By Sharon Stevens
Some time ago, I chatted with Cara Thompson, a poet and writer local to Nottingham. She is forthright and an inspirational young woman. When Cara entered, she represented Nottingham and the UK in the competition.
Cara, who began writing poems as a child, became a freelance poet and is part of the Gobs Collective’s poetry group, which encompassed its involvement in the Nottingham Poetry Festival.
2021 was the third event of the Slam O Vision Global Poetry Slam. In 2019 the finalists were from Quebec City, Nottingham, Melbourne, Iowa City, Heidelberg, Tartu, and Edinburgh. The winner (from Utrecht) was Babs Gobs, with her poem Ass Man.
In 2020 the finalists were from Manchester, Quebec City, Edinburgh, Melbourne, Tartu, Reykjavik and Ulyanovsk. The winner was Jardel Rodrigues from Manchester with his poem Barbirolli Square.
This is my conversation with Cara:
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I have been doing poetry for a few years now. I say that I officially started writing about the age of 15 or 16. It’s something I fell into. In the beginning, I didn’t even realise it was what I was doing. I was writing and enjoying it.
It was around my second year of Uni when the performance side started. It’s been kind of a rollercoaster ever since then; from something I’m developing and growing every day. I’ve joined in with local poetry collectives and events. It’s all become its own thing.
So, what did you do at university?
I did English Literature as an undergrad. Then I did a Master’s in Modern and Contemporary Literature, which I finished last year. Since then, I’ve been doing my freelance poetry on the side and recently started working with the Nottingham poetry Festival.
I’m also in fundraising, so that’s a bit of a different strand, but still within the creative industry.
How did you get involved in the Slam competition?
So, Slam O Vision is something I became aware of a while ago. Like I said before, I’m involved in a few poetry collectives, and the main one I’m involved with is Gobs Collective. That’s been a huge part of my journey as a poet.
I’d say that, up until this year, I really wasn’t even comfortable calling myself a poet. The leaders of the collective shared about the Slam O Vision thing.
Initially, I had no intentions of entering. Again, it was a matter of confidence because of the performance side.
Was it something you had done before?
It’s the first spoken word slam competition I’ve entered.
Tell me about Slam ’O’ Vision.
Slam O Vision is a competition organised by the UNESCO cities of literature. It’s a global thing, and seven cities of literature take part. Nottingham is a city of literature. We’ve been given the title by UNESCO as we’ve a strong literary heritage, so we are eligible to compete in this competition.
It’s exactly like Eurovision, with the same principle. You put someone forward to represent you, and then all these different cities compete.
Then it’s a public vote, including my judges, followed by you asking people to vote for you. It’s also about judges in these cities, giving you points so whoever gets the most points wins.
Were you nervous when you pre-recorded your performances?
Honestly, no, because I didn’t expect to win. I know it sounds terrible and quite self-deprecating, but I kind of entered with the spirit that there’s nothing to lose in applying.
And even if I didn’t win, it was worth a try. I submitted it on a whim – you look back at how you delivered it and see how it’s coming across.
Did it take you a long time to write it?
Not all. It came really, really quickly with that poem, but I don’t know what happened. Sometimes it will often start with just a phrase that will pop into your head, and then suddenly, it leads you to springboard to these other ideas.
What’s the name of your poem?
So, the poem is actually called Island Scream, but it seems to have adopted the name, Where Are You From? That’s the opening line of the poem – Where are you from?
I think that’s what sticks with people because the whole idea of the poem is… I’m sure you’ll know what it’s like when someone approaches you and they ask you this question. “Oh, where are you from then?”
In your other poems, is there a theme?
A lot of it is to do with heritage. My Caribbean heritage and black kind of experiences how that feels, particularly from a UK perspective. Some mental health-related stuff as well. I find that my poetry has always been a perfect space for me to be vulnerable.
The strong black woman stereotype is something I’m always trying to unpack in my poetry. That’s been the theme in poetry now. Basically, like carving out a space to be as vulnerable as I need to be.
Were you prepared last time, or do you feel more prepared now that you’ve written the poem?
I think, yeah. I think I’d like, why do you want to know? Why are you interested in that question? I think it is giving people that moment to actually question themselves and why they felt that was the question they wanted to ask me. It would be quite interesting.
I’ve had similar sorts of questions where you know it is almost like a micro-aggression, a term I don’t like anyway, as it still feels like aggression.
I definitely have those moments where I kind of freeze, and you can walk away from that feeling frustrated.
I have been trying to work on having those responses in my brain, so I feel empowered in that situation and not kind of reduced or pigeonholed. A lot of my poetry does try to find the uplift, as well. Art and activism go hand in hand in a way.
I believe it’s easy to get cynical if you focus too much on what is going wrong and not so much on what’s going right and what all working people are doing.
We’ve broken so many barriers. We need to celebrate that sometimes. So that’s what my poetry is, which is a lot of things. I think that it can be a lot of things, that’s what I enjoy about it.
How many people were in the finals?
It was me and six others, so each city would have gone through the same thing, asking poets from the region to apply. The judges then decide on one who will go forward to represent them.
My poem went to the final. It was a live broadcast. It was hosted by the Manchester City of Literature, which won last year.
Like Eurovision, whoever wins hosts it the next time. Then also the Québec City of Literature co-hosted internationally. It was pleasant as a nice blend, I think, to see how two cities approach things.
Was your recording played again at that event?
Yes. It was nice because you didn’t have to get up and do it again. I think it’s a bit fairer. It’s not down to how you’re feeling on the day. It was shown on a screen, and you feel proud of what you’ve put forward.
How did it feel waiting for the results?
It was mixed feelings. I was just kind of really pleased to be a part of it, I think, for a start. It was almost like I was watching a good poetry gig. Like you just sat and watched these other performances.
You just try to enjoy them and appreciate what you’re listening to. Despite that, I think it was when the voting started that I realised that it would be quite nice to win.
Literally screamed what! I kept laughing, but I don’t know why that reaction came out. It was all a bit hysterical! How was this possible?
This started with me filming something in my room, not really thinking anything of it, basically throwing it to the wind, and it just became this moment. It was just really, really lovely.
I assumed that with the content of my poem, being quite specific to being this Black British person, Windrush and all these things.
I thought that there was no way someone from, I don’t know, Finland was going to understand what I was saying, but they did. It took me about two days to actually accept it.
Will you enter again?
I don’t know if I can, and I don’t know if I’d be allowed to. I’m not sure that I’d want to again, to be fair. I think it’s good to let things happen and move on to the next event. I think it means that Nottingham will be hosting Slam O Vision in 2022.
Nottingham will have an opportunity to showcase our poetry scene, and I am excited to see what that looks like. If it’ll be online or in person. It’s really cool.
Do you think that winning the competition has boosted your confidence? Do you think it has changed your writing?
I think definitely. It’s given me a big boost in terms of my self-perception when it comes to my performance.
I think for a long time in my head, I had this version of what a slam poet should be, as someone who gets up in your face and shouts, runs around the stage and delivers that energy, which is totally a valid form of Slam poetry.
Also, watching the other poets and stuff made me think a lot more about different ways I can deliver my poetry and different ways I can write.
So, what’s next for Cara Thompson?
I’m still part of Gobs Collective, and we’ve been doing a residency at Nonesuch studios for the last six months. We’ll be showcasing our work during Nottingham’s Poetry Festival.
I’ve been working on my piece for the showcase. I would also love to put together a collection at some point. It feels like the next logical step, and I’d like to have a printed collection of poetry and say that’s mine.
I’m more in a brainstorming phase right now, which is nice, but I’m not too fussed about doing lots of performances or running around.