So, I know, I know: the first thing you might be thinking is – “A creative writing varsity? That’s a ‘thing’?” – and the answer is yes, yes, it is. How does it go down you might also ask? Well, both teams choose their champions, eight-a-side to be precise, and half of each team present a prose piece of five minutes, and the other half a poetry piece of three minutes each. This year, The Exchange was our host, in the heart of Leicester city on the 23rd of March; the event ran from 7:30pm-10:00pm.
The pieces are written by the performers and are marked on the quality of the writing as well as its delivery by three judges; this year the judges were Leicester University’s Creative Writing lecturer Jonathan Taylor, poet Jess Green (check her out on YouTube!) and novelist Rod Duncan. The scores are added up and of course the team with the most points wins – as well as this, there are awards for "Best Prose" and "Best Poetry," respectively. There was also a charity raffle to enter for 20p, where you could win the works written by the judges.
We all good on the ins and outs, the who and where, the hows and whats? Splendid. Let’s talk about the performances.
In the low-level ceiling, cosily lit downstairs sitting area of the pub, the audience sat comfortably and observed the performers at the front who spoke into a mic, ensuring they could be heard by everyone.
SPOILER ALERT: the University of Leicester won, sorry DMU. However, this shouldn’t suggest that it wasn’t an evenly fought contest. On the contrary, it was a very close contest that could have gone either way, as I’m sure the judges will tell you.
Pictured above is Leicester University’s own Kassie Duke. She won best prose of the night. Remember her face. Remember her name. You will more than likely see it in a local bookshop very soon. Her sublime wordplay, coupled with her ability to convey mature themes such as insecurity, family relationships, and the nature of storytelling through colloquial contexts made Ms. Duke’s "The Great Divide" a pleasure to listen to. There was something irresistibly charming about listening to a great writer give a narrative that meditates on such thematic concerns as Kassie’s, in a tale where a bad story teller who "didn’t want to write about myself, there was nothing there" – oh the irony. The innovative, witty irony. Please give me your talent.
And here, ladies and gentleman, is De Montfort’s Sammy Mitchell. I would say here was very much a case of "save the best for last." Her intelligently provoking, lyrically rhythmical, and profoundly moving poem "Left like a Boiling Kettle" struck me. It was so quotable – where do I begin? - “a poem is more than a poet” – so true. Please could all poet’s come to this realisation? “Leave your insecurities by the bedside” ha! I wish I could. “This is more than a product” – damn straight, this is art. This is poetry. Such works make me ponder why it is poetry is sometimes neglected by the modern reader? Why do we so often by novels instead of poetry collections? I leave that for you to decide.
Who won what aside, I was moved that night. I listened to the pieces of every person, and there were several common themes I felt resonated with everyone in the room. The increasingly unstable political climate we live in, as well as mental health issues that so many students are suffering from, and feminism, and gender equality.
I found myself unable to look away, my attention undivided, from several performers; Lydia Bell, Rosie Holdsworth, and Dominic Hynard touched on issues of identity, and introversion that afflicts many talented young writers, unfortunately.
Yet, what for me was the most emotional performance of the evening was given by Abbie Curphey. Visibly nervous, with rubs of reassurance from her friends the young poet delivered an elegant work: "Just… don’t worry." She put it plainly that "everyone will experience anxiety in a different way," and highlighted truthfully that "you don’t want to inconvenience anyone." A heart-wrenching reality for most sufferers of depression, and other mental issues is that they often feel like a nuisance when they shouldn’t. More writers like Abbie need to discuss these issues; it’s so important for our generation's experiences to be conveyed through poetry, as well as prose.
So, my final thoughts on the evening. I felt quietly optimistic that the art of the future will, as it should, bear out the voice of our generation. The Brexit generation, the generation that cried out for feminism, and demanded a change in the current climate. But we are also a generation capable of beautiful work, that if nothing else, like all literature of the past, helped me to realise we are one as a species feeling the same emotions, even if our experiences differ. We grind through life – it’s tiring, heart-breaking, difficult, and a struggle, yet it is filled with love, beauty, happiness, friends, family, and relationships. But above all else, it showed me that through art we bond, we connect and unify through the expressions of those brave enough to share their work with us, and boy, am I grateful for it.