In recent years, London has borne witness to a surge in popularity and appreciation for spoken word and poetry.
A guest post written by Tegan Rhys-Taylor
In an unsuspecting Rugby Club hall in Thornton Heath, London, poetry collective Well Versed Ink began hosting compelling poetry nights to a full house, showcasing a diverse line-up that reflects London’s vibrant poetry scene. Now, having relocated to the new Boxpark in Croydon, Well Versed Ink have expanded their regular show to a wider audience. Hailing from South London, Well Versed Ink are not only spoken work artists and hosts of regular poetry nights, they are a community interest company who are impacting people through their workshops. These workshops exist to boost the confidence and literary skills of young people and adults, where the aim is to unlock creative potential across the UK. As well as proving they are fantastic poets, Well Versed Ink are nurturing the next generation of artists.
Led by co-founders Darren Randon and Justine Agbowu, Well Versed Ink was birthed in ‘Justine’s sitting room’, following the success of their first show in the annual Thornton Heath Arts week in 2014. During that week, they were introduced to Natalie Twum-Barima, now a prolific performer at their poetry events and part of the team. Together, they have sourced local poets to perform at countless of their well-received shows – all of whom make regular appearances and who are now very much part of the Well Versed Ink family. They have made their poetry nights all-inclusive, giving performers an outlet and a chance for them strike up a following.
Talents to grace their stage include Benna – a cool and collected performer – who offers an authentic commentary on urban London. Recently, he was granted the opportunity to team up with the National Lottery and the World-famous live venue, Roundhouse, for their respective ad campaigns. They have also featured household name, Kiraya Kawesa, an honest, emotive poet, whose work reflects raw, personal topics that most can relate to. His poetry has since been professionally filmed and uploaded to YouTube. Suli Breaks, one of the world’s leading spoken word artists, has even featured in YouTube’s latest campaign, recognising ‘Game Changers’ in their respective fields!
Poetry spaces, like those supplied by Well Versed Ink, set emerging artists on their way to achieving impressive things beyond the poetry scene.
In recent years, London has borne witness to a surge in popularity and appreciation for spoken word and poetry. This is evident in the increasing platforms for shows and slams, and, remarkably, has manifested in a leading televised campaign. Building society Nationwide cashed in on the buzz in 2016, selecting a handful of popular poets from the scene to perform original pieces; they serve as a marketing tool to reach ordinary people through the medium of poetry. These advertisements are ubiquitous and are now heavily associated with poetry, illuminating the significance and influence of the poetry scene.
London remains the epicentre for poetry and spoken word events in the UK. Performers and spectators across Britain flock to the capital to size up the fierce competition and partake in various components the scene has to offer. Poetry slams, though proven popular, are not the be-all and end-all of the scene. Indeed, they garner a lot of attention and appear to be the most entertaining part of the scene, but it is just as important to shed light on other areas of poetry and spoken word.
Non-competitive shows are a great way for artists and poets to practice their craft and become familiar with the art of performance, and audience members are not pressured to voluntarily put themselves forward as judges. Their only job for the evening is to enjoy and support the artists. It is a relaxed alternative that, in many ways, prepares artists for the competitive nature of the poetry slams; but some merely wish to vent, express themselves or experiment with the art form without competing. Book jams are intimate and social – a space where interrogation, clarification and evaluation take place concerning poignant pieces of literature. You are simultaneously the audience and the poet for an afternoon or an evening, certainly a unique position to be in.
Workshops are geared more to personal development: enhancing one’s command of the English language and improving one’s literary skills and ability to employ poetry techniques. Occasionally, poetry still gets a lot of stick for being elitist, with many giving up on language and concepts considered too difficult to grasp. Workshops aim to debunk the myth that poetry is only meant for a particular crowd by assisting participants with the context in which to assess and analyse poetry, for example, Shakespearean and Elizabethan poetry. Workshops are also designed to revive and modernise the art form to reflect our contemporary world: our society, our socio-political and economic landscape, nature, religion and spirituality, our relationships, and our emotional responses to it all.
An audience is transformed through the experience of interpreting a story conveyed through carefully crafted words…
In a world of rapid change and increasing instability, poetry provides respite from our hectic lives. There is something very real and humanising in the engagement of poetry. An audience is transformed through the experience of interpreting a story conveyed through carefully crafted words, devised by a thoughtful individual with a desire to share. The poetry and spoken word scene appears to be expanding out of the so-called hipster circles and attracting a myriad of artists and poets that may not have had the spotlight a few years ago. It has become more diverse and, consequently, accessible. Companies like Well Versed Ink equip the next generation of trailblazers, and equally inject some fun into exploring the endless possibilities that poetry has to offer schoolchildren and adults. Essentially, they have grown with their community and most certainly will continue to do so.
Her Heart Poetry has been proud to partner with Well Versed Ink on the Spoken Word #wellversedink poetry challenge. To see submissions simply search #wellversedink on Instagram or visit our HeartWrds Gallery.
Well Versed Ink are based in Croydon, London and are a community poetry organisation that hosts spoken word events and workshops for children, young people and adults.
You can also connect with Well Versed Ink on Instagram.