“Words are an uprising”: SLAMbassadors 2017 National Final, 19 November 2017

We invited Neha Singh, a winner of SLAMbassadors 2016, to cover last weekend’s SLAMbassadors 2017 National Final. She talks to the winners and reflects on what it was like to meet the next generation of SLAMbassadors a year on from her own celebration. Watch their winning entries by clicking the links in the sidebar on the left.

Image of SLAMbassadors 2017 winners: from left to right, Mukahang Limbu, Emmeline Armitage, Eben Roddis, Honey Birch, Chelsea Stockham, Arinola Adegbite, and Charlotte Sonnex. Photo by Cesare de Giglio for The Poetry Society.
Image of SLAMbassadors 2017 winners: from left to right, Mukahang Limbu, Emmeline Armitage, Eben Roddis, Honey Birch, Chelsea Stockham, Arinola Adegbite, and Charlotte Sonnex

The weekend of the SLAMbassadors National Final has been extraordinary to say the least. This year’s winners gathered to London from across the country for a weekend of writing masterclasses with spoken word legend Joelle Taylor. The National Final was held on Sunday at Cargo, and I was lucky enough to be there.

Watching so many young people in the place of where I was last year was incredibly emotional and exhilarating. When I met Joelle Taylor, I had no idea I had the potential to win SLAM or write poetry at all. I remember the final being the scariest thing, because I’d never shared something so personal with such a large crowd before. Little did I know that sharing my vulnerability with a bunch of strangers was the best thing I could’ve done. I wrote a piece called ‘Stay Alive’ which I performed that night, and I remember a girl coming up to me afterwards, crying and thanking me because I’d helped her through something. Ever since then, I promised myself that I’d keep writing, and it’s a promise I’ve kept.

I remember the crowd being so welcoming, I felt like I was home. When I spoke to the winners of SLAMbassadors 2017, I found that they shared the same feeling. This is what poetry does, it brings people together in such an intimate space, making you forget that an outside world exists at all; it’s just you and them, just you and your words, and nothing else really matters.

I spoke to a few of the winners backstage after the show, asking how they found the weekend masterclass, how they got into poetry, and what it meant to them.

Emmeline and Honey performing their collaborative piece. Photo by Cesare de Giglio for The Poetry Society.
Emmeline and Honey performing their collaborative piece. Photo by Cesare de Giglio for The Poetry Society.

Emmeline Armitage told me that she finds a sort of ‘release’ in performing her poetry; it helps her understand what she’s going through and allows her to portray the world how she wants to. I think that captures the heart of what performance poetry is. It reminded me of what SLAMbassadors 2017 judge Sabrina Mahfouz said towards the end of the show on Sunday night: poetry is so subjective, but your work can seem ‘objectively worse’ than everybody else’s. But in some ways that’s the great thing about writing; you really are your own worst critic – your words can be dirt to you, but a gold mine to someone else. During the weekend of workshops, Emmeline and Honey Birch (the winner of the Cold Fire Award) created a breath-taking collaborative piece that shook the entire audience – you’d never believe they came up with it in such a short space of time. It was such a privilege to be surrounded by such talent – it was truly inspiring.

When I spoke to Mukahang Limbu after the show, he emphasised how necessary it is for young writers to meet one another, because so often we’re surrounded by adults in an environment where we’re constantly told what to do, how to act and think. SLAMbassadors is the one place where we can be who we want to be and say whatever the hell we want to say. It takes you out of that box you’re forced into from a young age and allows you to create a whole new world of your own.

Eben Roddis captured the harsh reality of our world today, such as recent events at Grenfell and the ongoing refugee crisis. He wore a t-shirt that read ‘Refugees are welcome, no one is illegal’. I thought it was so moving that he used his platform to raise awareness on an issue that isn’t spoken about enough; that’s one of the most selfless and valiant things you can do.

Eben Roddis performs at the SLAMbassadors 2017 National Final. Photo by Cesare de Giglio for The Poetry Society.
Eben Roddis performs at the SLAMbassadors 2017 National Final. Photo by Cesare de Giglio for The Poetry Society.

On the subject of courage, I think a lot of teenagers could relate to Honey Birch’s song ‘I can’t breathe’. So many teens nowadays struggle to express their thoughts through healthy outlets. Poetry can be a source of relief. In poetry and spoken word there are no rules, there are no expectations, and that’s what empowers me the most.

I’ve been to a few SLAMbassadors events in the past couple of years, and it feels like there’s more and more upcoming talent each and every day, and the quality is on another level. Words are an uprising: they have the power to shatter the world, but also rebuild it. And artists like us – poets, rappers, songwriters – we have the power to change the world. It leaves me thinking that maybe there’s hope for our generation after all.

Watch the winning entries by our SLAMbassadors champions and commended entrants by clicking the links in the sidebar on the left of this page. If you’re feeling inspired to try your hand at spoken word poetry, why not enter SLAMbassadors 2018? Just send in a video of yourself performing a piece about identity, and you could win a masterclass with Joelle Taylor next year.

Image of Neha Singh, standing in a black dress against a colourful graffitied wall

Neha is a 16 year old student in the city of London. She is a passionate writer, and writes mostly about her experiences in life. She writes for her school newspaper and in her free time dabbles in poetry. She is a former SLAMbassadors winner of 2016, and has been featured in an article in The Fader.

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