The buzz at the Queen Elizabeth Hall is intoxicating. Groups of young people, producers, poets and poetry lovers swarm through the sold-out South Bank venue for Shake The Dust, a programme to unearth the best 13-16 year old spoken word artists around, which featured American legend Saul Williams and one of the UK’s most captivating performers, Kate Tempest. This, the closing weekend, culminates in the largest Slam Poetry completion the country has ever seen.
Indigo Williams kicks things off. A striking talent, she moves effortlessly from the sentimental to the profound. She tells of growing into herself as a woman- “like mum’s red stilettos” and feeling “subtle as dust just settled”
When Kate Tempest arrives to perform exquisite poems like ‘Pennies’ and ‘Give’; prowling the stage, her frantic, impassioned delivery commands attention. Full of acute observation, she punches every syllable, spinning her metaphors until you’re left dizzy and grinning. On occasion the relentless pace is too rushed to savour, but her poems send ripples running through the audience, line after line.
In her “Cilla Black moment” she truly takes flight. Turning the house lights on and bantering her way to the top of the auditorium’s steps; the stage is not big enough to contain her. With heart-on-sleeve vulnerability, she talks movingly about the collective power of ‘audience’ before descending the steps in a cascade of razor-tongued soliloquies. Tempest at her best is a thrilling spectacle.
Saul Williams is an enigmatic poet/actor/musician who has recorded with everyone from The Fugees to Allen Ginsberg. He glides through elastic rhyme patterns and unravels complex themes from cosmology to mathematics. From his first breath the crowd are mesmerised – his compositions drip with wisdom like a modern-day soothsayer: “Beliefs are the police of the mind- What’s your mind’s immigration policy?” When he follows this with a series of short risqué poems, it is a relief to see the prophet-like figure relax and give a wry and wicked smile.
As the best performance poetry voices of their respective generations speak out, there is a reverent almost religious feeling to proceedings. There is transformative magic on display; if any of the young poets in attendance can draw on what they are seeing here tonight, the future of UK spoken word could be very bright indeed.