Before the 10th of September, I had never recited a poem from memory. I had never read my poems to such a large audience – and, even if I had, they probably were more interested in the other acts. I had never performed in such a prestigious venue, that had played host to: The Beatles; Bob Dylan; and the Arctic Monkeys among other influential artists. The Roundhouse was a great place to make a tentative start in performance poetry. Not only was the competition judged by brilliant, contemporary poets, but it enabled me to meet other young people that are as passionate about words as I am, and whose work inspired me to explore other areas of my own voice.
Yes, I was incredibly nervous about performing. I had looked up previous performances on YouTube, and I realised that the work which would be featured was very different to my own style. I didn’t know whether this was a positive thing, or a negative thing – but I kept telling myself that art cannot (and should not) please everyone. But it should move, inspire and provoke.
I entered the competition with the mindset that even if my poetry was not well received, for whatever reason, it didn’t mean that my poetry wasn’t any good. It would appeal to someone; it would move someone; strike a chord within someone. That person may, or may not, be in the audience at the Roundhouse – but they were out there. I think that the general feeling from the contestants was that it didn’t really matter how far you got in the competition – just so long as you broadcast your work, and managed to pull it off without stumbling, you would be OK. More than anything else, I was aware that this competition was an opportunity for people to hear my words. It was a platform that I hope will take me to new levels both in my prominence as a poet, but also in the standard of work I produce. I intended to learn from the competition, and I managed to find something that made me feel happy at the core of myself. Even if I hadn’t reached the final, at least I would take away the knowledge of what reciting poetry made me feel.
The process of choosing which poems to perform was difficult. For the first heat, I decided to steer clear of poems that could be considered to be controversial, and went with poems that were stronger in imagery and language than in, perhaps, overtly political, points. This was purely because I was unaware of what the competition would entail, and I felt that the poems I chose (‘Street Life’, which is about a turbulent relationship, and ‘Fatherhood’ which explored the character of an extraordinary man) were the right poems to choose, as I empathised with the characters. Armed with my poems, my family and I braved the London streets that were still singed and shattered from the riots. We ate dinner at Nando’s (with three armed police chewing extra hot wings as well). Funnily enough, that did nothing to ease the nerves. The shops were still scarred and the sirens still rang.
Nevertheless, I made it to the stage, and recited my poems. The people that I met over the course of the competition were lovely, welcoming, and exceptionally talented in their own area of poetry. It was brilliant to be able to enjoy listening to their words, and engaging with the characters in their poems, rather than constantly worrying about my own. I was the last performer of the night – but it didn’t matter, because I had faced my fear, and managed to pull off a performance that I was proud of. When it was announced that I would be in the final, I was overwhelmed, and so happy. I may not have looked it at the time, but it didn’t really register until two days later! I had such wonderful feedback from both the contestants and the judges, and I went away and began to write new poems that had taken a different route to my usual pieces – a welcome change.
One of these new pieces was ‘Dreaming’ – a psychedelic poem that even I do not fully understand. I performed this in the final, as well as the poem that I initially entered to qualify: ‘Dust’. ‘Dust’ was always the poem that I was going to recite in the final. It is one of my personal favourites, and it really moves me, so I set out wanting to share it with the audience.
I came second. I am so, so grateful to everyone at the Roundhouse; the judges and the contestants and the wonderful, incomparable host, David J. I don’t know where it will take me, but as long as the words are there, I will write them. The Roundhouse Poetry Slam made me want to say them, as well. As David J says, it is a blessing for all.
Chloe James, 15, is a poet and prose writer. You can read her (wonderful) work here.