On Thursday 20th June, two of our year ten students, Miriam Dodd and Jasmine Ashworth, performed in the East Midlands Slamjam final held at LPAC, University of Lincoln. Both students performed excellently, and Jasmine finished first place with her poem ‘Green’.
For anyone who is unaware of the concept of Slamjam, it is a celebration of performance poetry, with competitors having to write, rehearse and then perform their work to a judging panel and audience without a copy or any props.
The event was hosted by four comperes aged between 14 and 16, who did a fantastic job keeping the audience sanguine, especially after the more gritty and hard-hitting poems. Schools from all around Lincolnshire travelled to take part in the competition, including students from De Aston, Bourne Academy, Baysgarth and William Farr. Excitement of the event made it widely supported; parents, teachers and friends arrived to watch their loved ones compete, with around a hundred people in the audience.
I was fortunate enough to talk to the winner of the event: our very own, Jasmine Ashworth. She informed me how the competitors had to arrive at the venue for one o’clock, and were privileged enough to participate in a poetry workshop with Jess Green. Green is an incredible performance poet and author of two fantastic books, and she was also one of four judges on the panel.
Jasmine also explained to me how she came to write a prize-winning poem, and what she thinks about Slamjam overall:
1. What was your poem about?
“My poem, titled ‘Green’, is about the understanding and conceptualisation of the world, particularly to someone like me who struggles more to make sense of everything. It’s about my love for trees and plants and, well, green, and how this helps me to navigate the obfuscating network of modern society.”
2. What was the inspiration behind ‘Green’?
“Recently I was diagnosed with high functioning autism, and I wanted to write a poem to help others gain an understanding of something I feel many people only know as a word, rather than a person. I wanted to write a poem that was clearly about how my brain works and how it differs to most, but subtlety enough so that the message, rather than hammering down the front door, crept quietly in through the back so to speak. Also I do like green, and so that seemed inspiration enough to write a poem!”
3. Did conquering up a poem come easily to you, or did it take a lot of planning and thinking?
“Writing does seem to genuinely, and I not intend nor wish to come across as conceited or hubristic, come easy to me. Maybe how my brain works allows me to create lines of words that seemingly dance from my pen to the paper effortlessly. I owe it really to the vast expanse of books I have devoured since, well, ever. I think with writing, you should not try too hard. Try too hard, and the words appear visibly strained or forced. You really just have to let go. Let the words wash over you, like you are merely the vector for the words to be carried upon until they reach their destination on the paper. Just… let go. Trust in the cabalistic power of language and I’m sure you’ll be be pleasantly surprised at what you create.”
4. Before you started the writing process, had you already decided what theme/idea you wanted to explore within your work? What is your writing process like?
“Because I knew quite definitely what my poem was to be about, and what the message I would try to convey across would be, all I had to decide was the style. The year before I had also reached the final with a poem about reading titled ‘Escape’, detailing how reading is a way to travel in time, in space, to be someone else, to escape from the horrors of our modern day society. And this poem had a rigorous rhyming and rhythm structure, and so, because my brain doesn’t really conform to the standard human’s, I wanted this to be reflected in the poem’s loser, erratic, but still rhythmic structure.”
5. Why do you think Slamjam is such an important and special event?
“Slamjam is quite possibly one of the best opportunities KEVIGS offers. If you are a confident person, it’s such a fantastic way to get your work showcased, or even yourselves for that matter, seeing as Slamjam requires both performance and writing skills; if you’re not, the informal and encouraging structure of the event is perfect for building up confidence; if you’re passionate about something, it’s one of the only opportunities you’ll get to really shout out your beliefs, your fears, your dreams to a welcoming audience; if you want to go into the arts, it’s such a great slice of experience for you. For me, political as I am, Slamjam is such a brilliant portal through which I can hurl my work to like-minded people, and I am so grateful to both the school for encouraging participation, and for the organisers of the event themselves. It’s so affirming that there are people who care about young peoples’ voices being heard, and wish to give them a platform on which to speak.”
6. What advice would you give for someone considering taking part in a Slamjam competition?
“Just do it. Go for it. It doesn’t matter if your poem’s about pineapple on pizza (as the 3rd place act’s was), or your battles with mental health. It’s whatever you want it to be. Even if you don’t think you’ll make it, that you can’t write, just give it a go. Even if you write something, and never show it to anyone, it doesn’t matter. Poetry is such a good way to attack any ‘niggles’ one might have, or on the other hand, a good way to condense elation that is making you feel like you’re going to burst. And even if you have no interest in the arts, or desire to be a poet, Slamjam can still benefit you because it gives you the experience of standing up and talking to a crowd, entertaining them. Public speaking is a skill found in practically any job, but a skill, important as it is, that is not taught enough in schools. Slamjam gives you that chance.”
7. Have you got any future plans for the world of poetry?
“I shall keep writing poetry, however I have no plan to work as a performance poet. I would, however, like to be an actor, and so the practice I have obtained from doing Slamjam for two years has meant that my understanding of performing a relatively large chunk of text to an audience has increased much more than if I hadn’t.”
8. Would you like to enter again next year?
“Although I would like it, I would deem it a little supercilious and ungrateful to blatantly enter again. I would like to give someone else the chance, especially from our school. I will also have the joy of GCSEs next year, and would like to focus on them instead. However, I would consider re-entering in maybe year 12 or 13.”
Well done to both students for taking part. For anyone looking to try something new and enter outside of their comfort zone, listen to Jasmine’s advice and simply go for it – you have nothing to lose.