Notes from the Tour Bus

Day One and Two

The SLAMbassador tour bus screeched into Aylesbury this week to work alongside young artists from the High School and Mandeville school combined, in an emotional and cathartic two day workshop. As you know, the workshops are Master Classes in spoken word – they begin with a performance from the poet (me) which is followed by an intensive day focused on writing individual pieces around the theme of  ‘identity’. We look at numerous stimuli and writing exercises – but essentially the young people already contain the poetry, and it is my job to go in there and find it. I sometimes feel that I am more of a cultural archaeologist than a writer.

The first two days have been incredible: emotional, heartfelt, energetic and deeply moving. Soon you will be able to see the poetry films and judge for yourselves. I saw teenage boys break down in tears, we heard tales of rejection by families and by the state alike, stories of survival in the most inhospitable environments, and witnessed great friendships begun.

As I have said before, it is the stories that I cannot film and upload that have the most dramatic impact on both me and the other participants. And there are many. They are poems of silence.

It is a strange situation to be in when I know something that I can do nothing about. But I hope one or two of the families involved are reading this. I hope that you know that I know.

The best poems are never written. They are how we live our lives, how we plan our futures and how we work together to make certain that future is worth living in. Thank you to the teachers of Aylesbury High and Mandeville School, and more especially, thank you to those beautiful young artists. You have achieved this.

In the words of one participant, Courtney Hallgate:

‘… when I went to a writing and performing workshop called SLAMbassadors I found the type of writing I enjoy. Just writing about the truth and not thinking about what others might think about it. No one can tell you what to write because it is your book.’

Check in each week to see what other books are written in the air around Buckinghamshire.

Day Three and Four

Next stop: the Grange school with aspiring young artists from The Buckingham. The creativity of the young spoken word artists in this dual school collaboration was off the hook: powerful poetry about freedom writers, exceptional emcee bars that manage emotional depth (the one thing missing in most emcee bars) and an incredible 3-part polyvocal poem based on the Alicia Keys’ track Girl on Fire. This is a brilliant piece- deeply dug into the page and performed with hair straightening harmonies- that traces the strength and survival instincts of each of the young women who wrote it. It’s literally been liiving in my mouth since I heard it.

One of the greatest aspects of my wonderful work is that I come into contact with every discernible kind of human being. Their uniting factors are their youth and their words, but everything else is mutable and surprising. The three women who wrote Girl on Fire were a perfect example of precisely the kind of artists I like to work with the most: serious, passionate, dedicated and, most importantly of all, willing to listen and adapt to given advice.

No workshop is the same. As soon as I see the faces during my first performance my plan alters to fit them. If only they knew that they were writing the workshop outline as surely as they are writing themselves. Although I try to squeeze in as much technique as I can before I tumble mercilessly into a great big teenage yawn from which I may never emerge, the emphasis is always on the stories in the room. They define what will happen over the two days.

The second day is often when strange and enduring friendships are forged: the beatboxer with the girl from the grammar, the rapper backed up by beautiful melodies slung from a school across the road. Social media makes the community of young artists stronger still, and I expect these friendships to become greater and more certain as the years roll by. They will never forget each other.