From The Archive - Say Owt Slam: New Spoken Word Event In York

This article was originally featured on the One&Other Magazine website.

The world of spoken word has slowly been creeping into the mainstream for a while. The new Kasabian album featured a verse from spoken word artist Suli Breaks and acclaimed poet and spoken word artist Kate Tempest has been nominated for the prestigious The Mercury Music award. In York there has been resurgence in the art with a series of events hosted throughout the city in the past few months.

The newest event to grace York is ‘Say Owt Slam’. The brainchild of two of York’s most renowned spoken word artists Stu Freestone and Henry Raby ‘Say Owt Slam’ it will be the first poetry lam York has held in three years. The event will consist of 15 poets who are given just three minutes to impress the crowd and the assigned judges with the grand prize being £30 and the bragging rights of being the winner of the inaugural ‘Say Owt Slam’. For the first event the 15 poets were found in just 12 hours. The judges will be made up of audience members with the head judge being a special quest. For the first event the head judge will be teacher turned spoken word artist Mark Grist. Mark Grist shot to fame when his rap battle with MC Blizzard went viral with it being viewed by almost 4.5 million people. As well as battle rap his spoken word has seen him receive numerous plaudits both as a solo act and as a part of the double act ‘Dead Poets’ with him playing Edinburgh Fringe almost annually. He was also given the prestigious title as poet laureate of Peterborough, which is claimed to be the first city in the country to have one.

The minds behind the event are well known in their field for work in York and around Britain. We asked the creators Stu and Henry about their newest project.


O&O: Why did you decide to start a poetry slam in York?

It started with a conversation Henry and I were having about it the different poetry slams happening around the UK. We felt although there was an outlet for spoken word & poetry in York, most events being held were more poetry based open mic nights as well as the odd headline shows by well-known poets such as Hollie McNish, Rob Auton and Kate Tempest.

This said to us, that there was definitely room in the scene for us to add a healthy competitive element whilst working as an encouragement to new writers to get out there and perform.

Henry's been involved in the poetry scene in Yorkshire for some years now, not only as a performer but as an organiser of shows. Helping to build the blocks to create a bigger and wider platform for creatives to get involved with, especially looking towards promoting the grassroots performers in and around York.


O&O: What’s your opinion on the spoken word scene in York?

The spoken word scene in York is actually bigger than I think people give it credit for.

Each month there are a series of events including the long running 'Spoken Word' night at the Exhibition run by Rose Drew, 'Speakers Corner' hosted by Andy Humphrey along with another long running night called 'Spokes' run by Dai Parsons, previously held at The Woolpack but since its closure it has found new residency at The Golden Ball. These have not only helped contribute to the scene itself but also spurned interest proceeding to more events to getting started. From an outside perspective it could be viewed as bit of an underground scene but it is slowly but surely making a name for itself and becoming a much needed breath of fresh air to York’s already vibrant and creative nightlife.


O&O: Will 'Say Owt Slam' become a regular occurrence?

We're definitely hoping that this will be the case. As it stands we are currently booking our next event at the same venue for late January, with a whole host of new slam poets as well as another highly regarded headline poet who has just confirmed which we're planning on revealing at the first event. 


O&O: You have Mark Grist appearing, what can people expect to see from him?

Mark is a fantastic poet and former English teacher based is Peterborough. He has been prevalent on the spoken word scene for some time, becoming Poet Laureate of Peterborough in 2008. He proceeded to become Edinburgh Fringe 2010 Slam Champion, completed 2 national tours as well as revisiting the Edinburgh Fringe with shows in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.You can expect a highly innovative performance full of comedy and wit, guaranteed to keep you captivated with his own brand of poetic storytelling.


O&O: What are your hopes for the future of Say Owt Slam and the spoken word scene in York?

Ideally the aim for 'Say Owt Slam' would be hosting quarterly slams with a different set of slam poets for each event throughout the year, alongside a guest poet headliner. 

Getting our name out there is also hugely important.

We want to make people are aware that York has its own poetry slam, and it's open to all spoken word performers whether they are first time or published writers.

In terms of the York spoken word scene, things can only keep growing. The current events going on in the city are already well populated and well received which is very positive.

We have had an overwhelming response to our first slam, showing us that there is definitely an interest in spoken word and poetry in the city. It's now just about building the buzz and creating more opportunities and events like this.