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Hammer and Tongue National Slam Final: The Individuals 31.03.12

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on April 22, 2012 at 5:44 pm

@ Wilton’s Music Hall

– by Dana Bubulj

Part two of the Hammer and Tongue Final: this review concentrates on the Individual slam at the beautiful Wilton’s Music Hall. 18 Poets that had qualified through the Hammer and Tongue Regional Slams were now pitted against each other. While we saw many during the Team Battle(!) earlier that day, with mostly different poems under their belt and a packed, enthusiastic audience made this a fantastic evening. (Also, Cat Brogan fulfilled her promise to do cartwheels on stage whenever anyone got a 10.0, which was surprisingly under-exploited).

Scoring in slams are often tricky to explain. You have to factor in individual biases, take into account direct comparison between the preceding poet, bumper scoring to offset potential time penalties, and, of course, score creep (more likely for comic poems). That said, it was refreshing to have such disparate scores, with judges showing a range of tastes for different kinds of poems.

Rounds: Three heats of six poets, two each heat qualified to a semi final, then three went on to the final. Sam Berkson & Steve Larkin hosted the heats. Weirdly, there was a large break between the first two heats and the third, but we resumed with new judges.

Favourites of the Heats:

  • Vanessa Kisuule‘s “Playground Debt” was fantastic: the guilt (“apologies in hindsight are always profuse”) of standing by in school while a boy was bullied (“she gorged on your silence”) with racial slurs and the childhood fear of bullying. (23.8)
  • David Lee Morgan repeated his great Team Battle(!) poem about the August riots from the perspective of “the man on TV calling you mindless”, exploiting youth’s inexperience with “fingers around [their] thoughts” to serve authority’s ends. (23.1)
  • Sacrificial Poet, Michael Parker owned the stage, and had great rapport with the audience as he told us how “[we] would have loved [the poem that he’d written]”. This was fantastic theatricality, booming  “OUR POET KING” (as we would have crowned him). I believed him. (23.8)
  • Anna Freeman‘s “If History Has Taught Us Anything” was a scathing commentary on how regressive politics have become recently (“I want to be pig ignorant”). A nice twist end: imploring us to pick up our pitchforks and guillotines. (24.8)

I also particularly liked:

  • Spliff Richard‘s plea to stop reggae music’s increasing anger and homophobia (“whatever happened to one love?”) was heartfelt; with a nice juxtaposition to the multiple defences for ganja. (25.9)
  • Amy McAllister‘s “Role play” painted a believable relationship where the participants only stayed together because “London’s massive and we’re lonely”, sacrificing standards (“I only expect 30% on your part”) and kissing only because they’re “tired of talking”. (24.3)
  • Curious had a great poem about refugees who “fled to sea”, from “distant lands … far and few”. The first half, which dealt with the journey and impetus, before settling and assimilating into Western culture, was especially good. (24.2)
  • Jessie Durrant reminds me a little of Kate Tempest, both in breathy impassioned delivery of personal material and in subject matter: of a friend lost to drugs, leaving “nothing left of the boy [she] knew”. (25.6)
  • Sacrificial Poet, Pete the Temp, gave an impassioned defence of the Occupy movement, co-opting the audience in a call and response declaration of “No, I’m Spartacus”. It had a good rhythm, even with slightly odd line breaks, and certainly fired people up. (18.4 due to flagrant overtime)

Also Ran:

  • Yvo Luna‘s “I’m so glad we stayed friends” took on a very bitter, angry voice, with screams played for laughs rather than empathy. (22.3)
  • Mark Niel professed attraction to audiences in a theatrical, obnoxiously loud manner, complete with partial stripping. I admit I did like one line: “you still crave one night stanzas”. (23.5)
  • Phat Matt Baker had an ode to a kebab (“dirty doner”), complete with imaginary dialogue in falsetto and scatological humour. The audience laughed, even if I didn’t. (23.1)
  • Chris Parkinson‘s surreal delivery didn’t stick together as well as his team poem, leaving this poem confused (culminating in a boy being kidnapped by a balaclava’d Prince Philip, as you do). (22.1)
  • Mac McFadden confessed a love for “A Girl Called Sid”, which played generally off the subversion of gender essentialism in Sid and its reinforcement by the narrator. Unfortunate implications to the dismissive tone of “she thought she was a fella”.  (23.4)
  • Adam Kammerling constructed a surreal scene of working the night shift and, being penniless & hungry, being taunted by the cakes surrounding him. Could have done without “drop your slacks and lube up” threat. (26.8)
  • Tina Sederholm‘s “Keep Young And Beautiful” was standard commentary on cosmetic culture, complete with its ugly sides (eating disorders/alcoholism). I’d have been happier with it if “feel guilty as a rapist if you eat a single biscuit” wasn’t played for laughs. (22.9)
  • Charlie Dupré pleased the crowd with admissions of “having a feminine side” and the stereotypical trappings thereof. Arguing for genders being similar would be more effective were it less couched in phrases like “don’t worry lads” or “in 2012, it’s manly”. (25.2)
  • Cat Brogan gave a raucously crude story of a liaison in a lesbian bar inBerlinwith a woman named Sadie. Joyful and shamelessly explicit. (21.9)
  • Lucy Ayrton‘s “Fuck you, Corporate Land” was one of the quieter pieces of the night, a meditation on the malaise of office jobs and the importance of seeming happy, even when disappointed with how life has dashed our childhood dreams. (21.8)
  • Chris McCormick‘s “Math” detailed an argument with a teacher, calling them out on their sexism. At the teacher’s “most girls aren’t good at math”, the audience gave a pantomime-eque gasp; I think points were for sentiment rather than the poem itself. (23.7)

Individual Semi-Final
Hosts: Sam Berkson and Michelle Madsen

  • Vanessa Kisuule‘s “Bounty” was about the trouble of “society’s scalpel”: feeling “out of place” surrounded by those of her own race. However, rather than analysing the stereotypes she discusses, the poem seemed a little classist (feeling “a traitor because [she] refuse[s] to drop T’s”, or wishing her knowledge of jazz/blues held sway over hip-hop fans). (28.5 OT)
  • Curious‘s poem was inspired by Black History month, rather problematically. “The Soul of Motown, I am it”, he proclaims, after saying “Black History belongs in [him]”. The poem wished to instil hope rather than guilt into “our children”, in a time of such institutionalised racism, but the appropriation made it a bit dodgy. (26.3)
  • Amy McAllister was a bittersweet dedication to a depressed friend: hoping their road-trip was full of experiences, from food poisoning to the desert being “overwhelming, in a good way”. (27.1)
  • Jessie Durrant‘s cheerful poem “Kakorrhaphiophobia” spoke to the performers: about overcoming a fear of failure by embracing the stage, filled with familiar references aimed to inspire. (25)
  • Spliff Richard‘s “Never Alone” was an defence of marijuana and its ability to instil peace, drawing allusions from the civilisations which used it to his own personal use (I liked how music was “like the g-spot’s been relocated to [his] ear”). (23.1 OT 4:01)
  • Adam Kammerling‘s poverty piece was his strongest of the day. Taken from own experience with poverty & rooting through an M&S bin for food at night, the hunger was palpable, the rot visceral. The final (expected) line (“not just bin food, it’s M&S bin food”) was said with aplomb to massive applause. (29.1)

WINNERS: Amy McAllister, Vanessa Kisuule, Adam Kammerling


  • Amy McAllister’s “She’s Over” was certainly a different take on moralising; a rallying cry to replace pornography’s seedy underbelly with another kind of passion: that of the “intense determination” of the August riot looters, whose “spunk is on our side” rather than against. (25.4 OT 3:41)
  • Vanessa Kisuule performed “Little Red Bow” was on a once-idolised friend: a fantastic character piece. With a recurring refrain of “laughing at a joke yet to tell” that created an air of companionable despair, Kisuule captures being on the sidelines of someone’s alcoholism. (25.1 OT 4:08)
  • Adam Kammerling went back to his rap roots in “Spitting Bars”, an amusing dialogue between an insipid young rapper, all front and no substance, and a literate objector who tears him to shreds. While the rapper was a bit of a straw man/easy target, the back and forth was great, particularly when it played with slang: “you’re killing the art” “fucking right I’m killing the art” “no, in a bad way”. The nod to Wilton’s stage on which he stood went down well, too. (29.6)

Who treated us with another rendition of his altercation with the NYPD.


Hammer and Tongue National Slam Final: The Team Battles! 31.03.12

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on April 22, 2012 at 5:41 pm

@ Wilton’s Music Hall

– by Dana Bubulj and Koel Mukherjee

Event: Taking the six different chapters of H&T from across the country and pitting them against each other to see which location has the best poets: 1st two qualifying heats and then a final.

Judges were chosen from the audience, with standard slam rules. (Scores noted, “OT” = if points were docked for going over time.) I was relieved to see the turns alternated between the teams of four poets, keeping it competitive.

There was also an individual slam, with many of the same poets, but that will be covered in another review, so if you feel the poets have been short-changed, they may have longer write ups there.

Venue: Hidden in a back alley near Aldgate East is Wilton’s, the last surviving Grand Music Hall in the world; rather beautiful in its stripped walls, wooden floors and curled columns; a splendour perfectly suited to the occasion.

On a positive accessibility note: the name, team, score and time were projected behind the performers.

The hosts: were excellent. Working in pairs, they kept proceedings fast paced, cracking jokes while scores were collected. They also made sure the audience knew the rules, so as not to exclude newcomers.

HEAT ONE: Brighton VS Cambridge VS Hackney
Hosts: Steve Larkin (Ox) & Michelle Madsen (Camd)

Hackney: Angry Sam (Captain), Adam Kammerling, Amy McAllister, David Lee Morgan

  • Angry Sam spoke wistfully of snow failing to affect the harshness of business. (25.8)
  • David Lee Morgan performed movingly on the riots from the perspective of authority. I love this poem to bits, particularly its darkness. (26.8)
  • Amy McAllister talked accessibly of falling unrequitedly for her flatmate and the drive to escape (“he forgot what he had, scratch that, hadn’t”). (26.5)
  • Adam Kammerling’s poem about an overheard conversation captured the meandering nature of everyday chatter about a day’s events (things “proper kicked off”), in a realistic tone that nonetheless maintained poetic rhythm. (26.2)

Cambridge: Fay Roberts (Captain), Jessie Durrant, Mark Niel, Hollie McNish

  • Hollie McNish performed “Wow”, a fantastic piece on body image post-baby. (26.9)
  • Fay Roberts “I want more”, a friendly rejection of female magazine advice. Wished she’d made more of the last line that questioned what the media was hiding with such a distraction. (24.6)
  • Jessie Durrant discussed notions of family in relation to seeing a picture-perfect “catalogue” example, and comparing it with her own version. (26.1)
  • Mark Niel raged at the frequent misspelling of his surname with the tightly-wound fury of a child’s tantrum. Culminating in the revelation that he was defending himself to a judge, the piece was compelling (if only compelling you to run away – ed) but also rather disturbing. (26.5)

Brighton: Michael Parker (Captain), Yvo Luna, Chris Parkinson, Spliff Richard

  • Michael Parker’s passionate “100%” built momentum with the effective repetition of “we few” and “we stand together”, combining otherwise isolated protest groups into a united movement. (23.4 OT)
  • Yvo Luna had several poems, one a great, disturbing love poem with a baby-doll voice conflating kisses with “cuttlefish bones up vertebrae” and “drowning kittens”. (25.3)
  • Chris Parkinson keyed in to the manic energy of the media with “Fashion Tips for the Last Days”. It unleashed a frenetic bombardment of clashing headlines and surreal imagery, in a hilariously tabloid-worthy tone. (“Would Gandhi have voted for Clegg? We asked Ulster, and they said no!”)  (27.1)
  • Spliff Richard: A fabulous piece dedicated to Kate Tempest, beginning with thunderstorms and ending beautifully with: “She’s the reason hurricanes have girls’ names”. Though the delivery was so fast it was occasionally incomprehensible, his rhythms and amazing flow were exhilarating. (26.1)

Compound Scores:   Brighton: 101.9, Cambridge: 104.1.  Winner: Hackney, 105.3

HEAT TWO: Bristol VS Camden VS Oxford
Hosts: Angry Sam (Ha) & Michael Parker (Brigh)

Bristol: Sally Jenkinson (Captain), James Bunting, Jeremy Toombs

  • Sally Jenkinson went twice to make up for Bristol’s reduced team, which worked distinctly in their favour. Her first, (25.9) was a moving entreaty to her sister not to lose herself in disaffection, weaving the lyrical with the everyday in a tone choked with feeling. Both her pieces effectively used evocative details to create atmosphere, whether for the complex familiarity of siblinghood or the vulnerability of insomnia, when “white bones sing awake”. (26.3)
  • James Bunting’s “Conkers” drew allusions and teased comparisons between a whirlwind romance and carefree children playing in the “rum-gold twilight”. But occasional nice turns of phrase couldn’t overcome the patchwork of clichés, repetitious imagery, and familiar lines you already knew. (26.5)
  • Jeremy Toombs’s hypnotic voice suited his wandering, Ginsberg-ian reflections. “Hangover Meat Belly” focused on the origins of the meat and alcohol in his stomach. The second, “My Asshole is Burning”, was a musing on diarrhoea and that all poets must shit. Engaging, but the humour was not for everyone. (25.4)

Camden: Michelle Madsen (Captain), Curious, Charlie Dupré, Cat Brogan

  • Curious first detailed a young black rapper’s use of violent/threatening imagery in performances, then his death at the hands of police who framed him. Vivid and well performed, but confusing and lacking an obvious perspective or message. (24.7 OT)
  • Michelle Madsen performed “We’d All Melt”, of bittersweet offerings to a relationship that’s ending. I’ve always loved the line: “I give a gift of seven lemons”. (25.9)
  • Charlie Dupré’s consummately theatrical performance animated this sweet tale of two band members, the kick drum and high hat, who fall in love, leading to solo ambitions, crushed dreams and eventual reconciliation. (24.8)
  • Cat Brogan on the origin of boycotts and filibustering in 1880s Ireland was full of facts (at the time, 100% of the land was owned by 0.2% of the people) that tied history neatly to contemporary protests. A powerful piece (if a little stilted from occasional forced rhyme). (25.5)

Oxford: Tina Sederholm (Captain), Phat Matt Baker, Chris McCormick, Mac McFadden

  • Tina Sederholm shared her cute take on a child’s understanding of sex and the euphemisms they’re told, compared to the messy reality adults know. (25.7)
  • Mac McFadden did a ‘comic’ poem on the shock of being “old enough to be [his] dad”, full of repetition and feigned outrage. The audience responded positively, though the chauvinist fantasies of making a sex tape with Paris Hilton made us cringe. (25.9)
  • Chris McCormick wants to be a pirate, free of girlfriends and beset by wenches. Much of the poem romanticised this archetype and more could have been made of its glimpses of a lonely, melancholic fantasist underneath (pirates prefer “savage lust, instead of love which they cannot trust”). (25.5)
  • Phat Matt Baker ranted against landlords shafting students in a confused revenge tale that failed to impress. (25.2) 

Compound Scores:   Camden 100.9, Oxford 102.3.  Winner:  Bristol 103.5

Note: The scores in this round seemed to be frustratingly and unfairly stuck between 8.5 – 8.8. Don’t make me graph them as proof.

TEAM SLAM FINAL: Bristol VS Hackney
Hosts: Steve Larkin (Ox) & Tina Sederholm (Ox)

Special mention to sacrificial poet Peter Hunter, whose “On Eyebrows” was masterful: painstakingly explaining the traditional sonnet form and its rhyme scheme, he then performed the piece silently, using said dextrous facial-hair.


  • James Bunting talked of looking for the voice of his ‘Generation’, and not feeling a generational identity. Fixating on icons of prevous generations, he contrasted important voices of the past such as Dylan, with the potential of (for example) himself, or a protestor, to be voices today, and emphasised the confusion and fear of choosing such voices with quotes and cliches. While feeling lost was easy to identify with, the poem’s sense of confusion and adrift-ness was expressed in back-and-forth thoughts which made it feel muddled, and gave it the impression that it suffered from too many endings, some of which were rather trite. We also wished the piece had explored its theme with more depth, perhaps acknowledging that we tend to rose-tint the iconic voices and identities of past generations, that this whole process is a contrivance shaped by our own needs in the present, and considering what acknowledging that means for feeling lost in the here and now. Ultimately, his sometimes strong turns of phrase were not enough to draw his disparate and confused metaphors into a coherent poem. (24.9) Performing twice in this round, his ‘To the Girl Who Loses Herself in Other Peoples’ Mirrors’ received a 25.8.
  • Sally Jenkinson’s “The Gasman Cometh”, perfectly captured the way your world can shrink in the depths of despair and illness, feverishly elevating the pronouncements of visiting gasmen (“fluorescent gods” with blinding high-vis jackets) to prophesy. (26.4)
  • Jeremy Toombs‘s “Badass Bop” was a glorious, mesmerising , jazz poem with a great flow, woven with the repeated sounds of beep, bop and beat.  Listening was like falling into a dreamlike, music-induced haze. (27.7)


  • Angry Sam‘s compellingly human “100 Greatest”, discussed our obsession with ranking/categorisation to fill voids in our lives with some lovely examples. (25.6)
  • David Lee Morgan’s trilogy on children, finished with the memorable “Dead Babies”, which hammered home a solemn point by grimly suggesting the volume of dead babies around the world could be used as time-markers (a standard TV episode is 800 dead babies long). (25.8)
  • Amy McAllister started her set with “Toilet Troubles”, about a break-up triggered by a boyfriend pooing at her house, using deliberately childish rhymes to mask underlying complex issues. Her second piece, “Burn”, was far superior, a sad, sweet poem which related a break-up in the present to her childhood propensity for burning herself accidentally. (27.2)
  • Adam Kammerling’s tale of being stopped by the NYPD for drinking in public was accessible, went down well, and ended the night on a good-natured, comical note. (28.3)

Final scores: Bristol 104.8, Hackney 106.9

Winner: Hackney. (The less-consistent Bristol still provided some great highs)

Word Wrestling Federation Presents: Page Match 2

In Performance Poetry on March 2, 2012 at 2:00 am

@ The Camden Roundhouse, 25/02/201

– reviewed by James Webster

The Concept: An odd mix? 

Performance poetry and professional wrestling seems like an odd mix. On the one hand there’s the machismo, violence and soap-opera of pro wrestling and on the other the more reflective, cerebral and verbal poetry.

But in organising this event Dan Cockrill drew on the similarities between the two: larger than life personalities, crafting narratives, the showmanship and performance, audience interaction, and the competition of both poetry slams and wrestling matches. Thus the pomp and aggression of wrestling is introduced to the wit and meaning of poetry: culminating in Page Match 2 (a nice pun on the pro wrestling ‘cage match’) a verbal battle royalé between seven of London’s top poetry collectives.

The Match-Ups:

Round 1: Apples and Snakes vs. Word of Mouth

Winner: Apples and Snakes

Round 2: Roundhouse vs. Rubix

Winner: Rubix

Round 3: Bang! Said the Gun vs. Chill Pill vs. Dirty Hands

Winner: Chill Pill

Round 4: Rubix vs. Chill Pill vs. Apples and Snakes

Winner: Tie between Chill Pill and Apples and Snakes

Round 5: Poets Against Page Match vs. Apples and Snakes vs. Chill Pill

Winner: Apples and Snakes

It certainly built up a lot of hype.

  • The build-up and promotion was excellent. A series of verbal battles and trash-talking on facebook drummed up tension, while a series of amusing youtube videos by the collective PAP (Poets Against Page Match) created a villainous cabal of poets set on ruining the event. This created a classic wrestling narrative, that of the ‘heel’ (short for boot-heel), the bad guys that the audience and other poets can unite against.
  • This clearly worked: it was sold out. The audience packed into the Roundhouse in Camden (an appropriate cross between an underground bomb shelter and a gladiatorial ring) waiting for Page Match 2 to begin, to see if the hype would pay off.

It did fulfil the hype! (mostly)

  • As both a pro wrestling and a poetry fan I was impressed with how the pageantry of wrestling was mixed with the wit and verbal wizardry of poetry. Hosted by Dan Cockrill‘s Rhyme Stone Cowboy persona, he introduced each collective to entrances complete with lighting effects and music, some really impressive trash talking, some great costumes, and lots of vibrant characters.
  • The best entrances: Dirty Hands, made their entrance in demurely hipster-ish glasses to Christina Aguilera’s ‘Dirty’, Word of Mouth were all street with masks and hoodies, Apples and Snakes used confetti and party poppers, and Bang! Said the Gun’s Rob Auton entered to White Stripes’ ‘Little Room’ wearing a giant robot costume.
  • I was wowed by the battle between Apples and Snakes and Word of Mouth with their imaginative insults and ‘street vs. classics’ theme. Especially Angry Sam/The Dalston Destroyer’s piece with poetical put-downs and clever, and had powerful points on the best poetry coming from the ‘street’.And Poet Curious’s smooth rhyme and slick, plentiful art analogies that created a classical-art-street-chic vibe.
  • Dan Simpson/The Dandelion’s response to the ‘uncultured swine’ was clever and creative in his trash-talk and consummately performed, but it lacked the focus and convincing arguments of Word of Mouth. But he did still win.
  • Other highlights were Roundhouse member Jessica Green’s firebrand, entertaining performance on societal pressure on women who choose to enjoy ‘cider, spliffs and casual sex’ rather than having kids. Brave, bold and powerful.
  • And ‘Notorious’ Mr Gee (of Chill Pill): his poems on body image, hoodies, and a battle-style poem written for the event were funny, poignant and relevant and they propelled him like a one-man rocket into the final.

But some aspects of the night had room for improvement …

  • First off: the round pairings. Roughly organised by theme, with classic vs. street, old vs. new and then the themes kind of petered out, making the third round feel a bit redundant.
  • Rubix vs. Roundhouse was a poorly planned round; their poetry styles were painfully similar (Rubix are former Roundhouse poets themselves), and as there were four members of each collective each doing a long poem it felt like it went on forever
  • And throughout both collectives I had the same problems with many performers: their poems, while in places strong (especially Jackomo Rook’s piece on his father and Talia Randal’s ‘Chicken Bones’ on London and her family history) they often lacked focus, switched randomly between themes and almost all went on too long.
  • I was slightly disappointed by the usually excellent Dirty Hands and Bang! Said the Gun collectives. Bang’s Rob Auton/The Ultimate Worrier was funny, but he relied on one pseudo-pun and had no deeper meaning; while he’s good enough to rely solely on his delivery, he’s far better when he brings some substance.
  • While Katie Bonna and Amy Acre of the Hands’ interlinked poem was immaculately performed, and was full of lovely character and moving imagery, but their linking themes diverged more and more as the poems went on.
  • The gatecrash appearance from Poets Against Page Match/PAP, while amusing and appropriate to the wrestling theme, went on far too long and wasn’t clear enough to the audience members who hadn’t seen their youtube videos.
  • Their appearance in the final Belt vs Masks match was anticlimactic as when they were unmasked to reveal Peter Hayhoe (of Bang! Said the Gun and Dirty Hands) and Paul Cree (of Rubix) absolutely nothing was made of it.

And some aspects just didn’t work for me.

Such as the scoring. Scores were assigned by the judges anonymously, which missed a huge opportunity getting the audience involved booing or cheering the judges’ decisions (a staple of both wrestling and poetry slams).

And the lack of clarity as to how rounds were scored, coupled with the scorer admitting they might be making mistakes, meant the overall results seemed less than 100% (which comments from judge Charlie Dark ‘The Invader’ would seem to support).

Martin Galton disappointed with a poem about how the world is so depressing you should ‘blow your brains out’. I found this refrain more offensive than amusing, as I don’t think suicide’s all that funny (admittedly sections of the audience disagreed).

Rachel Pantechnicon is a veteran on the performance scene who’s quick with a pun and a joke, but I just feel they could do more with their act than elaborate puns. Dan Simpson, to my mind, carried the Apples and Snakes team to victory.

And Justice Lyric (of Rubix) had some great phrasing, but the premises of her two poems (one using poetic terms as innuendo and the other using dubstep/dancing as innuendo) made some effective wordplay seem trite and, with the ‘I’d go gay for poetry’ theme of her first piece, insipid.

A strong, fun night, with some flaws.

It was an entertaining evening, the success of the premise definitely overcoming the format and some performers’ shortfalls. The most entertaining were performers like Word of Mouth, Notorious’ Mr Gee and Dan Simpson all wrote poems especially for the event that mixed trash-talk with affecting poetry. They, coupled with the superb showmanship of a wrestling event, made Page Match 2 stand out. Just not as much as it could have.

Hammer & Tongue Camden vs Oxford: Part 1, Camden

In Performance Poetry on December 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm


@The Green Note Cafe

– Reviewed by James Webster (with help from Dana Bubulj) –

I have a fondness for Hammer and Tongue; their events were my first taste of performance poetry. Their slams running in 6 different locations provide a lot of people with similarly excellent introductions to poetry slams. So in October I was very happy to attend two H&T slams in two days in two different cities.

They were quite different, but drawn together by H&T`s core values: poetry, politics and an open and supportive atmosphere. It’s poetry opened up for (and often involving) the audience.

I thought it fitting given I saw them on successive days to compare the two. First: Camden.

The Venues – Green Note Cafe vs Turl Street Kitchen

The Green Note seems like a bit of a creative hub, also hosting music, comedy and the Utter: Spoken Word poetry night. It has a nice bohemian feel and a nice atmosphere for poetry, very intimate and communal.

The comparison: Sadly, the Green Note and its hipster haven doesn’t quite have the Turl Street Kitchen’s sense of community and activism: Oxford edges it.

The Hosts: Michelle and Sam vs. Lucy and Steve

  • Michelle Madsen and ‘Angry’ Sam Berkson make a great team. Both equally quick with a welcome as with a wisecrack, they’re encouraging, they get the crowd involved, make the rules of the slam clear, and summon the same boundless enthusiasm for their poets every month. They are especially good at making newcomers feel welcome, as Michelle said ‘if you’re a slam virgin we will take your cherry with grace’.
  • Sam’s poem on road safety from the government was biting, funny (if slightly marred for me by a minor rape joke) and filled with amusingly random anecdote breaks, including such lines as ‘’cos you’ve kept your distance to two chevrons you can join me in the kingdom of Heaven’ and ‘we only kill people if they’re inferior culturally, signed: The Government’. It was good stuff.

The comparison: Tough. Sam and Michelle are excellent, but Oxford featured a touching handover of hosting from Steve Larkin to Lucy Ayrton that distilled the essence of H&T and sneaked a victory.

The Slam: Camden vs Oxford

  • 3 minutes, 5 judges, 30 points up for grabs, winner goes through to the November final. Let’s go!
  • David Lee Morgan was this month’s sacrifice (used to calibrate judge scoring), and his poem seemed to sum up all the fight and struggle of western history in three minutes. Impressive imagery, but a little unfocused. Sam Berkson describes him best as ‘Blake fucking Ginsberg’. 22.3
  • James Webster’s ‘Taken For’ was described by my co-reviewer as ‘fluid, rather smooth, but you should be worried that he manages to explain that character in a sympathetic way’ and by Michelle as a ‘John Donne persuasive poem’. 20.8
  • Stephanie Dogfoot ‘Queen of Singapore Slam’ and her letter to her 12-year-old self was well written, but needed to be more smoothly and confidently performed. 20.4
  • Gilbert Francois’s ‘I Did It for the Bees’ a poem of cockney rhyming slang, complete with translation, was certainly skilful, but I didn’t think the content of the poem was strong enough to back it up, and lines like ‘at least I didn’t have to pay for the abortion’ made me cringe. 22.3
  • Alan Wolfson is a man with the kind of moustache any hipster would want to grow up to be. His ‘Kissing Application Form’ is amusing, and his poem on Gaddaffi (we should catch him and demote him to sergeant) was took a savage delight in humiliating the former dictator. Well crafted poems, honed delivery, but I sometimes fail to grasp the point. 22
  • John Paul O’Neil, the man behind Farrago, gave a strong performance that emphasised the fond nostalgia of an early caper involving his sister painting a light switch on a wall (he took the blame) and hovered over the heart-wrenching images of her in hospital, years later. 22.1

Winner: Gilbert Francois, but or my money John Paul was more deserving.

Comparison: Some very good poets at both events, but Oxford were just a little more consistently excellent (and the score seem to reflect this).

The Features: Richard Marsh and Paula Varjack vs. Anna McCrory

First up was Richard Marsh. One of the hosts of Sage and Time (a top event), he’s a poet I admire greatly. His show ‘Skittles’ has recently garnered him a string of superb reviews (and is on this coming week at the BAC in London), and with an engaging manner and some uniquely entertaining poems, you can see why. These were my favourites:

  • His poem for fools is immense. It’s a rallying cry for those who tilt at life’s windmills, for the bruised and ever enthusiastic ‘mucky-faced adventurers’. He demonstrates a knack for turning phrases that flow into his litany for the ‘stirrers of the future’s cauldron’.
  •  ‘Glamorous Tesco’s’ was fantastic. A story where Richard gets a crush on a check-out girl and a self-checkout machine (ably played by Michelle Madsen) gets a crush on him (‘love-notes will be dispensed below the scanner’). Absurdly touching humour.
  • ‘Pub’ described a post-breakup hook-up in a pub. It’s self-deprecating and deft, blending setting and theme; the characters sharing a ‘salt and vinegar kiss’ before humorously describing their drunken sex. Then it suddenly shifting into a more fluid and sweet style (‘We’re Michelangelo’s chisel, we’re Snoop Dogg’s shizzle’) and ends with the two finding each other while trying to forget the past. Awwww.

Next was Paula Varjack who has come over fromBerlin to tour theUK. An entertaining poet,

  • She started strong with ‘Why You Should Never Date an Artist’, a list of all the artists you shouldn’t date and why not. Equally cutting on conceptual artists, poets and musicians, it’s very funny and often lovely.
  •  ‘My Country’ was a role-swap, inspired by a guy who once said ‘I don’t like the term ex-pat, I prefer migrant’. It’s effectively done, imagining the US and UK as countries no-one had heard of, and wittily describing pub culture and prom as quaint cultural rituals. But it didn’t feel like she quite fulfilled the idea’s potential.
  •  ‘Not Even Worth Stealing’, on why no-one looted any books in the recent riots, started as a really insightful take on why people looted. Then it got somewhat simplistic, dubbing the riots ‘not revolution, but consumerist warfare’, which didn’t seem to live up to its earlier astute originality.

The comparison: Richard and Paula’s different styles and entertaining material mean that, no matter how charming Oxford’s Anna McCrory is, Camden takes home the victory in this category.

The final feature (both here and in Oxford) was Henry Bowers, Swedish poet extraordinaire, who will soon receive his own Spotlight feature, as he is just that good.

Please check out the next review for the Oxford event and final comparison!

Also, the next Hammer & Tongue Camden event is this coming Monday 12th if you’re interested.

Camden Hammer & Tongue 09/05/11 @ The Green Note Café

In Performance Poetry on May 19, 2011 at 12:40 am

-Reviewed by James Webster

The Night
I’ve reviewed H&T a couple of times before, so let’s get straight to the good stuff. On the 9th of May the audience were treated to one of the most consistently superior nights of poetry I’ve been to. There were 10 poets in the slam and (barring one exception) they all brought their a-games; the judges’ scoring was also consistent throughout (if in one case consistently mean); and the features Niall O’Sullivan and Mark Gwynne Jones were both very entertaining. The only problem I had was that while the poetry and performances were consistently good they lacked brilliance; there was no stand-out poet who really set my mind aflame, but still a very good offering.

The Hosts
Sam Berkson and Michelle Madsen hosted with their usual verve, charm and humour, especially during the slam their professionalism and rapport with the audience shone as they rambled onwards to cover the judges’ delays in getting their scores up. Hosts don’t always get the credit they deserve, but if I were a judge scoring them they’d get a perfect 10. Michelle summed the evening up: “If you’ve never been to a slam before then you’re in for a treat. If you’ve been to a slam before then you’re in for a treat.”


  • Mark Gwynne Jones was a wonderfully entertaining and superbly professional performer. The highlight, for me, were his impressions of the poetic archetypes you can find at open mic’s. The depressing poet who asks ‘why do we start each day with mourning’; the hip-hop artist’s “I wave my arms in front of your face, to distract from the fact I’ve got nothing to say”; he lampooned poets and himself brilliantly and I heartily recommend him.

The Slam
As I said, a really consistent slam, starting off with the sacrificial poet:

  • Catherine Bragan: her ‘Fingered by a Terrorist’ was a great mix of teen embarrassment and political violence. The language lilts and swoops with its rhymes, the poem accomplishes the rare thing of being both personal and political.
  • Natasha: the first of the ‘slam proper’ told us she thinks you should write about what you love and what she loves is Spanish men. It was a very amusing poem, filled with playful puns and clever word juggling, the Spanish/Spanglish blending well into the English. Ultimately, though, it was a funny poem with muchos charm, but lacking any deeper meaning and I don’t feel it really used the ‘slam’ genre to its full potential. Not my cup of tea at all, but very well done, and it left the room feeling much hotter. 24.6.
  • Jason Why: his on-the-spot poems were previously reviewed at The Tea Box and I really feel he could do with cutting his introductions, which serve more to lose the room than draw them in. Still, his poem was well delivered, had great pace, and put a lot together from the prompts the audience gave him, even if his last line was a little baffling. His 19.7 seemed a little harsh.
  • Konstantine: The first poet to read from the page, his performance suffered from it; his eyes cast down on the page robbed him of one of a performer’s most powerful means on connecting. His poem’s language was rich and grew and flowered over itself, it had a dirty nostalgia that I loved, but the imagery flickered around a bit too much and lost me at times. 22.2.
  • Josh Miko: had engaging big eyes. His poetry was strong, rooted in history and fable, drawing new meaning from old stories and used the word ‘spectroscopic’ which gained him points in my book. I wasn’t, however, quite sure where one idea/poem began and the other ended and he seemed unsure whether he wanted to dwell on any one reference or merge them all. 22.4.
  • Darico: His French accent went down well with the crowd (as they always seem to) and his performance was wonderfully engaging and his poem of babbling words not equalling conversation was well expressed, if basic. The one phrase that stood out to me “Ears like arms that never embrace me” made me quiver inside. 23.7
  • Alan English: Wove together an interesting story of sweetly endearing everyday tragedy. His simple rhymes reflected the small-town simple romance and simple loss that really reached into my chest and plucked my heartstrings. Sadly he went 38 seconds overtime and lost 4 points ending on a 19.2.
  • Alfred Lord Telecom: Gave us ‘Torvald the Bi-Polar Bear’. He had slight microphone malfunction that I found unfortunate until it started working and I realised his entire poem was predicated on the idea a ‘Bi-Polar Bear’ was intrinsically funny. It successfully made light of several serious issues whilst simultaneously failing to address them or indeed anything interesting at all. I wish the mic had continued to fail. His 24.2 nearly made me cry tears of frustration.
  • David Lee Morgan: His poem from his ‘Medea Chained’ series was a poem of two halves, the first the risky gambit of singing at a slam, while his voice was strong, the basic lyrics lacked punch. The second part, an impassioned evocation from Medea for the return of her child was primal and powerful and a great performance. His 20.7 seemed extremely harsh.
  • Adam: Had my favourite poem of the night, a superb twisted love story with awesomely perverted internal monologue along the lines of “I bet she fucks like a gazelle on meth”. It was beautiful and twisted, but his quiet and subdued performance let him down. 21.6.
  • The Good Samaritan: Rounded off the evening with a surreal suffusion of images and a very polished performance. He threw themes and images together with gusto, painting a landscape of ideas, touching on humankind’s lost innocence and the violence inherent in political ideas. His surreal varied images sometimes seemed to lose the audience, though. 21.8.

A very good slam, won by Natasha (the first poet I know of to win a H&T slam with the starting spot), that just needed one brilliant poet to make the night.

Hackney Hammer & Tongue (@The Victoria) 04/04/11

In Performance Poetry on April 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm

-Reviewed by James Webster

The Night
Another month and another Hammer & Tongue slam. The Victoria in Hackney is the newest place for H&T to ply their own particular poetic excellence, this being only the 3rd slam here. The venue does not at first look like a typical poetry venue, The Victoria having a certain ‘local pub for local people’ appearance, but appearances could not be more deceiving; you get into the back room and find a room decked out in fairy lights while resident DJ spins a selection of funky tunes.

The atmosphere was thusly incredibly welcoming, which is what’s great about Hammer & Tongue, they know slam poetry is a collaborative endeavour, one which the audience play as great a role as the poets. The judges are chosen at random and we’re encouraged to cheer or boo judge decisions based on our own opinions of the poetry. Poetry for the masses, oh yes.

The Host
‘Angry’ Sam Berkson (previously reviewed by Sabotage at the March Camden H&T Slam and at Sage and Time) is a generous host. Despite his ‘Angry’ moniker his attitude to the audience and the poets is nothing short of lovely. He remembers audience members who’ve attended before, he praises and encourages poets, he always has an astute or funny comment and he seems to really believe in the event, to believe in his poets, to believe in poetry. And speaking of poetry:

  • He opens with a series of ‘Hackney Poems’. As a Hackney local his poems are snapshots of loud, vibrant and sometimes violent life; a send-up to the streets in all their raucous abandon and grimy grit.
  • He followed these up with ‘Stop the Fucking War’, a poem full of fire and ire. He moves from poetically describing profoundly unpoetic events of a war abroad, to the ongoing war at home, a war of ideas, a war for our civil liberties. This battle cry to intellectual battles, to the war against war, certainly struck a chord or two.

The Slam
Format: 3½ minutes, any form, any subject, 5 scores out of ten (top and bottom knocked off), final score out of 30. The winner progresses to the Hackney final, and the winner of the Hackney final goes through to the UK Final in Brighton for the chance to be crowned UK Slam Champion.

This month was a surprisingly sparse slam, with only 5 performers , but I enjoyed each and every one of them.

  • Jenny Wright, the sacrificial poet (who volunteers to go first, so the competitors don’t have to), gave us some verse that was heavy with rhyme and layered with imagery of plants and human growth. It became a song of wasted youth that helped her find her voice, and what a voice it is. There’s a strength to her words and to her voice and to her poem in both form and content. 24.3.
  • Pierro: it was his first slam, and it was a poem with a succession of images of displacement, hope and struggle; lines like ‘I lived whole a life in the sky’ give it a wild and open feeling. His quiet and understated delivery had the whole room in a deathly hush as his words built us a picture of life as he saw it. 23.1.
  • Edward Unique: his ‘To My Darling I-Pod’ was much improved over his performance at Farrago, helped by his confident and warm introduction. The poem still lacks punch and punchlines, and could do with highlighting the ridiculosity of its conceit a bit more, but a vast improvement in delivery. 22.8.
  • Rob Orton: was one of the features at the first Hackney H&T, and his first one liner poem “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN … these are the names that we give to the toilets’ got a great laugh. His ‘Letter to Joe’ was short and vitriolic, and his ‘Life and Chips Twice Please’ was funny, but I felt relied too much on repetition of the same joke. 24.8.
  • James Webster: was dashingly handsome and devastatingly witty, but I can’t really comment on my own poetry for fear of bias. 24.1.
  • Patrick: his transcendental poem had a wonderful and wholesome message, and was refreshingly light on narrative. Some of the images I felt didn’t quite stand up. His score wasn’t announced, but I believe it was 22.5.

1st: Rob Orton.
2nd: James Webster.
3rd: Pierro.

Overview: A really high quality, if somewhat short, slam. I really enjoyed all the poets, especially Pierro who I would have picked as my winner, but he was unlucky to have gone first (no-one’s ever won a H&T slam going first) as I feel he would have gotten a score that more reflected the quality of his poem had he been on later. In the end it seems that Rob Orton’s off-beat delivery, vitriol and surreal humour clinched it.

The Features
Chris Parkinson
His confident manner, riotous carnival-esque delivery and excellent mutton-chops were very entertaining. He was heavy on irony; often layering it on so thick it was difficult to tell what, if anything, he meant genuinely. Indeed he even offered to sell his poetry pamphlet half-price to those who would go through and highlight his inconsistencies. Poems such as ‘Suburban Pastoral’ and ‘The Public Face of Meat’ were short, surreal, acerbic and sweeter than sherbet. His longer poems kept the surrealism, but repeated absurdist images in his longer poems seemed like they started to lose the audience.

The Dead Poets
The Dead Poets are an exciting verse experiment: Mark’s a poet and MC Mixi is, well, an MC and rapper. The two blend rap and poetry with considerable verbal dexterity; their arguments are funny and clever, showing (despite their disagreements) that poetry and rap both grow from the same roots. Together they make you laugh and think in equal measure, their joint efforts on rap and poetry and their storytelling exercise about a boy named Tarquill are definite highlights; separately they’re just as good, Mark’s sweet poem about liking a girl who reads, and Mixi’s rap about the prejudice faced being a rapper from ‘the sticks’ (‘look bud, I ain’t no actor, I’m just cruisin’ in my tractor!’) both hit home with panache.