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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

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)

The Farrago Zoo Awards and New Year Slam 27/01/2012

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on March 8, 2012 at 2:20 am

@ The Rada Foyer Bar

– reviewed by Issy McKenzie –

This thing called ‘Slam’

When Sabotage asked me if I’d like to review a poetry slam, I had some reservations. My taste in literature runs out at around 1918, so I only had the vaguest idea what slam poetry was.

I had images of being put on the spot by people who knew ten times more about the subject than I did, or being exposed as a fraud and frogmarched out of the RADA foyer bar by beret-wearing bouncers who understood postmodernism. I even took notes on a few articles about performance poetry, presumably in case there was some sort of test.

When I reached the venue, though, I was very quickly put at my ease. People were friendly (even before I mentioned I was here as a reviewer) and more than happy to explain how things worked. There was definitely a real sense of community here; one that seemed happy to welcome newcomers into the fold.

Overview and a loving tribute

The first half of the show started with a tribute to Fran Landesman, nominated posthumously for Best Overall Performance/Reading, and I would encourage readers to look up the work of this highly talented lyricist. A smooth and uplifting performance from Sarah Moore, with Miles Davis Landesman accompanying.

Throughout the awards, which had been decided by online ballot, we were also treated to a number of non-competitive performances by nominees and winners. Highlights included Nia Barges highly charismatic deconstruction of the beauty myth, and Kemi Taiwo‘s flawless verbal barrage of anti-war protest, but these were by far not the only strong performances of the evening. I only wish I had the time and space to talk about them all.

The Awards

  • Best Performance by a UK Poet: Mark Niel from Milton Keynes, who encouraged the audience to “live every day like you just had your first kiss”, a polished performance showing a great deal of vocal versatility.
  • Best Performance by a performer working in English and another language: Susana Medina, with translator Rosie Marteau.
  • Best SLAM! Performance: Amy Acre, delivered to rapturous applause. Her performance of Blackbird, a highly sensual poem of sexual fluidity and self-doubt, did a lot to explain why she seemed to be a crowd favourite.
  • Best Farrago Debut Feature Performance: Amy McAllister. This Irish poet had a deceptively underwhelming stage presence; her visceral, earthy and fluent performance was one of the highlights of my evening.
  • Best Performance by a performer using spoken word, comedy or music: Miles Davis Landesman & ensemble. This was followed by a performance by Miles accompanying singer Kath Best. An enjoyable tribute. I would love to hear Kath singing from a more soulful repertoire, as it is clear this would suit her voice immensely.
  • Best Performance by an International poet: Penny Ashton (New Zealand), who sadly couldn’t be here tonight, due to the trains from New Zealand being delayed that evening.
  • Best Overall Performance/Reading: Fran Landesman, awarded posthumously for a performance at Farrago only days after the death of her husband. One poet remarked that it was “the most courageous performance [they] had ever seen”.

The Slam

The second half of the evening kicked off with performances by the hypnotic-voiced Abraham Gibson and UK Slam Champion Harry Baker.

If I still had lingering fears about slam being inaccessible to me, then Harry Baker‘s love poem about dinosaurs put them solidly to rest. With his strong geeky charisma and his talent for seamlessly combining rap influences with maths jokes, it is clear that this performer will go far.

Then came the competition.

It soon became clear that since I was neither performing in the slam, nor friends with anyone in the slam, nor “in a sordid sexual relationship with anyone in the slam” (I am not kidding, this was one of the criteria), I was one of the few people eligible to judge. I applaud this attempt at objectivity, although it was somewhat negated by the tendency of the audience to boo when lower-than-average scores were given. When this happens on X factor, I throw stuff at the screen, but I didn’t think that response would be appropriate here. Still, whilst perhaps meant in good humour, it is never conducive to a fair competition.

To the MC John Paul O’Neil‘s credit, the whole process was explained clearly, so even as a complete newcomer to slam I was able to pick it up very quickly. However, I did notice that the scores were perhaps more disparate than they should have been, which I learnt afterwards is a common phenomenon at slam events. This should probably have been explained to us on the night in order to avoid “score creep” (the process by which judges award higher scores as they have more fun and drinks – ed).

Highlights of the slam included Katrina Quinn, with a breathless and highly evocative performance that showed a lot of potential; Kathleen Stavert, whose fluent and conversational style made me want to hear more, and Lettie McKie, a first-time performer who delivered a highly promising ode to chefs, although her choice of subject matter didn’t grab me.

The Result

The winner, by .1 of a point, was Anthony Fairweather with an energetic and well-delivered image of the Olympics gone wrong. Anthony obviously has a great deal of potential as a comedy poet, and had the audience laughing a number of times. In retrospect, digs at “the health and safety brigade” are a little old even for this Victorian scholar, but that is my only real criticism. A well-deserved victory.

I have to confess, I expected to cringe a lot more than I did. My experiences of non-performance poetry groups and writers’ circles have occasionally been just short of traumatic. However, this was far from the case at Farrago. Although there were some weak performances, all of them had at least one positive aspect, and I even found myself awarding perfect tens to two separate poets.

There were fourteen participants in total, all of varying abilities. Although previous Sabotage reviews have criticised this aspect of Farrago slams, I think it has the advantage of making the slam seem accessible and welcoming to newcomers whilst still being entertaining for non-participants. Perhaps more experienced poets and performers might need to supplement their circuit with more selective events, but there is a definite sense of inclusion and community here, and I would definitely like to come back and attend in a non-reviewing capacity.

Conclusion: Any kind of intra-community “award ceremony” always risks being elitist, but the Farrago Zoo New Year Slam Awards successfully managed to avoid this. A highly enjoyable and accessible event. Clearly Farrago’s diversity is one of its strengths.