This year’s annual Roundhouse Poetry Slam was won by 18-year-old Hibaq Osman whose brutal, lyrical account of living in the limbo lands of grief and mourning wowed the audience. The judging panel included leading lights from the spoken word scene: Kat Francois, Dan Cockrill and David J. Hosted by legendary poet Polar Bear, this year was the first slam to see live streaming and a prize of £500 for the winner.
Once the slam was over, we caught up with the host over cherry beers to discuss the winner, spoken word, and empowering young people by getting them to speak their own words.
Scout: You looked a bit like a proud Dad…
PB: Well good, that’s what it felt like, because to have a bunch of people of any age, writing for their own mouths, knowing themselves enough to choose what it is that they want to say; taking the time to craft it, and embody it …that’s what’s exciting to me, not the ceremony and the pomp, the choice. Everything you do is a choice…and I either connect with that or I don’t, because I believe it, and I believe everybody there. So yeah, job done, for want of a better word.
Scout: Why do you think Hibaq won?
PB: I hope she won because at its best, spoken word is somebody thinking something, taking time and respecting the form enough to really craft it in such a way that it doesn’t feel like it’s a million miles away from themselves. So when the words come out of your mouth I’ll believe you are speaking a heightened version of what you would tell me if it was just us sat down here talking, and there’s nothing in the way, nothing that tricks me into liking it, and you can’t not respect that. When there is pomp and packaging and an awareness of people waiting for punch-lines…no way, the audience might like it, but that’s not cutting it with me. So, that why I think she won- it was very honest.
What’s exciting now is that she gets to play, once you know you’re good, your only duty I think is to play, with what your version of good is. So now she’s excited not just because of what she has done, but because of what she might play around with now- she can do anything.
Scout: What kind opportunities are there for her now?
PB: What’s nice is that this place has always carried weight in terms of theatre, but now , if you talk about spoken word in this city, Roundhouse is gonna come up, because they’re good. People who stick it out and become these collectives, they represent. They don’t owe the Roundhouse anything more than a thank-you for the opportunity, but they speak for what this kind of place offers and they go around the world. I got people in previous classes travelling around Europe on tours, making footage, making albums in the incredible facilities here in the studios, doing all the festivals! She’s gonna be buzzing and rightly so, and hopefully she’ll feel empowered to write more, do more and you can’t measure that.
Scout: All of the performers have said that poetry is empowering and gives them a sense of self- worth. Do you think it should be encouraged more in schools and in colleges?
PB: There are lots of amazing teachers using creative writing and performance in subjects outside of English, and what’s nice now is that speaking and listening is getting more of a platform in English – if you write something and speak it out loud in your class, your grade will go up one, at least if not a couple. I’ve worked in projects where I’ve seen that- there’s no argument against it. But let’s reduce it even more, encourage talking man! Let’s discuss a subject. Sit 30 11-year-olds down and talk about our thoughts on pre-war Japan. Let’s not just remember dates, and regurgitate, regurgitate, regurgitate. Let them talk, with guided discussion, then they’re gonna care. There’s something about things coming out of your mouth that makes you care about them, and if your care you’re gonna try, and if you try then you’re gonna do well, and everyone will be happy.
The Roundhouse runs poetry classes for young people aged 16-25 every Sunday with Polar Bear. The auditions for his next round of classes take place this week on September 26. As part of its cultural arts program for 16-25s, this autumn the venue is running the Roundhouse 30/30 project, giving aspiring musicians the opportunity to work and record with established music producers and perform at the Roundhouse Rising festival in spring 2013.