A lasting impression

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Although Poetry Society has just turned ten years old, it could be said that it really began in 2017. A thriving community now, but when was elected president in her second year she claims there was ‘no infrastructure’ in place. Although there were open mic nights being run, it was ‘very much what you’d expect from the Durham poetry scene.’

This isn’t to say the talent wasn’t available, but Deyn and Prerana Kumar, current manager of the Slam Team, have really established an infrastructure for the members. From initiating links with the local community to creating a (nearly always) safe space for expression, they have set the precedent for Poetry Society for years to come.

Under their guidance, along with poet Jay Hulme, the university slam team recently placed 3rd in the UNISLAM after being established for only a year. Kumar claims that when they first competed, they were a ‘disaster, we’d never been to a slam before, we weren’t spoken word poets at that point.’

they have set the precedent for Poetry Society for years to come

This year, with a team firmly in place and armed with the knowledge of last year’s competition, Kumar asserts they ‘went in guns blazing. A lot of people have that preconception about Durham and spoken word, but no, we have a slam team and we can do it.’

The Slam Team itself has become a family of sorts. Kumar puts it, ‘you have to trust one another, it’s very personal, you have to put yourself out there and you have to have that sort of team you can fall back on.’ As individuals they put themselves into the poetry, as a team they ask each other to critique those personal elements; ‘You need to get to that level of trust where critiquing a poem is not a sign of disrespect.’

As individuals they put themselves into the poetry

Perhaps more remarkable than their rise in the ranks, are the links they have formed with the local community. The “town/gown” divide is something often spoken about in Durham, although we don’t frequently see anything being done about it. After going to a local poetry night and finding no students there, Deyn says ‘I basically just snapped and was like right, that’s it.”

Kumar adds, “There’s such a large talent pool within the student community, and there’s such a strong talent pool within the local community. They’re just sort of existing side by side but not interacting.” From this they feel as if they have bridged the gap, with the integration of the local scene and student performers.

It’s clear that both Deyn and Kumar haven’t done this for themselves, but are establishing an infrastructure for incoming members to fall back on: ‘We are trying to make sure there is enough there so that when we start to take a step back, there is support in place.’

the integration of the local scene and student performers

Speaking of her own experience, Deyn comments: ‘I think there’s a tension when you’re from the North-East and you go to Durham University about which face you’re putting on each day. I’ve always had that worry I’d walk into an event and perform a poem influenced by working-class experience, for someone to ask why I was doing that. Increasingly though I’m like, it is what it is.”

A safe community which seems unique amongst others within Durham, it has faced unexpected challenges in the form of ‘broccoli nips’. An admittedly ‘hilarious’ story where a man’s performance poetry involved him taping broccoli to his body, it was an invasion of a safe space for those involved. Deyn attests to this: ‘I do feel it was a guy who realised he could go in and do whatever he wanted.’ It’s a ‘vulnerable space’, people have come not only to lay down their inner thoughts, but in a form of artistic expression they have laboured over and gathered enough courage to share with others. For a man to infringe upon that it is an uncomfortable prospect, especially for those who feel like it is one of the few places they can be themselves.

As for their own careers, Deyn is looking into the local arts scene and Kumar is working towards publication. They’ve built up a community for the university and for locals, although they claim there will be some ‘up-and-down years’, their legacy will leave a distinct lasting impression.

Photogrpah: Prerana Kumar via Facebook

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