Saul Williams, the Guilty Feminist podcast and top British poetry talent performing at The Last Word festival

The Last Word Festival

The Last Word Festival - Credit: Archant

The Last Word festival returns for its fifth year with a lineup of poetry, spoken word and slam competitions.

A far cry from its origins as an underground artform, spoken word poetry has undergone a resurgence that’s reached audiences far and wide. For the fifth year running, emerging and established poets will be waxing lyrical onstage at the Roundhouse for The Last Word - a festival that celebrates fearless storytelling (13 June - 4 July).

“What’s great about spoken word is it’s so accessible to people. There’s no barrier between you and the performer,” says Matt Abbott, a political poet and activist performing his show Two Little Ducks at this year’s festival.

Two Little Ducks delves into the chaos of British politics, from disenfranchisement to the country’s fractured relationship with its national identity, intertwining Abbott’s experiences of volunteering in the Calais Jungle whilst his hometown of Wakefield voted 66% in favour of Brexit. “Activism and poetry go hand in hand. They feed each other. It’s through my activism that I get my inspiration,” he explains.

Abbott says although he voted remain he understands, although doesn’t always agree with, reasons that drove the majority of people in his hometown to vote leave. With “one foot in each camp”, Abbott wants to challenge preconceptions of working class Brexit voters from the north and of refugees fleeing to Europe.

“I’m trying to defend why people voted this way. You only notice the loudest voices - often the most extreme people - and the quiet, reasonable people just aren’t seen,” he says. “It was a rejection of the status quo from people who feel like they’ve been left behind.”

Abbott started out his spoken word career reading short poems between band’s sets at small venues in Yorkshire and took Two Little Ducks to Edinburgh Fringe last year which he says changed his life. “You don’t get many genuinely working class voices on the stage. I’m excited about having the opportunity to perform at The Last Word which is such a prestigious event,” he says.

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The three week festival also boasts Polarbear, Brigitte Aphrodite and headline act American rapper Saul Williams with Martyr Loser King, a story of a Burundi hacker who becomes am internet sensation when he hacks NASA.

The festival will also be hosting two podcasts: Comedian and Camden Town resident Deborah Frances-White will be presenting her hit The Guilty Feminist, discussing topics that all 21st century feminists agree on while confessing insecurities, hypocrisies and fears. Mostly Lit, from Rai, Alex Reads and Derek Owusu, tracks their London experiences and the intersection of literature with black culture in a playful way.

“The Last Word festival is now in its fifth year and continues to attract some of the biggest names in spoken word. Over the last five years we’ve had performances from the likes of Kate Tempest, Inua Ellams, Hollie McNish, and Sabrina Mahfouz,” says Jack Prideaux, producer of the Last Word.

“This year our headliner is Saul Williams - an iconic figure who has influenced many of the emerging artists we work with. The Last Word festival enables us to challenge pre-conceptions of what spoken word is and it’s the mix of established artists and exciting new talent that makes it so special.”

Last year’s poetry slam runner up Suhaiymah Mazoor-Khan will be performing LOL, InshaAllah, a one hour show that takes a look at the complexities that come with being a young Muslim woman who is forthright about her faith in Britain today - with an added injection of humour.

“It’s about destabilising binaries but it’s also about having space for people to have some fun and to laugh. There’s a definite overlap between anger and humour to show frustrations. Humour makes it possible to talk about things that can be difficult,” she says. “It’s possible to laugh at something you also find devastating, and it’s because we’re complex and multifaceted.”

The performance asks us to break the binaries of moderate/radical, extreme/liberal, oppressed/oppressor and explore the potential of our humanity. Having previously only performed at smaller events like open mic nights, Mazoor-Khan decided to get involved with last year’s poetry slam while studying at SOAS.

At the final she performed This Is Not A Humanising Poem in which she rejects writing a poem that humanises Muslims when Muslims are dehumanised in political and global events, saying: “If you need me to prove my humanity, I’m not the one who’s not human.” The poem received worldwide recognition and led to Mazoor-Khan being invited to be perform across the UK and overseas. “I hadn’t at all anticipated being a runner up, it changed my life,” she says.