My team shook the Queen Elizabeth Hall!
When Lou and I first caught the train from Brighton to Farnborough and met the group of young people that we would be working with, we were energised and encouraged by such an enthusiastic bunch of young performers. Our job was to channel their energies into the creation of great poetry and the transformation of that poetry into great performance. After ten sessions of exploring, scribbling, roaring, laughing and Breaking the Box of expectations, we were ready to take our two favourite pieces, Warriors in the Warehouse of Sport and We Go Together to the regional finals in Southampton.
It was there that the unique magic of the Shake the Dust project really became clear. We were there to take part in a competition but more than that we were there to build a community of young poets. The shared workshops and time spent with the other teams built an atmosphere of mutual support that was the only appropriate context for the young people to step up to the stage and be the best they could be.
And they were. Everyone received an award, whether it be for great stage techniques, stunning lines or keeping cool in the adversity of things going wrong. And the highest scoring team was also an award that had some meaning: Going to London to take part in the National Poetry Slam. I was confident after our team's great performances and when the judges announced that the award was going to the team that seemed to have the most fun on the stage, my heart started beating faster and then they announced Samuel Cody. Woohoo! I don't know who leapt the highest: the team, the coaches or the teachers.
And so, on to the South Bank. I told the team that this was the usual career trajectory of a performance poet: One week, performing to your schoolmates; the next week performing to 200 people; two weeks later performing to an audience of 900 in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank! Again the Shake the Dust magic was in evidence to make this less daunting and more celebratory. Over the weekend we saw shows from some of the best spoken word artists from both sides of the Atlantic, took part in workshops run by the amazing poet coaches from all the regions of England, and saw us poet coaches show just what we can do on the stage as well. Sharing food together and fun together we were a community before we were contestants. And something special happened to me. I'm quite a competitive person. I like the feeling of winning. Little Mike thinks he might be good but when he wins he has proved it to himself. And little Mike was there at the start. But when the team stepped onto the stage and James delivered his opening line with the gusto it required, I thought, Yes, This is enough. This team is being the best they can be. We've done a good job. And it was Big Mike that, moist-eyed, clapped them from the stage, holding as a truth rather than an ideal the mantra The point is not the points, the point is the poetry.