The Lions lost but poetry definitely won that day – Siôn Tomos Owen on the SLAMbassadors Training Day

Published Fri 30 Jun 2017 - By Siôn Tomos Owen

A blog post by Siôn Tomos Owen reflecting on a SLAMbassadors UK training he attended on 24 June hosted by Literature Wales and delivered by Joelle Taylor, Artistic Director of SLAMbassadors UK which is run by The Poetry Society. SLAMbassadors UK uses poetry to give a voice and a platform for young people on the fringes of society. 


For me, rugby has always gone hand in hand with poetry, since my first tour to Ireland aged 10 where I decided to document the whole thing by writing poems and drawing.  Recently, I had missed the last British and Irish Lions matches because of literary events, writing retreats and on the first test Saturday against New Zealand, I was asked to attend a Slambassadors poetry workshop with Joelle Taylor at St Davis’s Hall, Cardiff.

Outside on the steps, poets were gathering while I continued to try to stream the 2nd half while simultaneously refreshing twitter for the score. 10 o clock chimed and we were invited in.  I discovered I was in good company with a number of poets who I admired and others who I had never met including a couple of Welsh language poets who I would be paired with for the first exercise.

We were thrown together by our seating arrangements into a quite difficult task of writing, memorising and performing a poem in eight minutes based on bibliomancy: Starting a poem with a single line chosen from a book at random.  It was a unique experience for us to create and English language poem as a trio but completely natural for two valley boys and North Walian to discuss the process in Welsh. Eventually the poem became one about this very process and performed by the three of us in English with the final couplet read in Welsh.  Already I knew this would be unlike other poetry workshops I had attended.

I had never heard of Joelle nor heard her preform before but in light of the Grenfell Tower fire, for fear of sounding sycophantic, I will never forget her performance of Crystal Kisses.  She knocked my bloody socks off.  Her style of speaking directly to her audience was unlike any other poet I’d seen. Throwing phrases at us like bottles and posing questions for us to chew on before slapping us in the face with lines that could make some poets give up completely.  But that is what this workshop was all about.

Fostering and nurturing creativity in young people and giving them the tools to build poetry from their experiences, be it from solid foundations or the rubble of their resilience.  This is the aspect that attracted me the most. The favourite of my many ‘proper jobs’ was as a key worker working with vulnerable young people, so the Slambassadors project combined with my love of poetry was something I really could get behind.

One of our final exercises was to create a poem from something completely out of our comfort zone, which was difficult, creatively and emotionally it would prove, with tearful appreciation after a number of the performances.  I wasn’t expecting it and I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Normally after a heavy defeat in rugby I would be pretty miserable, skulking around for the rest of the day but this was the first time I’ve ever fully understood the usually frustrating saying “it’s just a game”. The Lions lost but poetry definitely won that day.