Members of Ralph Thoresby team at the regional heats

At yesterday afternoon’s National Poetry Slam finals, the team from Ralph Thoresby High School in Leeds were hailed as the overall winners. This group works with Sai Murray, our very own poet-facilitator here at Shake! How well deserved it was, and how hard it must have been for the judges to decide.

Because it was an afternoon of amazing talent and some extraordinary moments. The stage crackled with energy, commitment, and craft. Too many fabulous moments from many groups to recall here, but for me one of the things that stood out about the Leeds group was the political content. A lot of groups addressed tough issues but something about the analysis that the Leeds young people brought seemed sophisticated beyond their years, yet so authentic.

Knowing Sai’s approach, I can imagine the discussions, the careful unpicking of issues, the thoughtful, calm deconstruction that would have gone into this.

It wasn’t only the politics, but also the tight delivery, the rhythm, the decisions about solo and group voices. Also, strangely, this was one group that stood, face forward, each to a mic on a mic stand. They were exhorting us, directly. There was something bold about this for me. No hiding.

Both pieces were strong. The first electrifying the audience with its dynamism, its punctuated execution, its insistence, and also, perhaps, the youth of the performers. The second piece – and the last of the night – by four older young women of different heritages, seemed almost to drill into our souls in 3 short minutes. Devastatingly powerful piece on their experience and their insights into how they are perceived by ‘others’. It was like being re-educated in all the ways I want to be, poetically, politically, from the heart and gut.

Congratulations to all the teams. An amazing afternoon. Just what the Southbank Centre should be used for.

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