It’s a long-running joke amongst spoken word artists that the phrase “Slam Poetry” is an oxymoron, or at the very least an exaggeration. Call something a slam and people will picture two poets facing off on a darkened stage, spitting put-downs at each other in iambic pentameter until somebody has the perfect mic drop moment. In reality, the competition element is both less crucial and less clear-cut: judging poetry objectively is almost impossible, and the slam structure is more to give poets confines to work within than it is to create a definitive ranking.
Despite this, slams are an essential part of a healthy poetry ecosystem, and Slam Of The North has gained a reputation as an event that’s not to be missed. Conceived and run by co-creator and project manager Talya Stitcher, the night is the jewel in LUU Spoken Word Society’s already jam-packed calendar, and tasks five northern teams with battling it out for the crown. This year, the competitors were Leeds University, Leeds Beckett, Sheffield, York and Durham, with mainstay of the Leeds scene and creator of the much-loved Sunday Practise Rheima Robinson hosting.
Across four rounds of three-minute poems, the five teams shared stories that ranged from heartbreaking to hilarious. An examination of the intersection between gender and sexuality had people scream-laughing in their seats, while York’s “there’s nowt scarier than being a woman” took the crowd on a journey from light-hearted relatability to aching solidarity. In the end, it was Sheffield that took the title, thanks to a blisteringly unrelenting cancer poem and an expertly delivered duo tackling what it means to be an ally. However, the real winners were undoubtedly the audience, who got to spend an evening stepping out of their own experience and into dozens of others.
Image Credit: Leeds Beckett’s The Word of Spoken Poetry Society