Read our interview with Merci Roberts where she talks about performing at the event, her course and the lecturers, and living in Brighton, as well as reading her winning poem Justice for Peace.
Hi Merci – tell us a bit about the open mic event and the prize
“Hammer & Tongue is a spoken word poetry slam that is open to all. You only have three minutes to impress an audience and five judges who give you a score out of ten. The top score and bottom score are deducted from your average so that the score is fair. Winners get invited back to do a set at the next slam event, as well as going through to the Regional Final, on 18th May 2022, at the Open Air Theatre in Brighton. Then, the winner of the Regional Final goes through to the National Final at the Royal Albert Hall!”
Are open mic nights/poetry slams something you have done often, or was it nerve-wracking?
“This is a funny one because I’ve only ever competed in two poetry slams and the first one that I went to, I thought was just an open mic night where I could get feedback on my poems for my dissertation.
“Turns out it was a slam, so I wasn’t really prepared, but loved it regardless and set up the University of Brighton’s Poetry Slam Society. I went to my second slam, with the people who joined the society, and ended up winning. In between my first and second poetry slam, I did attend my first ever open mic night at the Peng Femme Jam in London, but chose to perform some of my raps at this one as I do music also.”
How did you feel when you were announced as the winner?
“I was beyond proud of myself because the poem I performed was extremely personal, as well as political, and very relevant with the social issues that we continue to face in 2022. I was glad that something I had created had the power to make an impact and was appreciated by other creatives, as well as felt on an emotional level by the people who were able to watch it. The video on my Instagram of me performing the poem doesn’t show how much my hand was shaking because it’s definitely one that I feel in my core. Winning felt secondary to the importance of having my voice heard in the first place.”
What are your aspirations for the future?
“I’ve just started developing a profile on my social media pages, particularly my Instagram @Merki_Creative. Since I’ve only just started my creative endeavours, I’d like to continue to go to events and gain experience performing, as well as developing my craft. I plan on releasing an EP soon as there aren’t many female rappers in the UK. I definitely want to pursue a creative career overall, despite being told how difficult it is to be successful within one. I’d rather not be here than shrink and settle for a job and lifestyle that I don’t enjoy.”
What made you choose the English Literature and Creative Writing BA(Hons) course at Brighton?
“In all honesty, a lot of people didn’t expect me to do great in school because I have ADHD and struggled to conform, but I revised with my best friend and exceeded expectations. Then I was able to give A-Levels a go but I chose subjects that I was taught would ‘look good’ and hated it. Luckily, with the support of my dad, I started again and did Film Studies, Drama and Creative Writing and then thrived because I’ve always been a creative. After this, I went to an open day at Brighton and saw a talk by Jess Moriarty, who was the Course Leader, and she sold the course to me. I didn’t even apply for other universities because I could tell in my gut that Brighton was for me and that the people teaching the course seemed amazing – which they were!”
What have been your favourite aspects of the course?
“No other university that I have looked at has offered the freedom and diverse modules that Brighton offers. The optional modules list is insanely inclusive. As well as this, the whole department has been incredible during my time at university. Any help that I’ve needed has been given to me and the people who teach this course go above and beyond. I have also had amazing conversations and learned so much from my course mates that I will take through life with me.”
How have you found life in Brighton, and being on the Falmer campus?
“Coming from Greater London, I can appreciate that Brighton is a beautiful city with an amazing LGBTQ+ community. However, I don’t think it’s as diverse or accepting as people think. I have experienced a fair amount of direct and indirect racism here and BAME people aren’t always catered for / represented. That isn’t a criticism on the university itself but the city as a whole. Lots of other mixed-race and black people have expressed this to me also. As for Falmer campus, it is lovely and scenic but I wish there was more around!”
Is there anything you wish you’d know when applying to university?
“Definitely. When I first came to university, I often felt lonely and struggled to find people that I connected with. Through exploring societies and sports teams, I was able to make friends, outside of my first group of flatmates, and finally felt that sense of community that people tend to crave. My university life didn’t really begin until I did this and I would urge people attending university to look into these things.”
Justice for Peace
It all starts in school, where we start learning ‘the facts’,
but not things like only 3% of the UK is black
or that only 20% are minorities, in general,
Yet somehow Dave recons: we’re ‘taking all of the jobs’.
Dave: shut the fuck up. You Tory knob.
Dave and his kinda alike
tend to have missing teeth
and no GCSEs in sight –
yet they’re always right…
Britain can be evil.
She’s spiteful. Vindictive.
And when we try talk,
our voice is restricted
or shut down,
with a dark frown
about how racist jokes
are ‘just a laugh’ now.
Apparently racism doesn’t even exist
and I know you’re all ‘tired of hearing it’
but we’re tired of living it.
BLM in the caption of an Insta pic
isn’t really doing shit.
And there’s always one
‘I’m not racist but…’
Karen: shut the fuck up.
We live in a world where ignorance is no longer an excuse.
With all the things we have access to –
it’s not my job to school a fool.
Use the tools
and educate your fucking selves.
Having to learn about it,
rather than live it first-hand,
is just an example of the white privilege
that some don’t understand.
White privilege is never having to press yes for a receipt.
It’s not having to worry about looking like a gang when you meet.
It’s entering a gated community, without questions, in peace.
I’m sure you’re a nice guy,
pretty fly for a white guy,
but Mark: liking our music
doesn’t make you an ally.
I know Kanye west might be in your top four
but still, you need to do so much more.
So, on a serious note,
it’s actually not a joke.
Now that I have your attention,
we need intervention
because it’s all fun and games
but the prejudice remains.
I’m not ‘the angry black’
I’m just angry that
your words hit like the bullets that kill us.
It’s not just in the USA.
It happens here in the UK.
More than the news cares to say.
You don’t want to face the problem
but the problem is prominent.
In a world where being ‘one of the good ones’
is considered a complement.
Amongst a system where police can kill in plain sight
and don’t care who – if their skin is not white.
So it’s always gonna be: fuck the feds!
They don’t care which one of us goes next,
so we’re fighting with the passion of Malcom x,
the resilience of the Suffragettes,
on the same path that our panthers led.
We will not forgive. We will not forget.
For you, this is merely a moment in time
but for us, it’s a fight for our lives.
So when you see the flames,
all of the flames,
say their names,
all of their names –
until it feels like poison in your mouth;
until every single ‘bad one’ is out.
We must revolutionise the system
until we make that difference.
There will be no peace