Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Fay Roberts’

Saboteur Awards 2013: Performance

In Performance Poetry, Saboteur Awards on June 20, 2013 at 10:23 am

-in which James Webster sums up the categories he presented at the awards –

saboteur awards - performer

Best Performer

When it came down to the final day, Best Spoken Word Performer was the most closely contested of all the categories, with first place going back and forth several times and only three votes separating the winner and runner-up. That runner-up was Dan Cockrill, who deserves real credit for pushing the winner all the way to the wire, receiving many enthused comments from voters along the way. One such person said they voted for him “Because he is funny, engaging and full of bags of energy. And you never get bored of him however many times you see him!”

The other nominees also deserve a lot of kudos, Raymond Antrobus (who is one of the co-hosts of Chill Pill and whose pamphlet The Shapes and Disfigurements of Raymond Antrobus was published this year) reportedly “has a way with words, is unique in delivery and is spinetingly inspirational.” While Emma Jones (regular at Bang! Said the Gun and virtuoso performer) has “A tongue so sharp they call it a mouth knife. FACT!!” and an “Uncanny ability to absorb a character and present a perspective rarely seen.” Fay Roberts (host of Hammer & Tongue Cambridge and founder of Allographic) was said by one voter to have “a range and depth that I envy. Her poems combine beautiful word-smithery, wisdom and wry humour and her highly original delivery is a delight.”

The winner, however, was Vanessa Kisuule. A phenomenal poet whose performances are often heartfelt, often funny, and always excellent, and have delighted audiences all over the UK.

Winner of a multitude of slams and a regular at festivals, she “combines warm humour with beautifully measured emotion and a sprinkling of bite, Vanessa Kisuule is simply one of the best performing poets around.” Another voter said “Vanessa’s poems actually steal me and take me on an adventure”, while another commented “Vanessa has a depth and maturity to her work I’ve never seen matched in spoken word”. The most prevalent commendation, however, was her uncanny knack of expressing the inexpressible, she has “the ability to articulate feelings previously considered ineffable; a skill as rare as it is wonderful” and “has the most relevant poetry to so many people, she finds the perfect words to express what so many people think but can’t vocalise because they don’t have her words. She is a total boss.”

Best One-Off

Another close category, with the intriguing events that were Penning Perfumes (exploring scents through poetry and vice-versa) and Poetry Parnassus (an almost unprecedented conglomeration of poets from around the globe) coming in joint second. Penning perfumes was called “innovative, bold, mixing genres and going outside poetry audiences to engage through use of the senses with a wider audience” while Poetry Parnassus was praised for being “a once in a life time gathering of poetry and poets and community and sharing and wisdom.”

Also in the running was Poetry Polaroid (mapping Edinburgh through poetry) that was “a beautiful concept that drew a lot of people into exploring the city and thinking about it in different ways”, while Binders Full of Women (beautifully hand-made binder celebrating poetry of writers who identify as female, trans, intersex or gender-neutral) that was “urgent, organised and awesome: a combination of creative publication and lively gatheration, with a side order of campaigning poetics”.

But the winner was the massive nationwide platform that was Shake the Dust. A mixture of performances, workshops and other events, it gave a platform to young people across the UK to explore poetry in a way that “visibly changed young lives, connecting the poetry and spoken word scenes around the globe with new rising stars. Total brilliance.”  In fact, several people commented on the power of the event that was “really changing young people’s lives through poetry”, that “provided so many opportunities for so many young people who were able to come together for a unique and special event on such a large open scale. it changed many lives” and that was “bringing together the disparate youth in art and spoken word; an undervalued gift”

Overall: “An amazing celebration of the voice of youth”

saboteur awards - one-off

Best Spoken Word Show

Some truly wonderful shows of different kinds were celebrated in this category, from the Wandering Word Stage that brings poets to new crowds at various festivals and provides “a marvellous sanctuary in the daytime and a hubbub of insanity at night”, to Dirty Great Love Story‘s fusion of verse and theatre, winning a Fringe First, touring to New York and according to one voter being “truly awesome inventive ninjas and made me cry”. And Emergency Poet (Deborah Alma) who provides rhymes in a crisis from a real ambulance: “The world’s first and only emergency poetry service, in a genuine 1960s ambulance, do you really need to ask why it should win?”

Runner up, Lucy Ayrton: Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry (a selection of feminist fairytales and dissection of the power of children’s stories) got a lot of love, one memorable remark saying she “not only harnesses the seductive power of fairytales to make powerfully incisive and beautifully made points about gender and society, but also she has lovely hair”

But the winner was Whistle by Martin Figura, a heartbreaking, yet uplifting, tale drawn from his own childhood that has toured throughout the UK and abroad. “It made me want to cry and I never want to cry except in the bank” said one fan, while others commented that this “Immensely personal tale of tragic upbringing yet hugely enjoyable” and that it “Invaded my dreams and will stay with me forever”. It’s a show that truly seems to have matched content to performance, with audiences saying: “Whistle is a bravura performance and a valuable text that makes no concessions to simple delivery but is delivered with great dramatic conviction.”

Finally, the comment that perhaps most sums it up is this one: “The most heartening true story of human resilience told in stunning poems I’ve ever seen in such an intense, understated show.”

 saboteur awards - spoken word show

Best Regular Spoken Word Night

It was a running joke on the night that we would repeatedly refer to categories as having been ‘an incredibly close race’ or having gone ‘right down to the wire’. This was not one of those categories, the winner of Best Regular Spoken Word Night was clear and deserved.

That is not to say the other nominees didn’t put up a fight, Come Rhyme with Me (blend of food and poetry) earned plaudits because “the poetry is consistently amazing both from the headliners and the open-mic-ers. Plus it’s worth going simply for the food!” While Hammer & Tongue Oxford (founding branch of the national network of slam poetry events) was praised for its “friendly and funny organizers, great community, and excellent performers”. Inky Fingers (inventive and inviting Edinburgh based collective) “provides a welcoming and open space for new spoken word artists whilst also showcasing some top spoken word talent to inspire”.

The runner up, Jibba Jabba (multi-disciplinary and superbly supportive open mic in Newcastle) really looked like giving the winners a run for their money (read: rosette) for a while with their “great performers, great venue, great audience & words that sear into your chest & stay with you for days”.

But in the end there was only ever going to be one winner: Bang! Said the Gun, whose anarchically fun and involving events have consistently raised the bar for poetry events. As the voters said “BSTG show us all how it should be done – fun and eclectic and challenging and loud and quiet and generous. They’ve also mastered the fact that poetry nights should be engaging to look at as well as listen to!”.

It’s an event that voters pointed out isn’t just good, but is also always colossal fun: “Rock and roll poetry, why shouldn’t it win?!” Plus, it always gets the audience going: “Let’s shake, rattle and roll with poetry. Need I say more. Absoposifrigginlutely BANGTASTIC!!! The best show for miles.”

Finally, Bang! Is such a unique night because it opens poetry up to new audiences: “Weekly and sometimes on the telly too. Poetry’s best chance of a tv breakthrough.” and because it “makes poetry electric and sexy”.

saboteur awards - regular spoken word night

All very deserved winners and nominees, plus a fantastic night. Can’t wait for next year to do it all again!

Advertisements

Saboteur Awards 2013: The Shortlist

In All of the Above, Saboteur Awards on April 1, 2013 at 12:09 am

Your Pick of this Year’s Best Indie Lit!

VOTING IS NOW CLOSED!

Once a year, to mark our birthday, we at Sabotage like to give out some awards to the publications we’ve most enjoyed during the year. This year, we want YOU to vote for the winners in twelve different categories.

After over 2000 votes, voting is now closed! Winners will be announced on 29th May at the Book Club, London. It’s going to be a big celebration of indie lit in all its glory and we’d love it if you could attend. There’ll also be performances, a mini-book fair, music from LiTTLe MACHINe and our very own critique booth.

Here’s what happens next:

  1. Voting is now closed!
  2. Buy a ticket to the awards ceremony/birthday bash.

Please find the shortlist below, which consists of the top 5 nominations in each of the 12 categories, with links to their reviews in Sabotage.*

*Reviewing or featuring all of these works (through interviews for instance) is a work-in-progress which we hope to achieve by the time of the event. Obviously, it is quite a monumental task in a short time, so we appreciate any help from past, present and future reviewers in achieving this, as well as the cooperation of nominees!

Many congratulations to all those who made the shortlist!

In no particular order:

Best Novella

Synthetic Saints by Jason Rolfe (Vagabondage Press)
Holophin by Luke Kennard (Penned in the Margins)
Count from Zero to One Hundred by Alan Cunningham (Penned in the Margins)
The Middle by Django Wylie (Twentysomethingpress.com)
Controller by Sally Ashton (Dead Ink)

Best spoken word performer

Raymond Antrobus
Dan Cockrill
Emma Jones
Vanessa Kisuule
Fay Roberts

Most innovative publisher

Burning Eye
Unthank Books
Sidekick Books
Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press
Penned in the Margins

Best short story collection

 The Syllabus of Errors by Ashley Stokes (Unthank Books)
My Mother Was An Upright Piano by Tania Hershman (Tangent Books)
Fog and Other Stories by Laury A. Egan (Stone Garden)
All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten by Tony Williams (Salt Publishing)
The Flood by Superbard (Tea Fuelled)

Best poetry pamphlet

Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman (Annexe Magazine)
Body Voices by Kevin Reid (Crisis Chronicles Press)
Lune by Sarah Hymas (self-published)
Songs of Steelyard Sue by J.S.Watts (Lapwing Publications)
Lowlifes, Fast Times & Occasionally Love by Lawrence Gladeview (Erbacce Press)

Best ‘one-off’

Penning Perfumes
Shake the Dust
Binders full of Women
Poetry Polaroid (Inky Fingers Collective)
Poetry Parnassus

Best Spoken Word show

‘Whistle’ by Martin Figura
‘Dirty Great Love Story’ by Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh
Wandering Word Stage
Emergency Poet
‘Lullabies to Make your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

Best magazine

Alliterati
Lummox
Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts
Rising
Armchair/Shotgun

Best regular Spoken Word night
Bang said the Gun (London)
Hammer and Tongue (Oxford)
Jibba Jabba (Newcastle)
Inky Fingers (Edinburgh)
Come Rhyme with Me (London)

Best poetry anthology

The Centrifugal Eye’s 5th Anniversary Anthology (ed. E.A. Hanninen)
Rhyming Thunder – the Alternative Book of Young Poets (Burning Eye)
Sculpted: Poetry of the North West (ed. L. Holland and A. Topping)
Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot (English PEN)
Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins)

Best fiction anthology
Unthology, volume 3 (Unthank Books)
Post-Experimentalism (Bartleby Snopes)
Best European Fiction 2013 (Dalkey Archive)
Front lines (Valley Press)
Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (Salt Publishing)

Best mixed anthology

Estuary: a Confluence of Art & Poetry (Moon and Mountain)
Pressed by Unseen Feet (Stairwell Books)
Still (Negative Press)
Silver Anthology (Silver Birch Press)
Second Lives (Cargo Press)

Edinburgh Reviews Day 7 (07/08/12) part 1: Oddlie, Charlie Dupré Presents the Tales of Shakey P, Perle, Other Voices: Alternative Spoken Word

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 10, 2012 at 10:51 pm

– reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

These are the last of the Edinburgh reviews from Sabotage’s Performance Editor James Webster and his stalwart reviewer Dana Bubulj. We had a great time in Edinburgh, saw some amazing spoken word artists and reviewed 35 shows. And although this means we mightn’t  have new bumper-reviews every day, we’ve got some people on the ground at the Fringe, ready to catch the things we’ve missed (although, still no competitive crop dusting).

If you haven’t checked out the previous reviews then you can find them here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 part 1, Day 4 part 2, Day 5, Day 6 part 1, Day 6 part 2.

Oddlie

From Bag of Beans Productions, this was a stunning piece of one woman (with occasional instrumentation as background) spoken word/poetry/theatre, narrated, sung and performed by Aleshea HarrisSet in a “city of garbage heaps”, we follow a quiet girl grown up an outsider compelled by seeing some particularly great oration in the town centre very reminiscent of the civil rights rhetoric to find her own voice/magic. She does this with the help of another outcast, Sasha, an old woman suffering from the “disappearing disease” (an AIDS analogy) who used to be a Griot herself (“I was a tsarina of rhyme, a princess of powerful plosives”). The characters are compelling, with fantastic and distinct voices and mannerisms and the acting is brilliant, not to mention a wonderfully lyrical script.

It had some fantastic commentary on the process of finding a poetic voice, a process not for the faint-hearted, and the cathartic finding of expression that evolves from finding the “imperative” in life (rather than the simply “important”), writing and performing as separate steps does not make this piece a simple poetry version of training montage: it does not come easily, and the resolutions are painful but right and beautiful. The characters served as good contrasts to each other, particularly as the play progresses. Oddlie’s final soliloquy is a thing of beauty, dedicated to life, to poetry and to her friend that mustn’t be missed.

Star Rating: 5/5

Oddlie is on at 11.45 at Venue 13 from 9-18th August (not 13th). GO SEE IT.  

Charlie Dupré Presents: The Stories of Shakey P

Rap is just a form of poetry, right?

Well, yeah, but there’s often reluctance on both sides of the Spoken Word/Hip-Hop divide who see poetry as stuffy or who look down on rap as ‘not proper art’, so it’s refreshing to hear Charlie Dupré point out the similarities between the forms (highlighting the similarity between 5-beat bars in rap and iambic pentameter) in this rap-infused poetic history lesson.

Dupré’s lyrically inventive re-imaginings of Shakespearean plays (and one Marlowe play) are really well done; his spitfire rhymes and rhythms make the theatre of the pieces come alive and give them a modern relevance. He teases out parallels between the subject matter of ‘Shakey P’ and modern hip-hop with a light touch, especially effective in his take on Othello (covering Eminem’s ‘Stan’), the classic tale of obsession, rivalry and sexual jealousy transferring very well to a hip-hop context.

There are some dips though: his takes on Much Ado and Macbeth are still good fun, but compared to his other pieces come across as a little prosaic, mainly just recounting the plot, albeit with excellent lyrics and interesting framing devices (Much Ado is done as a wedding speech, while Macbeth recalls all the decisions that led to his death in a clever take on causality).

But the rest of his material really lifts the show, from the amazing rap-battle between Shakespeare and Marlowe that is incredibly effective and hilarious in the way it recreates them as rival school MC’s, with amazing Shakespearean insults and theatre jokes (‘hate to break it to you mate, but no-one really rates The Jew of Malta), to his awe-inspiring take on Hamlet (where Hamlet’s madness is personified in an aggressive and cocky rapper-style voice, pouring lyrical fire into Hamlet’s ear), the show breathes life into these timeless tales.

Star Rating: 4/5

Charlie Dupré presents: The Stories of Shakey P is on at 12.30pm at The Banshee Labyrinth, 4th-25th August

 

Perle

Dancing Brick’s ‘live comic book’ was part mime, part play, part comic book, part interactive theatre and a truly touching tale of loss and grief. Myself, I think of it as an ‘Unspoken Word’ show.

A slightly oblique take on the medieval poem of the same name by the Gawain Poet, the tale was told entirely by a silent character using narration, sound and cartoon from chunkily retro television set to tell his fractured narrative. He uses some really inventive and well timed physicality, hands disappearing behind the TV to be shown on screen, and an incredibly fun scene where he makes a sandwich on the screen.

He also used effective written instruction to lure the audience onstage, using them as characters in the narrative, and even converses with an audience member using dialogue on the screen (hilariously mismatched).

This funny and forlorn show may not be for everyone, the oddball silent character and disparate narrative could put a few off, but the audience on the day found it enchanting and heartbreaking and I couldn’t agree more.

Star Rating: 5/5

Perle is on at 1.45 at the Assembly Roxy, 2nd-25th August (not the 13th)

 

Other Voices: Alternative Spoken Word Cabaret

Today’s Other Voices had:

Fay Roberts in her absolute element with a gorgeously sensuous poem to a mermaid lover, for whom she’d “turn sailor”. It had some lovely imagery, such as casting nets to “catch the moonlight” and the rhythm of the sea that throws itself again and again; this was a delight. Her later poem ‘Thanatos and Eros’ was a fabulous short lesson in the difficulties of various insults to carve into a car in runes and her last, ‘Dedication’, on struggling with queer stereotypes and finding her “own colours” was a nice way to address lesbian culture.

Sarah Thomasin had a great take on David Starkey’s racist comments on the riots with ‘Mind Your Language’, with some nice commentary on the evolution of spoken word (“language RIP as we RP”). ‘Going Nowhere’ was another nice take on community dialect (cab drivers using transport metaphors) that sadly fell for easy jokes (“friends all had ride [on bus/girlfriend]”). Her ‘Stand off at Cashpoint’, with yells of “Withdraw!” was a cute modern Western. ‘Normal’ was another similarly simplistic subversion: where the dysfunctional families were not as “strange” as families where people could be trusted. She ended on a battle rap response to defend her fondness for poetic structure, in a witty reminder that raps are forms too, despite people’s aversion to learning at school as it wasn’t cool.

Alison Brumfitt had some comic poems that could have been a bit more fluid. She had an exuberantly filthy take on chocolate vs sex (where she’d “rather have a shag”) and a serious point on the absurdity of sex-ed classes both coming too late and with no focus on mental health, coupled with the useless analogy of condoms on brooms (whose constant rigidity make poor stand-ins). Unfortunately, the point of emotional wellbeing/healthy relationships was lost in the advice on having “shagged a nutter” (sigh). Her other poem had the strongest content, although was a bit stumbly. It took on gender stereotypes and their use solely as creating insecurity and thus markets for advertisers, calling on us to truly own our own body.

Mika Coco argued that any music/poetry was effective (be it “Dylan or Bieber”) if it reached people and elicited emotions. That said, his introduction was somewhat offensive (and against the event’s raison-d’etre) and as such, didn’t endear himself to me (or the audience).

Chella Quint finished the night with a Sesame Street style sex ed song on menstruation, with a trip through the cycle that included “they float on your vagina on a RIVER OF BLOOD” in the chorus. Just a bit cheering.

And some familiar voices:

For the occasion, Harry Baker performed his Man Poem on traditional masculinity and James Webster‘s somewhat primal love story ‘Long Ago’ suited the catacomb venue. Lucy Ayrton‘s ‘Fuck You Corporate Land’ was appropriately full of repressed frustration, ‘Al is not really a Vegetarian’ was sad about nice mackerel being dead and Tarquin (from her show) is still a great set piece.

Performers Star Rating: 3/5 for a mixed bag, but certainly a fun event.

Other Voices: Alternative Spoken Word Cabaret is on at 2.50pm at the Banshee Labyrinth from 9th-25th August (not Wednesdays)

Edinburgh Reviews Day 6 part 2 (06/08/12): Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart, Flea Circus Open Slam

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 8, 2012 at 6:53 pm

– reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

This week Sabotage’s Performance Editor James Webster, and contrary reviewer Dana Bubulj, are up in Edinburgh taking in the Fringe Festival. While they’re there, they are trying to review as much Spoken Word as they possibly can, as well as a few other things that catch their eye (and fall vaguely within our purview, e.g. stand-up-orienteering)

Midsummer Night’s Dream

This Drunk Tank production set the play in a Post-apocalypse, where the characters come from Athens Bunker and music, clothing and technology seems to have stagnated in the Forties. This as a concept drew us in, and it’s a shame that a lot of its potential was wasted.

Titania’s rendition of ‘Summertime’ was delightfully decadent and the old-style film-competition of the Mechanicals was a nice nod to the era, but the setting wasn’t fully utilised. Oberon’s court were decked as soldiers, using sleep gas at the end, and the ‘lover’s remedy’ was clearly radioactive, but more could have been done to incorporate the theme.

The acting was great and the direction showed some deft touches, really managing to hit all the humour of the play; Helena in particular was fantastic. The Jazz Age wasted fairies of Titania’s court were also a nice take on the otherworldliness of Faerie, and the truculence of Puck was hilarious. As such, it was great fun, if missing some tricks.

Star Rating: 3/5

Midsummer Night’s Dream is on at 5.45 at Paradise in St Augustine’s from 4th-27th Aug (not 13th or 20th)

Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart

Richard Tyrone Jones has been a driving force behind the burgeoning Spoken Word scene at the Fringe this year, and his own offering chronicles his problems with heart failure. From the unexpected beginnings just after his 30th birthday to his near-death experience (spoiler: he didn’t die), the show gives us all the fascinating (and sometimes disgusting) details.

And it is fascinating. The show is like a ventricle clogged with interesting facts and gobbets of medical information and NHS anecdotes (some flattering, some not). You come away with a much enlightened view of how the heart works (or more specifically, doesn’t work) and possibly a sudden sense of paranoia at how badly and suddenly your body can go wrong (encouraged by RTJ’s song detailing all the genetic problems you could inherit, to the tune of Tom Lehrer’s Elements song, which is very well done).

There’s not a lot of poetry in the show, but what there is, is well done and Jones’s prose-poem style means some of the poetry goes unnoticed, but certainly enriches the show. And Richard’s illness, hospitalisation and eventual slow recovery is a powerful and inspiring narrative, with a great structure. The show’s use of whimsical drawings that are projected over Jones, creating characters and sets is also really well used and draw the audience into the action.

There’s a lot of black comedy, which may not be to everyone’s taste, and some gross-out humour (that wasn’t really to mine), but it’s well done and fits the show, which ends of a touching piece appreciating life and a final tribute to those with heart problems who won’t recover.

Star Rating: 4/5

Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart is on at 6pm at the Banshee Labyrinth, 4th-25th Aug (Not 13th or 19th)

Flea Circus Open Slam

This night’s slam had good mix of subjects, each allowed 5min with some grace period and called-out scores that often leaves scores higher than needed.

Winning poets (and feature):

The highlight of the night was Katherine McMahon (whose chapbook will soon be reviewed on Sabotage) with a lovely poem about a good break-up turning to friendship. It had some lovely imagery, particularly feelings that “filigreed our veins with time”. With a score of 28, she goes through to the final on 14th August.

Fay Roberts’ ‘Credit where it’s Due’ had a nice thread of money as a debilitating addiction, with a cry to arms against banks full of “electronic mockeries of life”. It was quite quiet, however, and a little stumbly. (27.1)

Harry Giles‘ jazzy Love Poem was also good, with a nice use of rhythm matching frantic feelings and compulsion that only briefly became indistinct. (27)

Feature Jack Heal performed ‘The Relationship’, an origin story of his show’s character (Murderthon reviewed here). It was a bawdy story replete with relentless puns (“she was shrieking like a virgin or some other Madonna song”) that went down well.

Others:

James Webster’s ‘What are you thinking’ (reviewed often) had a nice touch of updating its political content to be more topical, and Lucy Ayrton’s ‘I don’t hate men, I just hate you’ was a fantastic put-down to dismissive men with “big, hard, throbbing degrees in economics”. David Duff’s school disco piece was sweet, with conversation mishaps and first kisses. Least favourite had to be Alec Beattie’s played for laugh poem about squirrels raping pigeons (sigh).

Performance Star Rating: 3/5 (a nice enough mixed bag)
The Night:
4/5 (less formal than most slams and slickly hosted; chaotic fun)

Flea Circus Open Slam is on in the Banshee Labyrinth at 7.30 from 4-14th August.

Edinburgh Reviews Day 4, part 2: They Came With Outer Script, Other Voices: Alternative Spoken Word and Flea Circus Open Slam

In Festival, Performance Poetry on August 5, 2012 at 8:15 pm

– reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj –

Last week we reviewed a selection of Edinburgh Previews. We enjoyed them so much that this week Sabotage’s Performance Editor James Webster, and curmudgeonly reviewer Dana Bubulj, are up in Edinburgh taking in the Fringe Festival. While they’re there, they are trying to review as much Spoken Word as they possibly can, as well as a few other things that catch their eye (and fall vaguely within our purview, e.g. no all-body yodelling)

They Came With Outer Script

This improv show from Asterix Theatre was full of amused giggles, ridiculous guffaws and the occasional big belly laugh. Performing an improvised B Movie they used audience suggestion, amusingly daft sound effects and a small child’s balloons to craft a suitably silly story about firefighters, arson and princesses.

While some of the improv was shaky, and the performers definitely could have been more confident and quicker on their feet, they had enough imaginative improvising to tease a lot of comedy out of the ideas. If they’d been a bit more vocally assertive, stumbled a bit less and the ‘director’ had controlled the proceedings with a bit more incisiveness it could’ve been great. But their enthusiasm and self-referential humour means it’s still a lot of fun.

Star Rating: 3/5

The Came With Outer Script is on at 1.05pm at Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, 3rd-11th August.

 

Other Voices: Alternative Spoken Word

The brainchild of Fay Roberts, organiser of Cambridge’s Hammer & Tongue chapter, the point of Other Voices is to showcase the voices that are seldom represented in the Spoken Word genre. It was really cool to be a gig where the female performers outnumbered the middle class white men, and the format of 2 guest poets (Lucy Ayrton and Ruth E Dixon), open mic and then a feature poet (Mark Grist), all with Fay’s smooth hosting and some of her delectable poetry.

Fay’s jazzy beat-style opening was a lovely lyrical slice of nostalgia, while her ‘I Want More’ is a right-on indictment of how women’s magazines attempt to dictate appearance and lifestyle (‘I’d rather buy drums than a chemical peel’), with nice nods to anti-consumerism and exploring the idea of media using such magazines as a smokescreen to distract from other issues. Her final piece, using audience clapping in a 4/4 beat, was also ace, as Fay hit the beats with staccato lyricism, crafting an electric poem of streets and crowds.

Lucy Ayrton performed ‘I Want Never Gets’, following an ever-climbing progression of the lessons we learn growing up as we realise the world gets ever more unfair (‘and then I learned the law, so I didn’t need to tell right from wrong any more’), and summarising the ways in which she wants more from the world, covering a variety of issues insightfully and amusingly. While ‘Missing You’ was a sweet and clever little poem with some lovely lines (‘I can craft a text message with the love of a jeweller’) and her poem ‘The Nightingale’ is a haunting and powerful story of ‘the sweetest affair’ between a lady and a knight, complete with her silky singing voice. Lucy’s show Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry is also on at the Banshee Labyrinth until the 14th (reviewed here).

Ruth E Dixon had some amusing poems on her children, ‘School Hour’s Breakdown’ was very funny with some great lines (‘Look at me, I’ve done a wee on the kitchen floor! Look at me, I’m three!’). She introduced her final poem by wondering why lots of her colleagues think she’s a feminist and after the poem I honestly wasn’t sure myself. ‘A Weather Girl’s Got to Have Tits’ was a sad piece of objectification, the playful tone and language of which (‘with the help of her rack, this cold spell’s less cack’) couldn’t make up for the way it reduced women to their bodily parts. It felt like something out of a Lad’s Mag and didn’t sit with the event’s mission statement at all.

Open Mic

There was only one open mic’er on the day, and that was Alec, who did an entertaining poem about bus banners arguing about religion, and Edinburgh’s new tram arriving to be hailed as a saviour.

Feature

Mark Grist (whose solo show Rogue Teacher we have already reviewed and is well worth seeing) gave a really entertaining set, his grubby love poem to the city of Peterborough (‘enjoy romantic nights out at the dog track’) is a lot of fun, with his affectionate vision of a town that may not be amazing, but is clearly his. His piece on upper-class condescending attitudes towards teaching is also a great piece, a big screw you to people who believe the idea of Broken Britain, and also an inspiring take on the effort teaching takes, but the important changes it can make. An amazingly sleazy and grimy sounding character piece followed, on male attitudes towards girls in clubs, and it was so effective I felt the need to shower afterwards, while his final poem ‘A Girl Who Reads’ is one that I have some problems with, but it’s still very well performed and a great tonic to Dixon’s earlier sexism.

For this style of show it seems unfair to judge just by the performers of the day, so we’re giving two scores: one for the show’s format and mission, the other for the day’s performers.

Performers’ Star Rating: 3/5 (Ruth E Dixon dragged it way down)

Show Star Rating: 4/5 (really well executed show with an admirable mission statement and FREE SWEETS)

Other Voices: Alternative Spoken Word is on at 2.50pm at the Banshee Labyrinth 4th-25th August (not Wednesdays), FREE

 

Flea Circus Open Slam

Another Tea Fuelled Art creation, this event was fun and fast-paced, embracing the slam format with gusto.

Lucy Ayrton popped up again (fresh from Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry) and hosted with slightly flustered efficiency, handling the audience with practiced charm. She also acted as ‘sacrificial poet’, and her ‘I Don’t Hate Men, Just You’ was a tongue-trippingly amusing and perceptive defence of feminism.

The Slam

Kevin Acott’s poems had nice lines (‘cherry breath of encouragement’) but he wasn’t practiced enough and his two pieces (one on fancying a riding instructor, the other on a ponderous park walk) were a little overlong and lacked focus. Score: 14

Robert Alcott’s piece the Spanish occupy movement (15th of May) was a cool piece on the unglamorous reality and frustrated potential of revolution, but it felt like it never got going and a forgetful performance didn’t help. Score: 16

Hannah Elwick’s poem to a lover, continually promising to better herself was awesomely sad, her repeated ‘I promise’ providing a continued punch to each self-erasing declaration. Could’ve done with a bit more to drive the point home. Score: 19

Henry Raby is currently performing Letter to the Man from the Boy at the Underbelly. His piece reimagining a breakup as various different film genres was clever, well-performed and sadly amusing. Score: 22

Matthew West’s ‘Anametics’ was a great exercise in wordplay and language, crafting a 26-line piece, in which each line uses only words starting with that letter of the alphabet, about animals. Great performance, but felt pointless to me. Score: 23

Result: West wins by a point, but Raby goes through to the final on the 14th as West won’t be in Edinburgh.

Feature: Richard Tyrone Jones, the poetic giant who organised the entire Spoken Word section of the Fringe gave a set filled with surreal humour, occasional filth (especially his poem on Richard Dawkins’s sex life) and a poem called ‘Heartstopper’ (from his show Richard Tyrone Jones has a Big Heart) that had a dangerous frenetic energy and brilliantly painful language to it.

Performers’ Star Rating: 3/5

Show Star Rating: 4/5

The Flea Circus Open Slam is on at 7.3opm at Banshee Labyrinth, 4th-14th August, FREE!

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

FINAL

  • 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)

WINNER: ADAM KAMMERLING
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.

Bristol

  • 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)

Hackney

  • 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)

Hammer & Tongue Cambridge featuring Anna Freeman

In Performance Poetry on March 26, 2012 at 10:26 am

@ The Fountain Inn, Cambridge

08/03/2012

£6.50-£2

reviewed by Seán Hewitt

When I arrive at a poetry slam, I usually anticipate having to execute a kind of soul-splitting which I’ve nearly perfected now. It goes like this: the outer-me sits listening to cringingly-confessional poetry read in a faux-‘working-class’ accent, as the inner-me writhes like a foetus in my torso trying to cover its ears and saying ‘NO MORE! PLEASE, NO MORE!’ Thankfully, I was spared (for the most part) from undergoing such a procedure at tonight’s Hammer & Tongue: Cambridge. This evening’s slam often relied on comedy, and tongue-in-cheek melancholy, as opposed to the more common ‘earnestness’ that I’ve come to expect from more amateur slams.

Hammer & Tongue is a much-lauded night, and this evening’s event comes at the end of a two-week tour featuring guest poet Anna Freeman, who really stole the show. But more on her later.

Let’s start at the start.

The upstairs room above The Fountain is bare and spiritless, and there’re very few people here when I arrive to give any sense of atmosphere. In fact, at one point, when the host, Fay Roberts, was doing some plugs for a show in another venue, someone shouted out, with a tone of desperation, ‘Will it be warmer there??’ Okay, so the room might not be great, I thought, but that’s not why I’m here.

The trademark Hammer & Tongue banner stands in the performance area, promising professionalism, and I get a nice ego-boost when I’m asked to be a judge for the slam (anyone who knows me knows judging is my forte), so things are looking up. The two supporting poets tonight are Anthea Lee (the first Cambridge slam finalist) and Jessie Durrant.

Anthea set the evening off on a shocking and bleak tone, giving a starkly emotional performance of a poem about sexual abuse; but she shrugged the seriousness off in favour of comedy in her next few pieces.

Then Jessie, a poet who almost dances out her own poems, came onstage. She tackled serious issues of social isolation head-on, a brave move which paid off in places, but at other times led her to saying things that were a little obvious. There was a continuous ‘slam-style’ repetitive intonation in her voice which quickly started to grate, but she managed to counterbalance it with a husky quality which made her voice seem on the edge of breaking. She put it down to a cold and, if that’s the case, then her illness was fortuitous, actually working to her advantage.

Then came the slam

And my time to shine like the star I am (an unexpected rhyme, I assure you). Actually, I was so afraid of seeming bitchy that I spent most of the judging time asking the old woman next to me what she thought, so I could offset the blame. The thing is, the people in this room (including the ‘judges’) are so friendly, so nice, that I don’t think that harsher (or what I call ‘realistic’, ahem) judgment would go down too well. In fact, at one point I gave a slammer 8.6/10 and was booed for my harshness. Seriously.

The slam only featured two poets (well, three if you count the guy that got up to ‘freestyle’ but then sat down without performing, blaming it, 8-Mile-style, on nerves), and the first was up and off so quickly that I didn’t catch her name, though she did stop long enough to confess herself to be a ‘poetry virgin’ before launching into an admirable performance for a first-timer.

Then came Anthony Fairweather, dressed like a modern-day Wyndham Lewis, who gave an easy but humorous poem about the impending and inevitable disaster of the London Olympics.

Overall, the slam was okay. Nothing to write home about.

Anna Freeman reminded the audience what performance poetry was all about.

Anna (tonight’s guest feature) shone out like a beacon at the end of a night that had balanced out at palatable mediocrity. Her poetry is well-considered, genuinely hilarious, and always leaves room for poignancy. We get a real sense of who she is from her poems, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all about her. She takes us on a whistle stop tour through births, break-ups and sex, but none of it was cringy.

When I go to a poetry slam, I like to keep myself a little tally of ‘onstage orgasms’ (where, unsurprisingly, the poet pants their way through a poem about sexual climax), but there were only two this evening (yes, poetry-slam virgins, I said only two) and neither came from Anna, who managed to get across all the tingling sexual desire of her situations without collapsing into easy cliché.

Summary

Fay, the host, did a brilliant job of pulling together the pieces, but there was a little incoherency in the evening, and a wild variation in talent (always a risk in an open slam). But the crowd seemed to be enjoying it, and the barman especially seemed to have had his eyes opened to the world of performance poetry. But Anna’s superb performance really highlighted that there was something missing in parts of the evening; and that was a lack of wit, a lack of real poetic invention, and so a lack of real inspiration.