BY RUTH AWOLOLA, RISING STARS POET
Two years ago, I found myself more lost than I had ever been before. I had no idea who I was and even less of a clue as to who I wanted to be. My most realistic goal during secondary school was to become a history teacher. Following my GCSE results though, it became apparent that that was not going to happen, with History being the subject I did the worst in. I never had a real plan, let alone a backup plan and yet I was moving faster and faster towards an unknowable future. I let life carry me in her motions, had no drive, no desire for anything; I wasn’t happy but equally it is hard to describe myself as unhappy because I didn’t really feel anything. I had joined a new school for sixth form, was doing subjects I hadn’t initially chosen and was attempting more than anything to stay under the parapet and just get by until I went to university where I could become someone new; reinvent myself. I had started to distance myself from a lot of my old friends, which was positive; I was moving out of a lot of toxic relationships – but in my attempt to go unnoticed I wasn’t making any new friends either.
I spent the majority of my free time aimlessly scrolling through social media, a process I didn’t at all expect to be fruitful – but by some miracle I managed to find something that changed not only me but the course of my life. I can’t pinpoint the exact video that I saw first, and I must have seen thousands since, but I happened to come across a video of a spoken word event. I found channels dedicated to the art and for the first time, I saw people talking about issues in a way that made sense to me; whether that was a poem about grief or guanabana juice. I instantly fell in love with spoken word. When admitting that this is how I found poetry, I still feel twinges of the same inadequacy that I felt earlier on, when comparing myself to those who had been reading and attending poetry events for years, whilst I sat in my bedroom scouring YouTube. I’ve learnt though that it’s not important how you find poetry but rather that you do find it.
I was eager to try writing some of my own poetry. When I was really young I recall wanting to be a writer, I even started a series called ‘Sarah, Solve it’ which followed the adventures of a 7-year-old detective. I would write a side or two of A4 in my oversized handwriting and treat it like a novel; I remember being truly happy back then. But as time moved on, less and less time was dedicated to creative writing in the classroom and positive feedback became harder to come by, so I stopped writing. Looking back on it now, it seems so stupid: I wasted years when I could have been writing for myself. Writing poetry was something completely new to me however and I was conscious that I wanted to explore personal topics and be authentic whilst also taking inspiration from the poets I had found and admired. I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what type of poem I wanted to write, and it wasn’t until I put pen to paper that the poem came to me.
I googled youth spoken word in the UK and found this competition called SLAMbassadors UK, which turned out to be the national youth slam championship. At first, I was very reluctant to enter, I had no experience writing or performing poetry; I was intimated by the winning videos of the people from the year before; my confidence levels at the time were the lowest they’d ever been and I didn’t particularly want a video of myself on the internet for anyone to find, especially talking about such sensitive issues. Hand on heart now I can say entering SLAMbassadors UK was the best decision I have ever made.
I remember clearly, receiving the call from Joelle Taylor, exceptional poet, human being and founder of SLAMbassadors UK, telling me I was one of the 2015 winners. I was dumbfounded and hadn’t expected to win at all. I think a part of me felt like I didn’t deserve to be a winner as I had no confidence in my writing and only one complete spoken word poem to my name (‘Sorry‘). Part of the prize was a weekend writing masterclass led by Joelle – I was really nervous about meeting the other six winners. Looking back at it now, that weekend was such a pivotal point in my life. I was so inspired and can credit some of my best poetry to the prompts that we used; the masterclass culminated in my first performance in front of hundreds of people, which was incredible; being mentored by Joelle improved my writing technique, my confidence and performance skills and it taught me how to be more honest in my poetry. On top, I gained incredibly talented and gifted friends in the other six winners.
It would be impossible for me to list all the opportunities that poetry has given me in the two years since I started writing and I know I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t started. It gave me a direction when I found myself lost. Through poetry I was able to define who I wanted to be and that, more than anything, gave me confidence in myself. Thanks to this new-found confidence, I was able to forge healthy relationships both in my new school and beyond it. I’ve met some incredible new people, who otherwise I wouldn’t have got to meet: from people whose poetry I spent hours watching in my bedroom to emerging artists from the other side of the world – they’ve all welcomed me into their community. My summer this year consisted of writing, attending workshops and performing, and I even had the privilege of taking my work to the Edinburgh Fringe 2017 and performing and competing in prestigious slams and shows.
Two years on from when I started and I now have so much to look forward to. Later this month, I start university, studying English in Education and shortly after that sees the release of ‘Rising Stars: New Young Voices in Poetry’, an anthology that I am honoured to have my poetry feature in.
I can’t stress enough, how much I’d encourage a reluctant writer to give poetry a try. There are so many opportunities for poets, those young, old and in-between. SLAMbassadors UK is a brilliant competition for emerging poets aged 12-18, giving them the opportunity to be mentored by some of the best poets and facilitators in the UK. Without it, I wouldn’t have continued writing and I wouldn’t have been able to grow as the poet and person I’ve become. There’s still time to enter this year as they’re accepting entries until the 30th September. Could you be their next winner?