Camden Roundhouse Poetry Slams: Kids in the riot of poetry competition

Poetry is rarely compared to a riot but then again the Roundhouse Poetry Slams is no ordinary spoken word event.

Poets aged 16 to 25 in the Slam’s first heat will air their poems tonight (Thursday) before a packed audience at the Camden Roundhouse in Chalk Farm.

One of the judges – 29-year-old Inua Ellams, a poet in his own right – has hailed the competition as a vital part of sustaining modern poetry in the build-up to this year’s edition.

“There is enthusiasm and a love for literature at the Slams,” he says. “From past events which I have judged – it is just shy of a riot.”

Jodi Ann Bickley, 25, won the “Slams” five years ago with her poem “Funny Girls Do Not Get Laid”, amidst howls of laughter on stage, even though she was not sure what to expect from the competition beforehand.


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Recalling the night, Bickley said: “It was ridiculous – I live in Birmingham where slam competition is not really a thing here.

“I did not imagine standing up in front of people at the Roundhouse but for some reason I went – it was amazing.

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“Winning the Slam has been such a stepping stone – my whole life changed from that moment onwards.”

Three years later after her Slam success, Bickley suffered from a stroke at just 23 years old, which left her unable to walk or write.

Bitten by a tick she developed encephalitis, or so she thought, but later “the worst headaches, dizziness, and becoming very sensitive to noise” was diagnosed as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME).

The disease, more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, brought on the stroke.

Bickley is now back to full health, but she can still suffer from a ME “crash” at any point, lasting for weeks, months or even years.

“When I have had a crash I cannot do anything – it is quite scary,” she explained. “You don’t have the energy some days to lift food up to feed yourself.”

The pain she has suffered since her victory does not detract from her happiness she felt on that momentous midsummer evening at the Roundhouse.

However, she does surprisingly disagree with young poets competing against each other.

“I don’t think poetry should be competitive. I think we have got poets emerging and we should be so happy for these people.”

But Ellams disagrees, citing the impact the Slams has had on poetry as an art form.

“One of the things I am interested in is maintaining quality in poetry,” he says. “Poetry is growing; more and more people are writing. The more famous it is, the more it is demystified.”

Bickley, though, does believe Slam competitions have a positive impact for poetry amongst the general public.

“People aren’t like “what’s poetry?”, they know what spoken word is,” she explains.

So what advice would Bickley give to those poetry’s next generation who are daring to dream of matching her exploits?

“I know it sounds cliché but when you get to the Slams be yourself. Forget about what you heard and seen on YouTube; forget about what you think poetry should be; forget about all that.

“Go in and just be you, that is what will get you the furthest in the competition.”

n Tickets for the Roundhouse Poetry Slams at the Camden Roundhouse in Chalk Farm Road can bought via the theatre’s ticketline on 0300 6789 222. See roundhouse.org.uk for more details. Heat 1 is July 31, Heat 2 is August 7 and the final is on August 31.

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