Wednesday, 27 March 2013

'Spoken Word' at City of Leeds School

Sally Bavage writes:
Billed as a ‘competition for young writers and performers’, some of our young poets showed first-night nerves at the second poetry ‘slam’ event rehearsal – but stepping up to the mike under the spotlights, with the warm support of family and friends in the audience soon gave their courage wings.  And they flew. How lovely to see the nerves dissolve when the words started to flow and the mood of the evening willed them to reach inside and find their inner John Cooper Clarke. 

Three rounds of the competition gave each performer the opportunity to select the original poems they had written that reflected differences in topic, range and style.  Pathos, anger, loss, longing, looking back, looking ahead, joy, pain – all here in spades. The commitment and talent in this school shone a beacon on all that is so valuable about the way that poetry allows something deeply-felt to be explored in a medium that is both edgy and safe, that allows explanation not exploitation.  Michael Gove, you’d have to be there to know what you are missing.

“I write to forget the world, I write ‘cos no-one’s listening” - Hyab Bereket, in ‘Don’t know what to write.’

“You can’t take my shine” – and we certainly couldn’t as Ghyraiss M’Poussa rapped in ‘Superboy’.  In ‘Unleashed’ an angry cry of “Do you not see me?” resounded over the whole studio.  A poet as well as co-host of the event with Antonio Bessa in a bravura performance of confidence.  Both made for the stage.

“Shut up and listen to my wise words, Don’t hate,” Ben Brennan told us in ‘What’s the matter’. Later, his ‘One love’ included “The first kiss …I loved every millisecond of it.”   “Just accept that I’m different” he pleaded in ‘Don’t judge me’ before going back to his place on the technical sound team again. 

“A knot inside your tummy like butterflies flying backwards” was part of Shannen Oddy’s Heartbeat fear.’  “I might be at the bottom but I’m still trying” came from ‘Sadness.’ “We can’t recycle life but we can waste it” resonated not only with the audience listening to ‘Life moving’ but also won her the Best Line award from the judges.

“The earth is flashed in lightning” according to Farhan Khan in ‘Nature is revealed.’  A serious young man who averred that “As long as we’re together, I will love you forever” in his version of ‘Love.’ Still serious in ‘The devils are back’ with “I thought I’d be OK but I’m broken into pieces.”
Then Antonio performed his first poem, ‘Rhythm’ – “It’s every person’s goal to be perfect; This is who I choose to be.”  ‘Earliest memories’ told us that “Now I am in England but I want to go back to my home, my Africa, that happiness, that belonging.”  Powerful performance, powerful message too.

Louisa Kwofie didn’t need her script at all to tell us about ‘My understanding’ – “Forget the past.  I’m by your side. Live.”  ‘My life’ told her “Mother, I will make you happy, I love you dearly.” 

Tafadzwa Mokgwathi’s ‘Home’ was poignant and included “I lose myself in the memory.  A past lit by the light of a fire” hinted at darker things.  It won her the award of Best Poem from the three judges.

Charlize Engelbracht also contributed to some of the Master of Ceremonies duties before ‘Not to love him’ told us that “He was never mine.  Momma said, Never fall in love with a guy who isn’t ready to worship the ground you walk on.”  My goodness, old heads on young shoulders.  “I love thee, and with thee my heart is anchored”, in ‘My Africa,’ again spoke of the longing for homeland. 

Neelam Chohan took us to the first break with ‘Where’s the love’ – “Love is trust, honesty, no cries, no lies.”  And then she blew us all away singing her cover of Alicia Keys’ ‘Girl on Fire’ – such a powerful voice and we watched as her confidence just soared along with the notes.  Fantastic.

Jade Gilbertson is a more accomplished performance poet, having already worked with Leeds Young Authors.   She found the evening “inspiring” and “a unique experience,” she said when asked.   She also admonished us in ‘Our generation’ to “Tell the world, Peace is in, Violence is out.”

Courtney Morton in ‘Remember’ spoke of “The empty space in the chair”. Rather chilling.

Emma Rose wondered, in ‘Valentine,’ if it was worth it to “Spend all day chafing your feet in high heels.  Get rid of Valentine’s Day. Pointless.” She found ‘Angel of the North’ both a “Rusting massiveness” and a very sad reminder of a broken family.

Finally, Darren Phillip’s ‘Til death do us part’ reminded us in Headingley LitFest 2013: Lives and Loves that “Love is about the heart and the rest power within.”  He won the judges’ hearts and was awarded Best Overall Performance.

We were also richly rewarded by a performance of breakdancing from Shane Fenton and two young colleagues, Beanz and Georgina (an ex-pupil of City of Leeds), who perform as ‘Speak to the Streets’.  They give up their time to encourage youngsters to use dance and celebrating hip-hop as an expression of energy rather than get involved with guns and gangs and knives.  “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at!  Stay positive and passionate.  Love life.”  Poetry in motion, too, as they defied gravity and the expectations of what a human body can do.   

Thanks to our three judges – June Diamond of Headingley LitFest, Carrie-Ann Merifield from City of Leeds music department and Saji Ahmed from Leeds Young Authors, who finished the night with an original performance poem, Freedom.’   “Poetry in life”, he said, “is not just Shakespeare, good though he is, but it is in songs, books, the world around you.”  Thanks, too, to artist Michelle Scally Clarke for all her weeks of workshops to nurture and encourage the poet in each performer, and to Jonnie Khan (who was part of the sound team on Refugee Boy  at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, on till 30th March).  What a feast of talents.

Performances in poetry, dance, music, songs.  If whooping was a sport for medallists, then the assembled crowd in the Drama Studio won gold. What a noise!  What a night! 

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