Some poets write on paper and some poets write on air. On February 4th pens were exchanged for tongues as SLAMbassadors UK reached its semi final stage in the search for the spoken word artists and cultural activists of the future. 15 emerging artists from across the capital met at the Royal Festival Hall over a hot microphone to spit it out in the spotlight and compete for one of four top London places.
SLAMbassadors UK is about giving a voice to those who no one seems to want to listen to anymore, and about giving ears to a community which is increasingly afraid of its youth.
The poetry performed that night had integrity and grit, sensitivity and spittle, well aimed metaphors beside rough hewn truths and fully loaded sentences. There was free verse, caged verse, rhythm and poetry, emcee rants, soul singers and beatboxers.
SLAMbassadors UK began simply. Armed only with a fistful of poetry, an ability to freestyle ferociously and a dodgy camcorder, poet Chris Preddie and myself descended upon the unsuspecting secondary schools of London, while Curtis Watt tackled Liverpool. We had funding to work in 14 different schools across 4 boroughs in the capital – Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, Islington and Hackney – and so it was the start of a slam unique for many reasons, the first being that the schools need not pay to enter. The only commitment we needed from them was – well – committment. We needed them to provide a space for us to work with their young people, we needed the idea of poetry and spoken word to be valued within the school environment, and we needed the teachers to continue their support for their students after we had left. In most cases this was precisely what happened. Poetry and rap became the subject of debate once more – not only in classrooms but, crucially, in the school corridors. Fellow students tried to raise the number of hits their artists received online, and worked hard at promoting them within the school community. Some artists were taken out of lessons to enact poetry raids on blinking and bemused younger students, or performed at mass school assemblies. In short, they were valued and respected. And schools are still using the SLAMbassador UK website now as an incredible teaching aid. No one teaches young people better than young people.
The Royal Festival Hall provided us with a prestigious space for the word artists to launch their careers at. And it was rammed. Supporters wriggled past a full be-jewelled and tuxedoed choir in the hallway, none of whom could apparently beat box. I know: I asked. Inside the transformed Spirit Level however, some of the artists appeared to have whole discos on their tongues. The main rule of this slam was, aside from its inherent anti-racist pro-tolerance ethics, was that all music that accompanied the poets had to be created by the mouth and the body – and so emcees were stripped of their beats and left with raw lyrics, and poets tore the stage in half and stuck the remains in their back pockets.
And parents, friends and teachers were not the only people in the audience that night. BBC 2 ‘Poetry Matters’ hauled in a huge and frankly glamorous camera to record the gig – the results of which will be seen in a few weeks time – watch this space for full info.
After an hour and half of unbelievable performances, judges Dorothea Smartt, Angel Dahouk, Chris Preddie and I had only 7 minutes to select those 4 poets that we felt could be mentored into creating professional sets. We made the best decision that we were able in the time allowed, but the truth is that any one of the poets appearing could also have been chosen, and we will continue our commitment to all of them.
Judge Angel Dahouk of the Poetry Society said, ‘These young people are not only passionate performers, they are the voice of a disaffected generation rallying for change. They deserve to reach a broader audience to help them achieve success on a wider scale.’
Meanwhile in Liverpool, Writing on the Wall have been co-ordinating their strand of SLAMbassadors UK. On April 30th both London and Liverpool poets will meet in a showcase event at the Royal Festival Hall. While the new Poet Laureate is announced in Westminster, we will be presenting our pick of North West and South East spoken word artists of the future.
Madeline Heneghan the Coordinator of WoW said, “Working creatively with young people, we know that there is a vast wealth of spoken word artistry across the city. We are delighted to have this opportunity to showcase that talent.
The Liverpool strand of the championship is taking place at 7:30pm on Friday March 6th. It will be held at The Blackie, Great George Street, Liverpool, L1 5EW. FREE ENTRY but places are limited so advanced booking recommended!!
Call Jess at Writing on the Wall on 0151 703 0020
Kira Matthews & Hauwa Lima – Walthamstow Academy
Oshauna, Tanisha & Shane – Walthamstow Academy
Sean Bello (Halo) – Langdon Park School
Satta Briama – Quintin Kynaston School