Hastings’ emerging spoken word scene giving confidence boost

Lucas Howard in his spoken word video. Photo courtesy of Howard White SUS-171002-112926001
Lucas Howard in his spoken word video. Photo courtesy of Howard White SUS-171002-112926001
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Confidence seems to be the most significant notion when talking about the emerging spoken word scene in Hastings.

Organisers of spoken word and poetry competitions talk about having the courage to perform, as well as giving people that boost.

Amateur poets writing rhymes in their bedrooms speak of the confidence barrier stopping from performing, before the enormous relief of realising they can do it and the effect that has on them.

For Luke Alexander-Grose, a student who grew up in the town, that is exactly what happened to him and he cannot believe the transformation in both himself and Hastings.

“I’d been writing for about two years, about uni, with tuition fees and the struggles of students recently, about growing up in Hastings and how the town is changing, the bar culture is very different to when I grew up,” he said.

“But I never had the confidence to perform what I was writing.”

Luke Alexander-Grose in his spoken word video in Hastings town centre. Photo courtesy of Howard White SUS-171002-112948001

Luke Alexander-Grose in his spoken word video in Hastings town centre. Photo courtesy of Howard White SUS-171002-112948001

Everything changed for the 22-year-old Southampton university student when he got pushed to have a go at the spoken word competition, Slam Dunk, at the Printworks where he works part-time.

“One night I went to work as normal and I was shocked, the venue was full with people from everywhere,” Luke said.

“My friend encouraged me to have a go and I did and I won the competition, which was amazing.”

Luke said he used to listen to rap but he did not want to express himself through that medium. But having won two competitions he is noticing how much more confident he has become.

Hastings is a great place to do it, as it’s accepting of others and great for creativity. We’re a collection of misfits who you’d never usually get in a room together but it just works.

Slam Dunk competition organiser Lucas Howard

Lucas Howard organises the Slam Dunk events, having set them up across the south east, and says it is bigger in Hastings than anywhere else he knows after its beginnings in the inaugural Hastings Fringe Festival last summer.

“I’ve never lived anywhere quite like it, it’s incredible,” he said.

“It’s not a town where people care what you have, it’s what you do that matters.

“I moved here from Tunbridge Wells, where it can be very materialistic, but here you can leave the house wearing trackies and people don’t care.

A poet performing at the chess square in George Street for Slam Dunk's public event. Photo courtesy of Howard White SUS-171002-113000001

A poet performing at the chess square in George Street for Slam Dunk's public event. Photo courtesy of Howard White SUS-171002-113000001

“It’s about what you can offer, not how much money you can make, which reflects the culture of the town.”

Lucas was on the streets promoting Slam Dunk every weekend when he first set it up, but now the venue is packed every month with acclaimed artists itching to perform here.

The former teacher believes Slam Dunk allows people to express themselves in a unique way, but confidence is the key.

“I did it for the first time in Hastings eight years ago and a heckler said I had no confidence, which knocked me back,” he said.

“But I managed to push myself to getting myself back on stage.

“That’s the driving force for me as it’s helped me like that and others in so many different ways. It’s about having the guts to perform.”

Poets at a Slam Dunk event. Photo courtesy of Howard White SUS-171002-112915001

Poets at a Slam Dunk event. Photo courtesy of Howard White SUS-171002-112915001

Film maker Howard White, who is making a documentary about the spoken word scene in Hastings, has worked with the artists to make videos for their work.

Luke’s videos feature many Hastings landmarks including the pier, the town centre and Bottle Alley, which Luke wanted as his town is a part of his work.

Howard cannot recommend Slam Dunk enough.

“It’s been absolutely amazing filming them, I would recommend it to anybody,” he said.

“Anybody who is thinking poetry isn’t my thing, it’s a great night, it’s more like stand up comedy but not all funny but much like that sort of show, it’s a wonderful formula.”

Another trend is the passion to turn poetry into something cool. Artists such as George the Poet featuring on BBC Radio 1 is helping but Luke thinks there is more to be done.

He recently gave a talk at his old school, William Parker, to encourage youngsters that although poetry is stigmatised as arty or pretentious but it can be cool as rap or pop.

“With schools struggling for budgets, cutting drama and music, people who would maybe express themselves through performance or art might not have the platform to do it any more but you don’t need anything with spoken word, if people have the confidence to do it,” he said.

Lucas believes Slam Dunk and the town’s spoken word scene is only going in one direction, and hopes more people will be encouraged to come down and give it a go.

“Hastings is a great place to do it, as it’s accepting of others and great for creativity. We’re a collection of misfits who you’d never usually get in a room together but it just works,” he said.

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Lucas Howard in his spoken word video. Photo courtesy of Howard White SUS-171002-112902001

Lucas Howard in his spoken word video. Photo courtesy of Howard White SUS-171002-112902001

Luke Alexander-Grose in his spoken word video on Hastings Pier. Photo courtesy of Howard White SUS-171002-112937001

Luke Alexander-Grose in his spoken word video on Hastings Pier. Photo courtesy of Howard White SUS-171002-112937001