Grahamstown sits in a valley of mist in the Eastern Cape. A few weeks ago Lebo Mashile and I attended the first ever South African National Poetry Slam Final.
We watched with widening eyes, mouths agape and speechless as the performers cast their spells. A young man with blood stained bandages round his head shook violently as words wriggled from him. Only his mouth was exposed. It was the quality, imagination, skill and truth that lifted us. I learned about new ways to be on stage. And the audiences went absolutely wild because of delirium inducing words. It was an unforgetable night. A glimpse of the future.
Shortly afterwards back in UK I judged the Cardiff international poetry competition – a poetry slam on paper – the future was glimpsed. The third competition was last night in England. I judged The Roundhouse poetry slam with Inua Ellams and Deanna Rodger. One poem made me want to weep uncontrollably. The poetry model at the Roundhouse is working. They’ve graduated their slam poetry event to the main venue. An Alumni is emerging.
The imagination is incredible. Many say the imagination is not “real”. But how is anything built if not first imagined.
I wish for poets to stop being literal, to stop thinking of what’s expected and to start finding the unexpected, to stop asking each other if they’re good and start being good to each other.
Nobody can give a poet a voice but we can help them discover and explore the one they have. Read and watch all the work of Tim Crouch.
In these three competitions of three countries there is one common denominator. All the winners are women.