Rhiannon Shaw won our competition to come down to London and review the SLAMbassador UK champions perform at the 100 Club. Find out what she thought of these word champions.
This year, for the first time, SLAMbassadors UK celebrated their wealth of talent at the 100 Club in Oxford Street. At first glance, the club looks a little unassuming; a subterranean basement cached between a lingerie shop and Claire’s Accessories – but inside, there are rumblings of a revolution.
SLAMbassadors UK is nothing like any other poetry reading I’ve ever attended. For one thing, there was a lot in the way of audience participation. Whoops, cheers, laughs, gasps – and the sweet symphony of football-shaped whistles, provided courtesy of our ebullient host Joelle Taylor. If a line was moving; if a line surprised you; or if it just had some great sibilance, you were invited to click your fingers. There was never a dull moment – and all the while, I felt buoyantly lucky to share in what can’t be described as anything but a celebration.
Without a doubt, the SLAMbassadors winners demonstrated the endless possibilities and the ‘linguistic liberty’ of poetry. A vast range of topics were encompassed; from the Arab Spring to the pain of trying to fit in. But the audience was never lost, and always found even the most complex idea conveyed with lyricism, sincerity and the real stock of a young poet – guts.
There was a distinct sense of immediacy in the air that night, which perhaps contributed to the inexhaustible energy in the room. Much of the material is drawn from news stories from just a few months ago. Harry Wilson’s ‘Awaiting Response’ honours the fearless poster girl of the Arab Spring (Gigi Ibrahim) with all the tender intimacy of a lover. Charlotte Higgins captivated with the colourful but brutal ‘Ballad of Trayvon Martin’. Aaron ‘ICY’ Denyer wrote brilliantly of the Occupy movement and Megan Beech fearlessly damned the wrongs of the current government. The poetry showcased focused in on a hard-hitting topic, a news story that in the capricious nature of the modern era we could forget in seconds, and bestows on us our own forgotten gift – the ability to think for ourselves. In the very air I could feel hope, and was reminded of one of my favourite quotes: ‘Where power corrupts, poetry cleanses’.
For all the big issues covered by the poets, there were more personal pieces that eloquently shattered the wall between the listener and the subject. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes may seem a simple idea in theory, but pushes a poet to the limits of empathy. Fascinatingly, some of the greatest successes included the heartfelt admissions of an aging drag queen (complete with the sacred maxim; ‘Darling, I’m fabulous’). Tamara Lawrence crafted a forlorn, misunderstood young woman with beautiful subtlety. ‘Please, don’t stop.’ or ‘Please don’t, stop.’ – A simple change in punctuation re-writes a story. The startling clarity for the heroine that things have gone too far is heartbreaking and won some of the most fervent ‘clicking’ of the night.
Such a range of styles made for a truly enthralling evening; the yield of a talented but distinctly diverse group of young performers. Emily Anne was warmly received with her thought-provoking original lyrics to the B.O.B song ‘Airplanes’, while Gabriel Akamo’s rich voice embodied the sanctity of a wise-man one moment, the drama of a stage actor the next. And who could help but love the charm and tenacity of ‘Stupid’, the creation of the 14-year-old People’s Choice, Renne Pascal? Megan Beech’s unique fast-paced approach to reading topped the night off for the SLAMbassadors, a stream of masterful parallels of Shakespeare to modern rappers, tightly packed into one breath.
As well as the work of the SLAMbassadors winners, we were treated to performances by Chris Preddie OBE, who spoke of the inspirational work that he does with young people and made a few hearts go all a flutter with his promise of a fairytale romance. Joelle Taylor, who hosted the show, delivered extracts from her book ‘Ska Tissue’, including a soulful tribute to the forgotten girls of gang culture. Dizraeli, a unique hip-hop star with a witty and refreshingly incisive style finished off a fantastic evening’s entertainment.
I would like to thank all the members of the SLAMbassadors team for the opportunity to attend this fantastic event.