Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Slam Poetry’

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)


Hammer and Tongue 14/03/11 (The Green Note Café, Camden)

In Performance Poetry on March 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm

-Reviewed by James Webster

The Night

The London Hammer and Tongue, based in Camden’s charming Green Note Café, is an offshoot of the slam competition that was founded by Steve Larkin in Oxford in 2003. Since then it has grown to become, in their own words, “the biggest promoter of Slam Poetry in the UK” and has now spread to Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, and two London chapters: Hackney and Camden.

In Camden the slam is run by Michelle Madsen (who founded the London H&T chapter) and was hosted on the night by ‘Angry’ Sam Berkson and Sophia Blackwell who provided a lively and warm welcome to the audience, Angry Sam’s rough humour and enthusiasm perfectly complimented Blackwell’s elegant wit. The two of them helped stress Hammer and Tongue’s only two rules: 1. You talk about Hammer and Tongue, and 2. You TALK about Hammer and Tongue. And they certainly delivered something to talk about.

Both hosts gave us some poetry to warm up the evening:

Sophia Blackwell showed off her Dear Deirdre poems, inspired by the problem pages of The Sun; these poems gave us some fast paced, foul-mouthed fun, both very light hearted and filled with clever verbal gymnastics. Sandwiched between them was a tender and intimate poem that can be found in the Erotic issue of Diva magazine, and it was loaded with, well, loaded and sexually charged language; a great contrast to her other sillier poems.

Angry Sam gave us his poem ‘Poison Ivy’, a great slam poem where the rhyme overlapped with rich alliteration as he presented an image of the world where humanity seems to strangle the planet, human weeds wrapped around our natural resources.

These poems set a tone for the evening that was both enjoyable and thoughtful, which is only to be expected from two such accomplished performance poets.

The Slam

The Slam is one of Hammer and Tongue’s great draws. Eight poets, three minutes, five judges: the winner the poet with the highest score. Unlike many slams at the moment, Hammer and Tongue does not use a proscribed scoring system (for example 1/3 quality of writing, 1/3 performance, 1/3 audience reaction), but instead choose random judges from the audience and let them give scores out of ten based entirely on how good they thought the poets poems were. To give a balanced score the top and bottom scores are discounted and the poets all receive a mark out of thirty as their final score. And to try and combat what is known as ‘score creep’, a phenomenon where the judges give higher scores as the night goes on as the poets warm them up and they have a few more drinks, the order is decided entirely at random.

The Slam kicked off with Michelle Madsen (London H&T founder) as the ‘sacrificial poet’ (as no one likes to go first) who performed a love poem that was both tender and tense, that wound itself up using raw and wild language that is gradually unwound by the lover its addressed to. A warm and familiar offering that received a 23.4 from the judges, a score that seems low for such a strong poem, which is the very reason they have a ‘sacrificial poet’.

Then came the slam proper, first up:

  • Naomi Woodnuf: an entertaining poem about Facebook stealing her soul. Funny, but wasn’t able to lift itself above being a fluff pop-culture piece and failed to put an original poetic stamp on the subject. Her 19.7 might have been higher with a stronger performance.
  • Charlie DuPrés: a barnstorming poem dissecting the question “What’s your real accent like?” asked before sex. This was hilarious in content and delivery and opened the subject up to ask questions about class and identity. Any poet that threatens his “lyrical gun will spray this room with lyrical cum” deserves his 28.5 in my book.
  • Dan Simpson: a faux-bitter poem about being changed then left by an ex because you’ve changed. It had some laughs, but the obvious punch line left me cold. The 23 he received owed a lot to the strong poem before him in my opinion.
  • Dave Flores: a character comedy poem about the Foxton’s Christmas Party. Started out weak and relying on his ‘posh voice’ being intrinsically funny, but increasing surrealism (including the image of Rupert Murdoch riding a gold horse-drawn carriage pulled by people) led to a great and very funny poem. Just pipped DuPrés to first place with 28.6. I can’t help thinking ‘score creep’ worked a little in his favour.
  • Alan Wolfson: former slam champion with an impressive moustache, whose name comes up on predictive text as ‘Anal Yoghurt’. Sadly his poem about a tour of the world’s edges seemed a little pointless. 23.1.
  • Nathan Thompson: a poem about over thinking your chat up lines went down well, but needed better punch lines and more punch to the performance. 24.5
  • Bingo Pajama: a great stage name combined with an intriguing concept for a poem, but the performance filled with awkward pauses and uneven writing made it seem bitty. 22.5.
  • Dave Devon: His poem had some great imagery and some lovely touches, with a conversation about a recent holiday that is interrupted by his entertaining internal monologue. But it was hampered by continual pausing that gave the impression he’d forgotten his material or was making it up as he went along. 19.9, but lost around ten points due to overrunning by 2 minutes: 9.9.

Overall: a very entertaining slam with a high level of quality. It suffered slightly from all the poems having similar tones, all trying for comedy without always reaching it. I think a few of the poets would do better if they stopped trying to be funny and started trying to write good poems.

The slam finished with performances from Selena Godden and MC Chester P, both of whom will be reviewed at a later date.

Katie Makkai – Pretty

In Performance Poetry on June 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm

The awesome Tori Truslow, who has a walking in Bangkok blog shared this link with me on facebook. I feel as if performance poetry has been lacking from this blog so I thought I’d share it.

If you haven’t seen it already, it is a performance by slam poet Katie Makkai on the tyranny of the word ‘pretty’ and the scars she bears as a result: ‘I have not seen my own face in ten years’.

The text is by no means perfect but it is a very moving testimonial with a kick-ass ending. It helps too that Makkai is one hell of a performer.