Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Hammer & Tongue’

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!


Top Spoken Word Moments of 2012

In Festival, Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on February 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

– listed by James Webster

As the year is (fairly) recently ended and a new one begun, it seems a reasonable (ok, fairly late) time to round up some of the Spoken Word events and reviews that have made this such a successful year for Sabotage.

Top 5 Most Viewed

1. Edinburgh Coverage – by far and away the most viewed Spoken Word reviews were from Sabotage’s coverage of the Edinburgh Fringe. 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, Day 7 part 1, Day 7 part 2. Phew, that was a lot of reviews: special mention should go to the most viewed day featuring: Ben Mellor’s ‘Anthropoetry’, Lucy Ayrton’s ‘Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry’ and Phill Jupitus’s ‘Porky the Poet – 27 Years On’

2. Hammer & Tongue National Slam Final!  – a wealth of poets competing from all over the UK with Adam Kammerling emerging as the worthy winner and UK National Slam Champion.

3. WASTED – by Kate Tempest – Tempest’s first play blended theatre and poetry into a heady intoxication of words.

4. The Stoke Newington Literary Festival – a bevy of events, speakers and performers all descending on Stoke Newington in a myriad of Literary goodness.

5. Edinburgh International Women’s Day All-Female Slam – a brilliant idea to promote female poets in the Spoken Word scene in a medium still dominated by men.

My Personal Top 5

On a more subjective note, here are a few of the events that I’ve most enjoyed this past year.

1. Nth Entities by Anna Le and Phil Manzanera – I’ve long been an Anna Le fan, and hearing her complexly evocative language soaring around Manzanera’s dizzying guitar created a unique duet of words and music.

2. Hammer & Tongue Oxford: Valentine’s Day Slam featuring Dizraeli and Superbard – Sabotage didn’t actually review this one, but it was a phenomenal evening of wordplay, love and gorgeousness. Dizraeli’s set was stupefying in its verbal ingenuity and poignancy, while Superbard’s interactive love story was a monument to his storytelling prowess and creativity.

3. Once Upon a Time in Space by the Mechanisms – an event of storytelling and music, twisting well-known fairytales into a dark sci-fi setting that frightened and delighted.

4. Dirty Great Love Story by Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna – full of memorable characters, hilarious wordplay, and all tied together by the charming performances of two outstanding poets.

5. Word Wrestling Federation Presents: Page Match 2 – bringing together my love of poetry and professional wrestling in a way I didn’t think possible. For all its flaws, this night was great fun; full of posturing, put-downs, poetry and larger-than-life performances.

Review: Hammer & Tongue Oxford 13/11/12

In Performance Poetry on February 2, 2013 at 10:00 am

– reviewed by James Webster


Hammer & Tongue’s new season continues …

Have I mentioned that I really like Hammer & Tongue? I’m sure I have. I must’ve done. Anyway, if I haven’t (or you haven’t seen my previous effusive reviews of Hammer & Tongue events) then I really do. One of the things I like most about H&T’s events is the quality of feature poets they tour round the country; indeed, I’ve found some of my favourite Spoken Word performers at their events, such as Kate Tempest, Disraeli and November’s feature Bohdan Piasecki.

Bohdan Piasecki – a man of poetical magnetism

The room hushes into silence. You can feel a tension in the air as every ear strains to hear and every eye is riveted to the stage. Bohdan has just taken the mic and immediately wrapped the entire room around his little finger with his heart-rendingly beautiful ‘Almost Certainly Impossible’. The poem was both chilling and hopeful: trying to see the beauty in a bomb’s explosion by describing the dance of atoms or calling it a ‘fiery flower you only see bloom once’; or imagining that someone somewhere was chronicling those lost as more than just a statistic, instead monitoring the minutiae of their life.  His imagery and metaphors mixed with and matched his meaning with perfect poignancy.

If the power of his words weren’t enough, his easy manner with the audience drew us into the world of his poetry, while his anecdotes (‘have you ever kicked down a door? I have and it’s the best thing I’ve done. BOOM, fuck you door!’, witticisms and wordplay elicited plenty of laughs. To put it simply, he held the audience rapt from the very first until the very breath of his performance.

He demonstrates a nice variety of styles and tones, too, flexing acrobatically between whimsical and slightly melancholic stories like ‘George and the Fog’, nostalgic and insightful pieces like ‘Of Kings and Wasps and Flowers’ and the sumptuous love poem ‘The Gift’ that wraps the city of Warsaw up in words and presents it to his partner.

I honestly felt a little bit in love with his words after that performance, but I’m fairly sure the rest of the audience were right there with me, so that’s ok.

Of course, Bohdan wasn’t the only feature of the evening, Vanessa Kisuule also gave a stellar set …

Vanessa Kisuule – offensively talented for someone still quite young …

Sabotage have actually reviewed Vanessa before (at the H&T National Finals and also a gig at The Tea Box) and our reviewers have always had lovely things to say, but this is the first time I’d heard her perform.

And … wow.

She’s got a charming way with words, spinning stories with feeling, poignancy and humour.

For example her poem ‘Strawberries’ wove together strands of naive sweetness (‘bizarre novelty of the word boyfriend tingling on my lips’), wistful regrets and amusing anecdote to tell a story of young love. All the while remaining self-aware enough to tease and poke fun of herself and how society teaches us to love.

Or there’s how she delves into her relationship with the work of Michael Jackson (it seems she’s an unrepentant fan) that ranges from teen awkwardness (‘Yeah, but he’s better than McFly, so shut up!’) to social criticism (‘you taught me we were all vultures, all of us’) and always bringing the piece back to a powerful emotional resonance. Particularly clever was how she used the language of his music to build up a poetry of kinship and then loss, while the image of he losing a glove and imagining that she’s channeling MJ is one that’s stuck with me.

While ‘Sex Education Class’ is an encapsulation of all the sexual pressure put on women in modern times and how potentially damaging it is, when you still feel like a ‘tourist in your own body’ because society doesn’t let you feel like you own it. It’s very stirring stuff and a very important message (though at points the piece seem to imply that anyone who does sexualise themselves is giving in, that it can never be their choice).

She mixes the personal and the social-political with equal emotion, intelligence, and equally good jokes.

The Slam

The H&T open slam is always something of an adventure: ably hosted by Tina Sederholm and Lucy Ayrton, it pits all comers against each other in a poetic deathmatch (without the death), and we get all different styles and subjects spilling out of the chaos. At this event, however, it was even more so for me as I was asked to be one of the five judges …

Oh the power, the sweet, corrupting power. Just thinking back to it is enough to illicit a small and evil giggle. Ahem, but seriously it’s a strange task, having to judge someone’s creative endeavours, while the audience try to sway you with cheers and boos, alternately casting you as their heroic spokesperson or as panto villain (depending on how much they agree with your score).

  • I first tried out this new found power on the sacrificial poet (like a sacrificial lamb, but with poetry) whose name sounded like ‘Del Boy‘. Apparently, he’s ‘met a lot of special women in [his] life’, but you wouldn’t guess it from the poem, a prosaic piece that managed to be both overly saccharine and overly objectifying.
  • Kicking off the slam proper was Rob, whose political spitfire rap-rhyming style was impressive, with some nice dirty and violent imagery, but he lost a lot of the words by not varying his delivery and it didn’t fit together as a poem.
  • Bill Frizzell‘s ‘Tip of My Tongue’ was a fun and comic poem in honour of Movember and cancer awareness. It elicited  a bunch of laughs, but could’ve done with some more original expression. 
  • Alex‘s ‘Totem’ was another political piece with a strong central metaphor, railing against show-democracy and social injustice, but it mixed too many metaphors and didn’t fit together coherently.
  • Reigning H&T champ Davey Mac was next with a piece that utilised conspiratorially quiet delivery and subtle rhyme; intelligent and painful in all the right ways.
  • Another H&T regular, Gulliver, was next and his piece on the ‘elephants under our bed’ had a strong surreal comedy running through it, and the elephants were possibly a metaphor for either an abusive relationship or yob culture … maybe? It was hard to tell and I seriously struggled to see any point.
  • Nick Short gave two pieces, first a concise and angry piece about the lies of food marketing. The second … was effective satire, but the over-exaggerated violence got really uncomfortable.
  • Sabotage Editor Claire Trévien was next; her ‘Introduction to My Love’ used academic language well to comically express love. But her performance was stilted and some of the jokes were more clever than funny.
  • Anne Domoney (who we know as part of Lashings of Ginger Beer) piece was a smart and quietly powerful dissection of feminism and the importance of speaking up when something bothers you. The faux-cheerfulness as she debunked the idea of ‘yes, I choose to get upset’ was a joy. But she could have developed the language more creatively.
  • Enrico Petrusso gave a breathily nightmarish poem that was freakily visceral and creepily well-phrased. He over-used the archaic language a bit though …
  • Micah rounded off the slam with a multi-part poem full of clever (if abstract) wordplay. He won over the audience with his warmth, light touch with comedy, and a thoughtful theme that just about came together from several disparate images.

Winner: Micah.

On judging: it’s truly an odd gig. And I’m fairly sure most of the audience and poets hated me for my harsh scores by the end; I found the key was to boo myself louder than the audience did, then it was all ok.


A fun slam that was outshone by two truly marvelous features. A really good night. Oh, and the next one’s coming up next Tuesday at the Old Fire Station. If you’re in Oxford then I definitely recommend it.


Review: Hammer & Tongue Brighton, 04/10/12

In Performance Poetry on October 8, 2012 at 9:42 pm

– reviewed by Michaela Ridgway

@ Brighton’s Komedia

“Poets are liars” – Plato (via James Burt)

Standing in the lengthening queue outside Brighton’s Komedia, I’m asked by the couple behind me if this is the right place for hammer & tong. Australian slang for putting your all into something, ‘to go at it hammer and tong’ comes from the world of blacksmiths, who hold flaming metal with tongs and bash it into shape. Hammer & Tongue is a kind of workshop for aspiring poets to bash their poems into shape, so I tell the couple that they are in the right place. I also tell them that it is tongue not tong.

The Komedia’s newly refurbished studio bar is packed as the lights go down and local short story writer, James Burt, takes the stage. Reminding the assembled crowd of Plato’s warning that all poets are liars, he implores us not to be fooled by the fraudulent words of those that are to follow him. His story, on the other hand – about a clown that kicks someone to death on a street corner somewhere in Brighton with outsized, soft-toed boots – is completely true. “The clown’s girlfriend gets bored and wonders off,” we’re told – an example of the drollery that characterizes James’ piece, and which makes up for the just-a-bit-less-than-fizzing delivery.

“The colour of lemons, marigolds, rubber ducks” Rob Auton

The success of Rob Auton‘s 20-minute elegy to yellow – an abridged version of his Yellow Show – hinges on its boldly limited palette (nearly everything is yellow) and an endearingly gauche stage presence.  Standing up there in a bright yellow coat (if I were a country, my coat would be a flag, flapping at the top of a giant biro), he makes a cocktail out of Berocca and lemons, then stuffs the drink with lots of yellow straws pulled from his back pocket. The finishing touch, a yellow cocktail umbrella, transcribes an arc through the air and descends – in slow motion – to the melodramatic 2001 Space Odyssey soundtrack, provided through a mobile phone held by H&T co-host Rosy Carrick, close-up to the microphone. The whole thing is utterly nutty and yellow and mesmerizing.

N.B. It should be said that the Yellow Show owes a debt to the colour maroon, which brings with it some joyously obvious rhymes – noon/room, my room/maroon – and the way it has of defining yellow’s yellowness by its own marooning otherness.

(And Rob Auton will continue the new H&T season at the Oxford slam on Tuesday 09/10/12 at The Old Fire Station Crisis Cafe)

The Slam “No sooner does one door shut, than another closes” – Misquote of an old saying

Next comes the ‘competitive’ bit of the evening that had made my companion, Neil, so reluctant to come. It’s a slam, ergo, some egos will get bruised. And once everyone has ‘passed the clap’ (a difficult thing to get rid of, but it does get the audience warmed up), the ‘sacrificial lamb’ poet is asked to take the stage. The sacrificial lamb poet is not in the actual slam; this is as an opportunity for judging teams in the audience to save the poets’ egos by practicing their judging skills (reliably dreadful, in my view, however much practice they get). Tonight it’s frequent slam winner, Robin Lawley, who runs the Brighton Poetry Society.

The open mic part of H&T is (by nature) very mixed ability; this is what makes it so good. And tonight we have a poem about begetting that began with a horse by Chris Parkinson (Chris is always good value for money); several beige, hip-hop/rap style poems strapped to their rhymes and dragged across three minutes; and a pretty good hip-hop/rap poem from Spliff Richard – delivered at break-neck speed – which wins the slam.

“Folk-rap, you Mother-flippers” Clayton Blizzard

Guitar slung round his neck, peaked cap worn rapper-style (apparently),  Clayton Blizzard sings us a song (he has a nice voice) called Sad Music is Uplifting, stopping abruptly between verses to whisper disturbing nothings in people’s ears, as he makes his way through the audience to the stage. It has a curiously disturbing effect on the atmosphere in the room. What an entrance.

In the pub afterwards, when I tell Clayton that I will be writing this (my first) review, he says that write-ups of acts at evening’s end can tend to get a bit scanty on detail. In this case, though, it is not too many pints, but too few words left to do justice to the fabulous and sometimes poignant middle section of Clayton’s performance.

Here’s how it ends, though: a group of lads that had traveled all the way from Hastings begin to leave in cartoon haste to catch their last train home. Clayton hops off the stage after them, and proceeds to sing them all the way out into the hallway, and maybe even out into the street. We gleefully applaud an empty stage. What an exit.

The Hosts

And so it is that the acts at Hammer & Tongue come and go; but the main reason I keep coming back – as, I suspect, others do – is co-hosts Michael Parker and Rosy Carrick, because they are clever, funny, quarrelsome, querulous, astonishing, sometimes a bit telling-offish (but only when absolutely necessary), and because between them they always, somehow, manage to keep the whole thing together.

(Michaela runs the monthly ‘Pighog Thursday’ poetry night at the Redroaster Coffee House in Brighton. For information on next month’s line-up, visit


Review: Hammer & Tongue Oxford Slam Final 12/06/2012

In Performance Poetry on July 2, 2012 at 3:32 pm

– reviewed by Neil Anderson –

Sabotage recently previewed the Hammer & Tongue Oxford final, and to follow up from that, Neil Anderson reviews the final itself!

Oxford’s Skylight Crisis cafe was packed to an extent I’d never before witnessed for the 2012 Oxford Hammer and Tongue final. This was the second Hammer and Tongue event I’ve attended, and perhaps oddly, the second time I’ve been handed a judge’s score book, on this occasion at least, according to host Tina Sederholm, because I’m “not swayed by the crowd.”

The Hosts – On the Road to Edinburgh

Tina Sederholm and co-host Lucy Ayrton moved things along briskly, keeping us entertained with their bickering. They opened proceedings with previews from their forthcoming shows. Tina invited us to ‘consider the cupcake’ (from her upcoming Edinburgh show ‘Eve and the Perfect Cupcake’), and her cries of ‘lick me!’ typify Tina’s naughty but nice approach to her craft. She really is my favourite flirtatious auntie and while she forgot the words to her piece a few times, she did so with a self-deprecating charm that took the pressure off of other performers.

Lucy’s ‘Let me be Lost’, from her forthcoming Edinburgh show ‘Lullabies to make your children cry’, was just mesmerising. Paul ‘Should have been a final contender’ Fitchett, explained it was about ‘not following the trail of breadcrumbs, but still wanting to know where it leads’ and I wish I could tell you more, but to be honest, I just sat there spellbound by one of Oxford’s most heart-breakingly gifted poets. So, just go and see her (and Tina) on 12th July at the Old Fire Station.

The Final! An epic battle of words, politics, rhyme and comedy:

Lucy and Tina retreated to the wings and the competition began. First on was Pete The Temp (whose one-man show Pete the Temp vs Climate Change was recently reviewed on Sabotage), who I once saw read a wonderfully theatrical piece about North Sea Oil called “YOU rely on ME!’”, after which, he insisted everyone raise their hands and stamp their feet in a cringe fest called ‘Angry Pedestrian’ whereupon I walked out. Guess which piece he performed tonight? He began with the ‘David Cameron’ rap, confirming his talent for mimicry, but repeated ‘Eton homey’ allusions (while garnering nuclear blasts of laughter from the audience) were as predictable as the right-on buttons being pushed. And when it came to his pedestrian rant, his rhythmical verbal quickness and talent for getting the audience involved won him points, but I just sat there exasperated.

Paul Askew meandered on next. The self-styled sex symbol of Oxford poetry offered the night’s riskiest moments with ‘Three Times a Lady”: ‘I remember, the first time I fell in love with you/ … you were getting that treatment thing/where the little fish eat the dead skin off your feet/Your face looked like you were having a dildo slowly/inserted into your vagina/and I thought, “I wish that dildo was my penis.”/ Paul’s sex symbol status hung in the balance, but his self-deprecatory style eventually won over the doubters with this deadpan and humorous tale. The follow up, ‘Catastrophe Cafe, took longer to get going, relying on absurdist dialogue exchanges for momentum, and only really half making its point by the end (personally I think this is one of the most beautiful, funny and poignant poems I’ve heard – Ed).

Next up was Aubrey Mvula. His first poem, ‘I am African’ slammed media reporting of the continent exclusively in terms of disaster. Effective parody, but lines like ‘the rivers of the mighty Nile flow deep within.’ and ‘my pride stands tall as the mighty baobab tree’, while it was a powerful message of reclamation, it risked offering an image as one-dimensional as the colonial attitudes being parodied. His second piece, about child sexual abuse was more earnest, but perhaps not that controversial (the 6.9 I gave him, though, seemed to be).

Moving from the worthy to the whimsical, we had the poetic maelstrom that is Anna McCrory. She delivered a thumping version of her high street shopping fable ‘The Wizard of Argos’, and an equally enthusiastic follow-up about the let-down factor inherent in feel-good movies. It was a slightly stop-start affair, with Anna pausing several times to retrieve her lines from the back of the stage and even leaping onto a chair at one point, but by the time she’d finally got hold of the plot, the laughs came slick and fast, and we were whooping along like characters in some corny Richard Curtis extravaganza.

After Anna’s flights of fancy, Davy Mac gave us a decidedly un-rose-tinted glimpse of reality. Ex merchant navy, big issue seller and as scouse as they come, Davy sets his stall out for society’s have-nots. His poetic schemes aren’t the greatest I’m sure he’d admit – knowing where the rhyme’s going to fall in each line puts a hell of lot of stress on the vocabulary to deliver. And mixing things up by throwing in a rap did little to alter the predictable format, even if it did get the crowd on his side. And his tale of homosexual encounters during his time in the forces was heartfelt and poignant. I enjoyed his set, but more in spite of the polemics than due to them.

About as far away from homeless ex-sailors as you might care to position yourself stood Mark Niel. I wondered for a moment what Mark was doing here. Consciously and unapologetically middle-class and giggling like a suburban scoutmaster entertaining the troop, I feared he was in for a judicial pasting. Nevertheless, by the time he’d nailed Iams cat food and poetry in ‘my cat’s an Iambic cat,’ and delivered a wonderfully valedictory tale of first love with ‘Sweet 16’, the camp was well and truly on fire.

Dan Holloway is a talented writer and his early forays into poetry held promise. But, in Sabotage’s opinion, his attempts in previous performances to adopt an overtly ‘slam-rap’ style caused his delivery to seem over-performed. Dan throttled back the performance in ‘Mentalist’, his assault against mental health service cutbacks, allowing the poetry room to breathe, before building the pace towards the end with a rising sense of panic. ‘Hungerford Bridge’ meanwhile offered another tour of the seedy city underbelly that Dan’s so fascinated by, but is perhaps less convincing in a slam format then some of his other pieces.

And finally, to Neil Spokes, Oxfordshire pub landlord and I have to say it, Vic Reeves lookalike. And his first piece sounded a bit like Shooting Stars meets Splodgenessabounds, Neil roaring “Pint of Fosters and Errrrrrrrrr…’ followed by a list of your average Brit lout’s Top 10 tipples. It was cathartic no doubt, but in need of some polishing. He continued the weekend party theme with the more sobering ‘Neretva’, set against the shelling of Mostar. It didn’t quite hit the mark as, unlike his opener, Neil seemed slightly too removed from events.

The Dramatic Conclusion

Finally, for those who care to know: the three highest scorers were Dan Holloway, Davy Mac and Pete the Temp. Pete and Davy were called back for a final head to head and Davy, by now on his last legs, eventually won through, perhaps because, while the audience clearly admired Pete, it was Davy who gained their affection and respect.


Preview: Hammer & Tongue Oxford 2012 Final

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on June 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm

-preview by James Webster

This coming Tuesday the 12th of June sees the culmination of another year of Hammer & Tongue: Oxford with their Slam Final, pitting the winners of all 7 of this year’s heats against each other. Champion will slam against champion in an intriguing mix of established veterans and up-and-comers, youth and experience, with only one winner able to go on to the National Final (which if it is anything as exciting as this year’s finals at the Walton Music Hall, will be very special indeed).

As an added point of interest the winners will also be joined at this slam by the ‘Best of the Rest’, as the H&T team put all the runners up from this year into an online vote, allowing public opinion to decide which poet would take the ‘Wildcard’ spot in the final. After a close-run vote Neil Spokes emerged the victor!

With less than two days to go until the slam itself, Sabotage takes a look at each of the poets who will take to the stage to try and claim their spot in the national final.

October: Paul Askew

The self-styled ‘Official Sex Symbol of Oxford Poetry’, Paul booked the first place in the final by winning against stiff competition at the H&T February heat at Turl Street Kitchen (an event that included fellow finalist Anna Macrory as one of the feature poets and was headlined by Henry Bowers). Sabotage have reviewed Paul several times since, and if anything his comically surreal (and often surprising perceptive) poetry has improved. Askew’s more recent pieces like ‘Chaos Café’ and ‘The Extremely Abridged History of Paul Askew in 5 Dream Sequences’ have remained funny, while showing considerable depth and a talent for performance. Paul also edits the Ferment magazine.

Biggest Strength: his capability for blending humour and pathos, with an extremely original and absurdist voice.

Weakness?: his surrealism, while excellent, may not be for everyone, and he often reads his poems off the page, which usually hinders slam performance. But Askew is nothing if not a bucker of trends.

November: Pete the Temp

Pete the Temp should be known to most spoken word fans. A veteran of Hammer & Tongue he’s a former H&T National Slam champion (2009), and his funny, political, exceptionally performed works have wowed audiences all over the country at all kinds of poetry events and festivals. Boasting an easy and engaging stage presence, and a wealth of material (his ode to pedestrians and piece about working in a charity call centre always go down well), he has also just debuted his one-man show “Pete the Temp versus Climate Change” (soon to be reviewed on Sabotage).

Biggest Strength: performance experience. As well as having a way with audiences honed over years of gigging, he knows what it takes to win a slam and could easily do it again.

Weakness?: motivation. Having gone all the way before, and with the one-man show to concentrate on, he might just not want it as much as the other slammers, which could hinder his performance.

December: Aubrey Mvula

Sabotage have only seen him perform once. As a virtual unknown, he came out of nowhere to deliver an intensely moving poem about abuse and vulnerability, his understatedly powerful performance stunning the audience into silence. He won the slam (from a difficult early slot) and is possibly more of a wildcard in this slam than the actual ‘Wildcard’ Neil Spokes.

Biggest Strength: the power and clear emotion of his poetry.

Weakness?: from what we saw in December, he doesn’t lean towards comedy, and comic poems tend to win more often than not.

February: Davy Mac

Mac won the Valentine’s Day Slam with a funny and socially relevant poem about homosexuality and ‘Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell’ attitudes in the military. Having seen him perform several times now he’s got a range of poems about powerful issues that are always well expressed and often have a strong grasp of comic timing. His subject matter, while brave and always interesting, doesn’t always carry his audience with him, as his poem at the last H&T event (an odd mixture of juvenile fart jokes and creationism) demonstrated. But he maintains a talent for tackling bold issues clearly, boldly, and often with surprising beauty.

Biggest Strength: the strength of his beliefs that comes across in his poetry.

Weakness?: some of those beliefs may not take the audience with him.

March: Dan Holloway

Another poet that Sabotage have known and admired for a while, Dan runs Eight Cuts (Oxford multi-discipline arts organisation), organises gigs with a collective of poets known as the New Libertines, was the mastermind behind the Not the Oxford Literary Festival in March, and has just released a collection ‘Last Man out of Eden’ (soon to be reviewed on Sabotage). While his intricately constructed poems don’t always play well at slams, he crafts beautifully haunting images like few other poets I’ve seen. He also has a talent for social and political subject matter, pieces like ‘Mentalist’ and ‘Monsters’ tackle issues of riots, workfare schemes and mental health in original and intelligent manner (without ever descending into rhyming rants as some poets might).

Biggest Strength: the way in which he uses rhyme to flow seamlessly and quickly between his striking imagery.

Weakness?: honestly he has a tendency to over-perform his poems, as if trying to adopt a ‘slam style’, making the emotion and imagery seem a little forced.

April: Mark Niel

Another seasoned spoken word performer, he’s won a clutch of slams (he appeared in the H&T National Final this year) and always goes down a storm with audiences. He’s the epitome of the comic poet: voice, structure, body language and writing all leading towards the inevitable punchline. While it could be argued that doing so comes at the expense of meaning, it cannot be said that he doesn’t do it well; his poems have been greeted with big laughs every time I’ve seen him perform. But for me his poems sacrifice too much for the laugh, even their own internal logic lost to the funny (such as a comic poem about poets who perform in silly voices, delivered entirely in a silly voice and only enjoyable for that reason).

Biggest Strength: his aptitude for comedy, which almost always wins over the audience.

Weakness?: the nagging feeling that every one of his poems is fundamentally the same kind of joke, always delivered in the same way, which may hamper him when performing multiple pieces.

May: Anna McCrory

President of OUPS (Oxford University Poetry Society), Anna has performed aroundOxford,ManchesterandLondonand she organises a bunch of events too. She writes poems that are rich in whimsy and comedy, inviting the audience into her own charming world in which geeks rock out (in the library), children rap andArgoshas its very own wizard. While her material might come off as trite in the hands of a lesser poet, it’s her warmth as a performer and perceptiveness as a writer that make her poems more than just rhyming stand-up.

Biggest Strength: her easygoing and geeky performance.

Weakness?: perhaps a lack of the weighty themes that tend to garner high scores in slam.

Wildcard: Neil Spokes

Spokes performed strongly at two different H&T slams this year (coming second and third), which was enough to get him through to the Wildcard round and win his place in the final. His poetry when Sabotage has seen him has been strong, with a real aptitude for the slightly comic slam style. At best his poetry has been funny and adorably sweet, and even his poem about dropping his phone down the toilet was funny, if not especially deep (unless it was a really deep toilet).

Biggest Strength: his humour and sweetness.

Weakness?: toilet humour may not always go down well.

Conclusion: honestly with a real mix of styles and experiences, it seems to Sabotage that anyone could win. But regardless of who actually emerges victorious, we’re pretty sure after a night of excellent poetry it’ll be the audience who feel like champions.

Hammer & Tongue Oxford 2012 Final: Tuesday 12th May, 8pm, The Old Fire Station


Oxford Hammer & Tongue: May Mayhem @ The Old Fire Station 08/05/2012

In Performance Poetry on May 10, 2012 at 12:59 am

– reviewed by James Webster

The Night

After a few months of ping-ponging between different venues it’s nice that Oxford Hammer & Tongue has found a permanent home at the Old Fire Station. It’s a friendly charity venue, promoting social and creative enterprise that H&T have been happily ensconced in since February. And it made an excellent home for a very enjoyable evening of poetry this past Tuesday.

The Hosts

Tina Sederholm and Lucy Ayrton (both of whom are bringing solo shows toEdinburgh this year) continue to impress with their friendliness, humour and buckets of enthusiasm. Tina’s hosting always seems to come with a smile and a sly wink, quick to take the mick out of herself and the audience, while Lucy’s boundless energy is hard to match; they make a great team.

Tina’s poem ‘Christmas Day: A Miracle’ was about her niece, a 5-years-old ardent feminist. It captures a moment of heady childish freedom and energy, as the feminine girl born into a sporty family lets loose of a Christmas walk and just runs and runs.

The Features

  • Alison Brumfitt gave an entertaining set that at her best was insightful, very funny and impressively rhythm’d and rhymed.
  • Especially good was ‘I Believe’, a fun mix of Alison’s affirming personal beliefs and her takes on more universal issues. From her funny belief that ‘the root of all evil is the road to Milton Keynes’ followed later by more meaningful epigrams like ‘I don’t believe war feels any better if you win’, it’s a well performed and uplifting approach to life.
  • Her poem on Sex Ed was an interesting mix, brilliantly pointing out the floors of poor sexual education and how it fails to warn you that penises are not like broom handles or that sex ‘messes with your head’. But then it descends into moaning about ‘mental’ ex-girlfriends.
  • Indeed, at various less enjoyable points some poems came off as a little trite and obvious, picking on easy targets such as people with allergies or ‘mental’ ex-girlfriends. But even at weaker points, she always did just enough to undercut her own points, making her poems pleasingly 3-dimensional (the Sex Ed poem for example ends with ‘there’s no such thing as safe sex, that’s why I like it so much’).
  • Gerry Potter introduced by the hosts as a ‘Scouse Legend’ this did not begin to do justice to his captivating stage presence, easy banter and verbal wizardry.
  • It may seem over the top to say it, but it was one of the most enjoyable sets I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness. He blends strong performance with phenom-like wordsmanship, the performance always perfectly matching the poetry.
  • ‘And Then the Man Said’ conjured the voice of a warm, friendly and inspiring nonsense-prophet, whose advice spans the ridiculous to the profound and back again (‘negotiate friendship without language or money/ and DANCE, kid!’).  ‘Love Those Frankenstein Guys’ distilled the essence of the ‘shivering fragility’ of the old pub drunk, captivatingly rendering their sad and ugly beauty. ‘Jimmy Bling’ summoned an image of a working class ‘scally’ turned class-warrior-poet (which was great even when he forgot the words).
  • But it was ‘The Magician’ that really blew me away. A ringing indictment of the reality television created by the rich to elevate and laugh at the broken (such as X-Factor), it is at once damning (‘Yes! He eats babies!’) and totally understanding of this magician’s appeal as ‘the magician sinks into the belly of his magic as Disney animation tickles him to sleep’.
  • But the real magician here is Gerry himself, making such magic with his words.

The Slam

If you’ve read any of our H&T reviews before you should know the format: 3 minutes (30 second grace period), one microphone, one sacrificial poet (to get the ball rolling) five judges (marking out of 10), and a final score out of 30 (top and bottom scores knocked off in case the judge is sleeping with the poet). Winning poet goes through to the regional final next month.

  • Davey Mac’s ‘Life, the Universe and Everything For Richard Dawkins and His Students’ had several amusing lines (‘life is a sexually transmitted disease’), but relied a little too much on scatological humour for my tastes. He did clearly and cleverly express how science, the big bang and evolution are all, fundamentally, a bit silly, but didn’t seem to go anywhere definite with it. 24.3
  • Dyedre Just, performing for the first time in English, gave a thoughtful and earnest piece on the multiple meanings of ‘time’ and the different ways it impacts on our lives. But it ran overtime slightly and occasionally fell into the trap of being a little pretentious in her ruminations on death. 19.7
  • Andi McCrae gave us three short, perfectly formed poems. A man bragging about his extramarital exploits on the tube is told the ‘screeching’ sound is not the breaks, but his soul (hilarious). A woman is lovingly described in the warmest terms. And a broken shoe becomes a forlorn symbol of a relationship just too damaged to work. Her poems were skilfully constructed and performed. 25.8
  • Phat Matt Baker’s comedy revenge fantasy of serving his estate agent’s left testicle on a barbeque tapped into a common hatred of a crooked industry. But bitterness, cheap jokes and violence played for laughs seemed to divide the audience and did nothing for me. 24.6
  • Andrew Thomkinson performed a superbly phrased poem painting Oxford as an unwelcoming town: graduation gowns turn to crows and there’s ‘no space for angels to land on Oxford’s prickly back’. Lovely rich language, but his performance could have been stronger. 24.2
  • Anna McCrory’s ‘Wizard of Argos’ is incredibly entertaining, enlivened by Anna’s gift for easy and amusing rhymes, clever use of colloquialisms and intensely likeable delivery. It’s the kind of comedy poem I’d think shallow, if it didn’t get so neatly to the heart of what makes such a common thing as Argos stores a little bit magic. 27.1
  • Paul Fitchett’s ‘Child Soldiers’ drew powerful parallels between the courage and bravado it takes for a teenager boy to approach a girl across the dance floor (with a spray of Lynx as ‘body armour’) and the bravado said teenager takes with him when he goes to war. He brilliantly brought the powerful and terrifying realities of love and war in adolescence crashing together. 26.5

Winner: Anna McCrory

A really strong slam, with great potential from several new faces to Hammer & Tongue. I’m really looking forwards to seeing more of Paul Fitchett, Andi McCrae and Andrew Thomkinson and see how they develop as performance poets.

In the end every poet was at the least entertaining, and at the most they were powerful, charming and borderline transcendent: a very good night from Hammer & Tongue Oxford as they build to their final in June.


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)


Artist Spotlight #3: Kate Tempest part 1

In Performance Poetry on April 3, 2012 at 1:22 am

– reviewed by James Webster

Kate Tempest is pretty much the reason I got into performance poetry. From the first time I saw her perform (at Hammer & Tongue Oxford in 2009) I was hooked. Since then I’ve seen her perform at various venues, both solo and with her band Sound of Rum, and she’s always been excellent.

Recently I saw her headline both Oxford and Camden Hammer & Tongue events, and it prompted me to sum up those events and Kate Tempest’s general brilliance in this feature article.

Her Background

She hails from South East London (Brockley), came to literature in general and poetry in particular through rap (her facebook fan page lists Wu Tang Clan and Mos Def as influences, among others) and first started performing rap and poetry at hip-hop open mic’s when she was 16. She started performing poetry at squat parties, went on to win some poetry slams, and generally started a meteoric rise that has seen her support the likes of Scroobius Pip and Billy Bragg on national tours.

Her Influences

  • Street/spoken word
  • Given her beginnings as a hip-hop artist and rap battler, it’s unsurprising that her poetry has a ‘street’ vibe to it. Her flowing rhythms, spitfire quick delivery, use of powerful choruses and intricate rhymes, all speak of her rap background, and several of her poems reference city life and the problems it poses (especially to the young, reckless and dispossessed). ‘Cannibal Kids’ is an excellent example, a poem that surges through the streets of London amongst the young people fighting for a place, for what little power there is there, with the moving chorus ‘These cannibal kids wanna be kings/ But there ain’t no royalty left’.
  • ‘Balance’ is another piece on disaffected youth and friends who find and lose their way in the urban wilderness that is London. It evokes teenage friendships and rivalries going on through a grimy and reckless city background, building onto adulthood as the ‘four firm friends become four fierce forces’. It uses a superbly effective premise – that the four friends in the poem are Pride, Envy, Talent and Ambition – she creates an allegory of characters as believable people who ‘hung out, got strung out’ while also being aspects of a fractured psyche that can only prosper when in ‘balance’.
  • Classics
  • In her own words ‘if you wanna write, first you’ve gotta read./ I read Shakespeare, Beckett, Blake and Sophocles’. It is clear in many of Tempest’s poems that she’s a lover of classical literature; something that she feels society tells us belongs only to an elite few who are smart enough to appreciate it. By working the classics into the poems that are often grounded in her life, in London, that is so definitely for all to enjoy, she reclaims them as works of art that are relevant and accessible. These feelings are the subject of ‘What We Came After’, a powerful affirmation of words and knowledge as being yours that draws upon Shakespeare’s Tempest with its refrain of ‘Hell is empty, ‘cos all the devils are here’. It’s a storm of language steeped in Shakespeare’s language and in self-belief, raining down incendiary and scouring verses as Tempest tells us to ‘call [her] Caliban’, a powerful statement for anyone who feels they’ve had to learn and claim language as their own.
  • ‘Icarus’ is another poem using its roots in classics (after the myth of Icarus and Dedalus, obvs) to spread a contemporary message. One of several pieces that Kate performs as both a solo poem and a song with Sound of Rum, its neat refrain ‘Icarus, come down from the sky/ You’re flying too high/ Icarus, heed your father’s words/ This ain’t your territory’ musically highlights the fundamental truth that the story of Icarus has always told us. Who can’t relate to feeling constrained by well-meaning advice and wanting to fly higher, even though it’s dangerous? It’s a beautiful story, beautifully told, making the transcendental points of Icarus’s story and making them so so relatable. ‘No-one even noticed as he crashed and hit the sea-bed/ So those who never flew before could learn from what he did.’


  • Her Style
  • ‘Bubble Muzzle’, one of the newer pieces she performed at the Hammer & Tongue gigs in Oxford, was a great example of Tempest’s style. Her poems flow with rhymes that slip and fall over each other, using a central chorus to keep the piece grounded, while her words paint vivid imagines to convey the essence of her point. While she utilises her charismatic and expressive performance to drive the point home and elicit a few laughs along the way. In this case the images she eloquently conjured were of the 9-5 grind wearing you down, when ‘it’s tunnel vision all week and the weekend’s for seeing double’ and you convince yourself ‘YOU’RE REALLY HAPPY’ when in actuality you feel like ‘a dog wagging its tail … to put on its own muzzle’. One of the reasons this piece (like so many of her poems) is so good is that it’s so well rounded, it understands so well the temptation to be ‘so caught up in the everyday [that] we’ve given all our strength away’, but Tempest highlights the importance of rising above it by looking the audience dead in the eye and telling them they have to gather and tell each other ‘there’s more to life than the daily struggle’. Inspiring.

Her Performance

  • Accessible
  • One of the great things about seeing Tempest perform is her funny, unpretentious and rambling banter. She chats to her audiences as if meeting them for the first time at a party, which belies her practiced patter that charms audiences all over the UK. Case in point: at both gigs in Oxford she apologised for seeming insincere, before pointing out that ‘if you hold a stare and point into the middle distance’ it’s easy to fake sincerity  (hand on heart also works here apparently) to big laughs. And she’s always humbly self-deprecating and gracious towards both hosts and audience, easily endearing herself to both.
  • Another example of her engaging style is ‘Love Poem’. She starts with the line ‘Let’s spend the afternoon in bed with 3 bottles of wine’ and then pauses to allow the audience to laugh uproariously, discusses how she should just end the poem there, then continues the poem. It’s a great way of getting a laugh out of the audience and making the poem immediately relatable and accessible. The poem itself is an adorable picture of lazy days, tipsy confessions of love and drunk nights out ‘staggering through this broken town like pennies thrown for wishes’.
  • Intense
  • The captivating ‘Renegade’ is a perfect example of her electrifying intensity. A poem for the ‘hopeless romantics’ and the ‘broken’, she was at her spellbinding best as she seemed to gather every member of the audience into her poem, telling them ‘I will write every one of you a poem and together we’ll burn them’. Starting from describing herself as the eponymous Renegade, by the end she made it clear that we all had it in us to be one, that ‘every minute is the minute to begin it’, that she would show us that ‘you’re fucking incredible, mate’. At Hammer & Tongue Camden it garnered the first standing ovation I’ve ever seen in a poetry event.

To Sum Up: Kate Tempest is one of the best performance poets in the UK today (if not the best). I thoroughly recommend you see her perform or buy her new spoken word album (recently recorded at the Battersea Arts Centre) when it comes out.

Tempest’s first play, Wasted, is currently touring and Sabotage will be publishing a review (as the second part of this feature) on Wednesday.