UniSlam is the UK National University Poetry Slam & Summit bringing together teams of poets from university communities across the UK and Ireland to take part in a comprehensive programme of development workshops and to compete in one of the most exciting slams in the British spoken word calendar.

UK Young Artists was invited to attend the finals of UniSlam, 30 January 2017 at Curve Leicester, in which Manchester, Goldsmiths, Birmingham and Exeter Universities were competing for the crown. The context in which the event was held was very poignant, protests had been taking place all over the UK, America and the world about new restrictions on immigration and travel. But at UniSlam, in the same respect as at UKYA's recent national festival in Derby, artists came from different cultures; countries; religions; lifestyles, and their stories reflected this rich and diverse heritage - a pertinent reflection and reminder of what makes Britain great. There was one particular poem that we felt carried an excellent message that should be heard: Ildem Esin's, I Want to be a Book.

Video courtesy of the artist.

The UK Young Artists team were incredibly impressed at the calibre of young artists competing at the event, the works were powerful and emotive, creating a totally immersive space where all that existed was their words – a very moving experience and the mark of some truly excellent writers and performers.

A particular favourite of ours and a stand-out work from the event was Manchester's ART IS DEAD. Written and performed by Kayleigh Hicks, Roma Havers, Alle Bloom, Damani Dennisur & Liv Barnes and directed by Isaiah Hull, the work imagines an Orwellian-style future in which art has been suppressed and banned:

Art is dead, and I'm addicted.
Hey bro, you got any of that green glitter?
I need that! I need that like I need rhyme dictionaries and words like crack

Eh bro you remember me? I had coat pockets packed with pink paint and plain white sheets.
You remember me? I had them sweet, sweet haikus... 5,7,5, you remember that? 
It's been a little hard since the poetry prohibition

Baby momma want that child support
I've been having a little trouble finding jobs
But I ain't got no trouble finding that p-p-p-personification!

(Extract from ART IS DEAD, by Damani Dennisur), see the full performance below:

We caught up with Toby Campion, UKYA Alumni and Director of UniSlam about the event:

UKYA: Tell me about the history of UniSlam and your involvement in it:

TOBY: UniSlam was founded in 2013 at the University of Birmingham. Since then it has grown into a 2 day long event, providing artistic and professional development for participants. This year it was funded by Arts Council England and o2 Think Big and supported by Apples and Snakes, Writing East Midlands, Roundhouse, Curve and Beatfreeks. I first became involved as a competitor - I took part in the competition as coach for the Edinburgh team in 2013, which we ended up winning. The competition was then hosted at Edinburgh and following that I took over organising the event.

UKYA: You ran some outreach projects as part of UniSlam 2017, can you tell me a bit more about those projects and the outcomes of that work?

TOBY: We wanted to involve as many young people in UniSlam as possible, particularly those with barriers in accessing literature and 'the arts'. We worked with a number of groups to provide free introductory writing workshops for young people as well as tickets to the live semi-finals, often the first time they had experienced spoken word live. We were able to work with Youth Education Project, who support young people outside of mainstream education, and a group of Leicester's LGBT centre. We also offered these opportunities to groups of young people from areas of cultural deprivation across the Midlands, including Corby, Stoke and parts of Lincolnshire. Finally we worked with the Roundhouse in London to provide performance opportunities at the event for their emerging artist programme.

Toby Campion

Toby Campion

UKYA: There was so much fantastic work from the teams, what was the highlight for you?

TOBY: Seeing all of the hard work and passion of the poets was the highlight for me. Being able to sit and watch the rounds and listen to their stories, listen to them speaking so articulately about things that are important to them (and our country/world) was brilliant.

As part of the finals we saw some fantastic poetry from the judges of the event. Who were the judges this year?

TOBY: Bohdan Piasecki, Jess Green, John Berkavitch, Hannah Silva, Amerah Saleh, Sophia Walker Laurie Bolger, Andrew McMillan, Khadijah Ibrahiim, Jacob Sam La Rose and Joelle Taylor, with hosts Michelle Madsen and Ben Norris.

UKYA: What do you think pushed Goldsmiths into first place and what’s next for them following this win?

TOBY: I think their consistency across the whole team and the quality and uniqueness of both their writing and performance won them the competition. They will be preparing to compete in the Hammer and Tongue UK National Team Poetry Slam Finals 2018 at the Royal Albert Hall. One team will also be chosen to represent the UK at CUPSI in Chicago in April, and we will be announcing that shortly.

Goldsmiths Team

Goldsmiths Team

Jack Emsden, representative for Goldsmiths (the winning team) said this of the experience: 

It was an honour to meet such talented poets from across the UK and Ireland and perform alongside them. Both my team mates, and poets from other Universities, were inspiring in their words. The next generation of poets are a force to be reckoned with. The whole weekend was so much fun and I feel really proud to have been part of such a tight knit, supportive group.

UK Young Artists looks forward to seeing more work from these talented artists in the future - look out for them!

Laura Evans