Ilkley Young Writers at Hebden Bridge Arts Festival and the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Sam from Ilkley Young Writers tells us about their recents trips to Hebden Bridge and the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

On Sunday 5th July, Ilkley Young Writers delivered a young people’s writing workshop (which we’d optimistically named ‘The Mighty Write’) as part of the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival. The workshop had been planned around the 5 senses, with a plan to inspire young people to write by drawing from sense experience. We arrived at our beautiful workshop space in Hebden Town Hall at 1 o’clock armed with all manner of props and resources. Zoe (doing the ‘smell’ workshop) had brought a load of very pungent perfumes, and I turned up with an excessive amount of fruit and chocolate for the ‘taste’ workshop me and Susanna had planned. We set up the tables and waited for the first punters. But no-one came. After a while spent sitting around snacking on chilli chocolate and wondering what to do with ourselves, we began to get a bit restless – me and Charlotte asked a favour from an announcer with a megaphone down in the town (where there was loads of really cool artsy stuff going on), and were allowed a couple of minutes to plug our event in front of a crowd that was waiting for something else. No response. It was worth a try. We returned, slightly dejected, and decided to leave it till 2 to see if anyone would turn up; it didn’t feel likely.

However, our pessimism was misplaced. Around two o’clock, just as we had nearly given up hope, people turned up! There was only 3 young people (and considerably more of us), but still enough to give the workshop a go. After a couple of icebreaker games we did the ‘taste’ workshop with them, using the food we hadn’t yet got round to eating. It actually went really, really well. The young people wrote some amazing descriptive pieces, and seemed to really enjoy themselves. We then moved on to the ‘smell’ workshop and the ‘sight’ workshop, and again it was really fun and some really great writing was done. In the end, it was a success. It would’ve been nice if more people had turned up (a lesson for all of us in advertising our events more enthusiastically, I think), but those that did seemed to get something really valuable out of it, and we all had a really fun day together. Hopefully we’ll do more of these kinds of things (with more people turning up) in the future!

On Tuesday 7th July, Ilkley Young Writers took part in the “Voices of New Generation” Slam Poetry Competition at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds . There was a team of 5 of us that took part, performing three poems that we’d rehearsed in our group sessions with the help of our leaders Michelle Scalley Clarke and Simon Murray, whose knowledge of slam poetry was very useful. It was quite an intense day, for lots of reasons, and very challenging at times, but we all really enjoyed ourselves.

We spent the day rehearsing our pieces, with help from various people that were there. There was a feeling of real determination to be the best that we could be, which of course brought frustration when we messed up our performance or missed our cues in rehearsal, but gradually we got there, becoming confident in what we had written. We also took part in some group warm-act activities and games, and it was nice to get to know some of the people that we’d be performing alongside. They were from all sorts of different backgrounds (in one of the icebreakers we found out there was knowledge of 22 different languages amongst us!), but we had poetry in common, and there was a real feeling of energy about the place.

The performance itself was fairly daunting. The pieces were quite personal, and we’d put so much into them, so it was scary, but we were all determined to get out on stage and go for it, with nothing to lose. One of our big worries was that we’d realised in the rehearsal stage that our style of poetry was not very ‘slammy’ – that is to say, it was very different stylistically from anything else that was being performed, which made us a little apprehensive about how it would be received. Nevertheless, we stayed with what we had – as Michelle told us very wisely, it was important that we stayed true to our own style rather than trying to be like everyone else.

All three poems went about as well as they could’ve done. Which is to say that they were very, very good. But we were up against some tough competition; we saw some great poetry, as well as the added surprise of seeing some really impressive music and dance as well. Seeing the other writing groups perform (as well as confirming our suspicion that our style was very different) was pretty special, and we listened as they bravely tackled topics as heavy as female genital mutilation, racism, and depression with powerful and moving words.

We didn’t win, unfortunately. But the judges were impressed with our poetry and gave us a prize for making an ‘Outstanding Contribution’ to the event. All in all, we had a really great day. We learnt a lot about the world of slam poetry that some of us (myself included) had never really known about before, and performed pieces that we were really proud of.