I was late when I arrived at Northern Quarter’s ‘Band On The Wall’ to see Contact Theatre’s One Mic Stand. This turned out to be a good thing, when I walked in, the room was already energetically pumped. All seats were filled, even on the floor. The audience sat, ready for poetry that “catches us in wonderful moments,” poetry that “can lift us up”.
As always seems to be the case, I sat behind the person with the largest head in the room – and still this turned out to be a good thing. I couldn’t see the performers as clearly as I would have liked, but this enhanced my listening; I was more able to hear the passion in their voices, the charge in each pronunciation, the unspoken feelings in each pause.
The night was presented by Reece Williams and Nicole May, two of Manchester’s extremely gifted poets and regular hosts of Young Identity events. Tonight’s poets were competing, scored for their content, performance and stage presence. The poets were all uniquely different in each of these three aspects that it was more of a collaboration than a competition. More a melting pot of words and artistic expression than a rivalry of rhymes.
“It’s not about the points, it’s about the poetry,” Williams repeated throughout the night.
Before the actual competition, the energetic duo of Isaiah Hull and Jardell Rodrigues kicked the night off. The two poets have distinct styles that complement each other as every good friendship does. Each took turns, picking up on the final syllables of the other’s last sentence, goading each other further out into the audiences mind. At times their words blended so seamlessly that it felt as if you were watching two poets speaking with one voice.
The final act of the competition saw Saf, one of Young Identity’s younger poets, go home with the prize of £50, scoring 10, 10, 10 for each category. It wasn’t about the points though, it was the poetry. Each word injected the room with chills, fingers clicking, voices shouting. The impact Saf had on the competition was aptly put by Isaiah Hull’s reaction: “bro, he came in and snatched it…”
After the final round of applause was given, the BBC Slam Poet Kat Francois blessed the stage with her poetry and comedy, her voice slipping between speaking and singing, reminding me of Nina Simone. At other times her voice clamoured and roared against the emotions writhing in her throat and in her body. The rawness of her act stopped the previous shouting and finger flicking, creating a purposeful uncomfortable silence.
“I mean to make you squirm, I mean to make you cry, I mean to make you ask why.”
Her words wrapped themselves around the audiences throats, tread heavily on our chests and our prejudices, our ignorance, our privileges. It was the epitome of activism meeting art, of art meeting power.
Raw unfiltered art. One stage, one spotlight, one poet at a time. It wasn’t about the points, it’s never about the points— it’s always about the poetry.