slam poetry competition. So that change was really cool to see. Now they’re writing slam poetry in class all the time!
When did caring about the environment and writing about it in your poetry become a priority for you?
I’ve grown up on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, so we’ve got the beach and the mountains and the coast. It’s a mixture of nature and the environment. I’ve grown up around it. That connection I made at such a young age has really led me to love the environment like I do today. That love has gone into trying to care for it as much as I can.
In the poem you wrote for Greenpeace, you touch on many issues that affect the environment—you touch on renewables, on the Great Barrier Reef, about plastics about the decimation of forests. Is there one of these issues that you see as needing fixing first up?
I wanted to touch on a positive note with this poem. Some people can be overwhelmed with what’s happening in the world around us. So the overall theme for the poem was to try and inspire people, and make them see that every minute counts. So if it’s the minutes that you’re at a café and you remember to ask for no straw, or you bring your own, or those minutes that you pick up litter from the ground…it’s those minutes that count. If everyone in the world did as much as they could to minimise their use of plastic and stuff, that’s going to have the biggest impact.
Do you think everyone can play a role?
How did you end up working with Greenpeace?
In caring for the environment I’m always trying to put it into my poems, so with this one I had just finished it and then Greenpeace contacted me. They had seen me on a TedX presentation where I’d done another poem about the environment, and they asked if I would like to collaborate with them. It was perfect timing. They loved it! Then we did some filming, and here we are.
What’s next for you?
I don’t want to say too much but I’m writing some poems about energy. All aspects of energy. There are also more collaborations coming up. I’m working with a lot of charities so I’m really excited about that. I have another book in the works which I’m really excited about, and that comes out early next year. And then just more writing and doing the activism work I really love.
Like you Solli, at The Foundation for Young Australians, we believe that young people can make a change to improve the world around them. We too are on a constant journey to inspire and empower them. What do you think about young people’s ability to influence change, even if they’re too young to vote?
From such a young age, my generation gets through so much information, and they’re looking at all the problems in the world. They can see what the world should look like and they’re working hard to make that change. They’ve got so many ideas and opinions about how to do that, and I think it’s great that young people around the world are shaping the future they want to see.
Head to solliraphael.com.au to learn more about Solli’s work.