On Wednesday 10 August I was lucky enough to judge the first round of the annual Roundhouse Poetry Slam. The contest, open to writers between 16 and 25, pitted nine of the finest young performance poets against each other: each of them given six minutes to tell stories in their unique voices.
The concept of a poetry slam is odd, on the face of it: and that’s why, when I was asked to judge the same event two years ago, I politely declined. After all, when we write poems in our bedrooms, we don’t do so with a view to winning awards: we’re trying first and foremost to connect with the reader, and anything more than that is a bonus.
But, those concerns aside, it was a privilege to see the work that I saw last night. The audience members deserved congratulations for venturing out on an evening when the riots, though in abeyance were still simmering dangerously; they were rewarded in several ways.
The first of these rewards was the hosting of David J: the inspiration of many of the scene’s leading artists, David turned in a scintillating performance, alternating between brilliant freestyling and Aesop’s Fables in between acts. The second reward was the performances of my fellow hosts, Kate Tempest and Indigo Williams; the former of whom, like me, had written new material in the wake of the riots. But the final and greatest reward was the young poets themselves.
All nine of them were wonderful. I’ll not single any of them out by name, since the contest is ongoing and one of the best poets I’ve seen in two years didn’t even make it through. But that says it all about how good the victors were, as five went through to the August 24 final. There was exceptional material throughout on themes as varied as romance, immigration and sexuality, the styles as diverse as they were exciting. I would strongly recommend that, if any of you have a poetic bone in your body, you join us at the Roundhouse on August 17 for the second semi-final. If you do, you’ll see some of the literary stars of the next five years, and I don’t say that lightly.