Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘slam’

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: Wantage Poetry Slam – Wantage Betjeman Poetry Festival 28/10/12

In Festival, Performance Poetry on November 6, 2012 at 9:00 am

– reviewed by James Webster and special guest reviewer Lucy Ayrton

@ Shush

The Event

Last Sunday, I attended the Wantage Slam was part of the wider Wantage (not just) Betjeman Poetry Festival, which featured a slew of interesting readings, performances and workshops (often Betjeman themed due to his long association with Wantage).

The Slam billed itself as ‘a fast and furious, X Factor- style, spoken word stand-off ‘ and for the most part lived up to that description admirably. Featuring 12 different poets, with a variety of different lyrical styles, we were served up some excellent rapid-fire rhyme and thoughtful storytelling as the poets battled it out for first place.

The Slam Style

Splitting the 12 performers into four heats of three (brackets selected randomly from a hat), with the winners going on to the final round, poets were judged on three categories: quality of writing, quality of performance, and audience reaction. It was my first experience of the ‘bracketed’ slam system, and I had to say I enjoyed it, and while scoring by three distinct categories is not always the most popular of judging styles, it does ensure poets are encouraged to give rounded performances.

Where it fell down is that, while billed as ‘X Factor-style’, it actually wasn’t enough like X-Factor … which is a statement I should probably qualify as soon as possible. Allow me to rephrase: where the show fell down, for me, was that while judging on the three different categories is not such a problem, the lack of transparency in scoring is. I found myself really wanting to know the breakdown in scores if only so I knew which judge to cheer/boo when I agreed/disagreed with a score. Plus, it’d be nice for the poets to know where their performance has potential room for improvement.

The Poets

Heat 1: Lucy Ayrton, James Dolton and Graham Eccles

Lucy Ayrton: a Sabotage favourite (we gave her Edinburgh show 5 stars twice), Lucy performed ‘Little China Figures’, a brittle and adorable piece, buoyed by waves of smooth rhyme, the poem told a powerfully realised and bittersweet story. But it suffered slightly from an unusually stilted performance. 17

James Dolton: his poem ‘Reading Too Fast’ was cleverly self-referential to his writing and delivery, with excellent use of performance and slick cadences. It did tend to repeat itself, which may have been the point, but made it somewhat dull towards the end. 24

Graham Eccles: also performed a piece on writing poetry, which had some pretty good gags (especially a cat setting his poem on fire) and amusingly clunky rhyme, but didn’t come to a head nearly soon enough. 20

Heat 2 (points not announced): Kieran King, Nick Short and Brenda Read Brown

Kieran King: performed two pieces, the first ‘Whatever Happened to the Heroes’ had quick-fire delivery and a relatable subject (all the heroes have sold out, let us down or died), but seemed simplistic and perhaps undercut itself (saying ‘I can think for myself’ while bemoaning the dearth of heroes to look up to). His poem on sticking out at metal gigs was a strong, rat-a-tat, one-note joke on metal being in your heart, not your clothes. 2nd

Nick Short: announcing his poem as ‘for anyone who works in an office’, he had decent timing, but it was ultimately comic grumpiness with little real insight and a hint of sexism (deriding colleagues for being excited about their children with a ‘congratulations, you spread your legs’ comment). 3rd

Brenda Read Brown: was ridiculously likeable. Her poem on creating a new ‘old-age’ political party was full of wit and wordplay (‘kids drunk on WKD-40’ and the idea of a ‘drive-by grumbling’) and just about transgressed into being genuinely political. The litany of fears and loss that it built to was also pretty powerful. 1st

Heat 3: Helen Harvey, Joel Denno and Tina Sederholm

Helen Harvey: the third poet to deliver a meta-writing poem, her personification of poetry was reasonably original, with some vivid imagery (‘I carved quills from my fingernails’) in her search for a muse. But some of her delivery was disjointed and her performance fell a bit flat.

Joel Denno: taking the form of a homework assignment for school-children, this poem was disjointed, with various sections that didn’t form a coherent whole, leaving a kind of bifurcated and pointless poem (with bonus gothic gore that, while decent, didn’t lend any more of a point). 22

Tina Sederholm: performed her piece on cupcakes (from her show Evie and the Perfect Cupcake, rated 4 stars by Sabotage) in all its voyeuristic and frosted glory. Her repeated cries of ‘lick me’ build very amusingly, while her sugar-sweet language of hunger and hollow fulfilment pulled the audience in admirably. 22

Heat 4: James Webster, Dan Holloway and Guy Williams.

(Special Guest Reviewer Lucy Ayrton taking over here, so Webster doesn’t have to review himself)

James Webster: came to the stage after a truly ridiculous intro, and his piece ‘MCWASPSM’ had a good tempo and rhythm and his flawed take on socialism was a great section. The piece had a coherent structure and clarity and the line ‘I don’t mean to complain, I don’t mean anything at all’ was a brilliant line that probably would have been a better ending than the unnecessary verses that followed. 22

(Thanks, Lucy, I’ll tag you out now)

Dan Holloway: Dan’s poem ‘Making Fairytales’ contained a plethora of verdant and gorgeous language (‘folded poems into paper planes’), full of magical and dirty imagery, with a thoughtful and assured delivery that was a breath of fresh air. 21

Guy Williams: of his two pieces the better was a dull poem on how he solved problems DIY style by chopping them in half. The worse was a creepy piece best summed up as ‘breasts are nice to look at, which isn’t really sexism is it? Oh, it is? Well don’t worry I’ve checked my sexism at the door after my daughter started growing boobs’. I’m sure it was intended as satire, which it kind of worked as, but it needed more thought and self-awareness to work.

Final: James Webster, James Dolton, Brenda Read Brown, Joel Denno and Tina Sederholm.

(I once again pass over to Lucy Ayrton for reviewing duties, Lucy?)

James Webster’s ‘What Are You Thinking’ had a strong voice, good opening and some amusing back and forth between its different voices. The shift into more resonant imagery was satisfying and Webster nimbly flitted between funny and touching lines, with a lovely lyrical voice. I’ve heard this poem before and it’s improved: very good.

(Thanks again, Lucy, your cheque’s in the post)

James Dolton’s poem was pleasantly abstract, seeming to use different strands/images to chart the course of a life/forming of a mind. The excellent use of on and off mic sections worked well to draw the audience in and delineate different ideas, mixing some cool word-association and plays with meaning together into an effective performance.

Brenda Read Brown cast herself as an appropriately fallible/human God in ‘In the Beginning’, a rollicking ride through Her attempts at creating life, going through some amusing missteps before finally creating evolution and leaving them to it. Funny, clever, and in the end a moving elegy to the excellence that is a God-like humanity.

Joel Denno continued his theme of ‘poems that seem entirely pointless’ with a piece about orchards going on strike. Not weird enough to work as surrealism, yet not biting enough to work as satire or allegory, I was left admiring some of his technique, but wondering ‘why’.

Tina Sederholm’s ‘Love Tokens’ is a heartfelt and humorous piece, with a consummate performance. Reimagining her husband’s messes as ‘love tokens, signs of your devotion’, she utilises a lovely refrain to subtly build a layered performance where her metaphor defeats her own frustrations. Simply excellent.

The Winners and Prizes

  1. Brenda Read Brown – £100 and slots at future festivals
  2. James Dolton – £70
  3. Tina Sederholm – £30
  4. Joel Denno – Wine
  5. James Webster – comedy tickets


A fun slam, which was well hosted by Anna Saunders with energy and good humour (poets who went overtime were threatened with nebulous punishments to be meted out in the back room). As with all slams there were some mixed performances, but the majority was entertaining, with special praise going to the top three of Tina, Dolton and Brenda who all wowed me.

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

Poetry Olympics: Word Games 17/07/12

In Performance Poetry on September 21, 2012 at 1:59 pm

– Reviewed by Dana Bubulj

@ Theatre Delicatessen

It was rather difficult to miss the looming [Redacted] over London this season. What better way to respond to this is by appropriating it for poetry? In a pop up Theatre Delicatessen, housed innocuously in an old BBC building, Cat Brogan hosted an alternate [Redacted], with poets hailing (or having grandparents) from all across the globe. The venue itself was gorgeous, a very red Twin Peaks-esque draped basement with cushioned benches and low lamps. As an official slam, the poets had three minutes, but in the absence of score cards, audience judges (and increasingly their entire rows) called out scores. With only three judges, there were no discarded scores, so the standard biases (humour, acquaintances etc) were a visible and embraced part of the event. The prizes suited the ‘grandeur’ of the corporate-free occasion: homemade medals, fruit shoots, vegan cheese & toilet roll.

Cat Brogan was an effusive host, full of energy despite the sheer number of poets involved, many of whom were slam champions in their own right. She performed two pieces: first, a fantastically scathing comment on the rigmaroles of the [Redacted] and its shadier practices where “wetland marshes become marchés”; second, an abridged epic history of the Irish (accompanied by a bodhran) that was suitably mesmerising.

Sacrificial Poet was the “Usain Bolt of poetry” Harry Baker, whose tale of proper-pop-up-paper people (after which his Edinburgh show was titled) was sickeningly slick. His political alliteration was astounding, in his pop-up metropolis of paper people hurt by all the “paper cuts” of “paper thin policies”. The last third, about people as inspiration, was almost less powerful for giving us time to breathe. (25.5)

First Round Highlights

Esther Poyer (Guyana)’s ‘Fruitcake’ was a nicely paced story about moving to a Victorian-terraced-England of fine china and English tea carrying an awkward box of Caribbean fruitcake steeped in demerara sugar. “We in England now, we must leave behind silly things”, her characters say, reluctant to put it down. It was her first slam, and I hope to hear more. 22.75

Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson (Jamaica) is a familiar face, and his Cultural Chameleon was fabulously performed, discussing the possible concept of a cultural “mean, mode or median” between roots in Jamaica and London. 27.5

David Lee Morgan (USA) Another Sabotage regular, Morgan performed an impressive ode to giving in to primal natures (“when the tiger hunts me I become the tiger”) and the disassociation/coming to terms with thoughts (“outside tiger, inside tiger, outside me”). 22.3

Michael Wilson (Northern Ireland) ECT poem was powerful, and the use of BSL added an interesting element to the relearning of communication (“my mind struggles into the clothing of thought”). 24.7

Stephanie Dogfoot (Singapore)’s ‘Asian people eat a lot of weird crap’ was great, both comic (“we look into its eye and dig eye out”) and mouthwatering in its conjured smoke and blistering chilli. 24.5

Ingrid Andrew (Australia) created a quiet personification of trees after bushfires, a “charcoal woman” with a “broken back where light comes through”. The extended womb analogy, while not novel, was very atmospheric. 21

Rose Drew (USA) had two particularly cutting political poems, one on the Olympics as distracting pomp (“leap like Superman over trash they can’t afford to collect”) and the particularly prescient ‘Dead Republican Girls’, a comment on the current erosion of Roe vs Wade in contemporary America. 23

Also ran (First Round):

Young Dawkins performed ‘Streets’, a nicely ponderous take on having done their time protesting as a younger man, now supporting from the “window seat” rather than frontlines. (21)

Oskar Hanska (Sweden) gave an exhilarating sensory explosion, but might have done better without the screaming. 24.25

Trudy Howson (England), whose poem is being used by the BBC for the [redacted] themselves offered up ‘English’, a succession of hat-tips that certainly hit all the traditional jingoistic name-checks. 22

Dareka Daremo (France)’s ‘Nouveau Globe’ alternated languages throughout in a fluent rhythm, with talk of the “chaos of endless night” and “les yeux d’un fou”. The times in which he committed content to one language rather than repeating multi-lingually was much more effective. 24.5

Ian (Canada), while published, has never performed, and it was evident; Hs ‘Rhapsody for Minimum Standard’ was dry and while he stated it was “no pedantic tirade”, it was monotonous and lecture-like (despite good intentions to “emancipate” the mind and dethrone corporations). 20.5

Matt Cummins (Canada) performed ‘I was a teacher’s pet’, an ‘it gets better‘ poem on being “kicked out of the closet” but lucky in having his friends’ support, urging people to turn the cross your bear into “wooden wings”. 26.5

Sophia Walker (Malaysia) performed a satirical take on ‘desirable’ laddish stereotypes. The seductive tone of “oh baby, I will separate your whites” made it, though the reveal that she is bereft of bad examples of men in her life could have been more incorporated. 29

José Anjos (Portugal) performed ‘I’m Walking’, a somewhat scattered succession of images of “one million worlds in one glance”, trapped in a search for both meaning and a place share or call his own. 22.9

Mel Jones (Wales) performed ‘Mmm’, an alliterative poem on bestiality (a pub challenge, apparently) with a relish suited to riotous filth. Like the acts described between Mandy and her mog, the poem was “magnetic, messy, moreish”, though often mildly disconcerting. 25.

Ant Smith (Rep. Ireland) was asked for raucous, and certainly delivered with a kinky rhythmic song that might have done better with less repetition of its chorus. As such, it dragged a little despite its sexual energy. 19.7

Chuquai Billy (First Nations: Lakota/Choctaw) spoke of gatherings and the ceremony of family and traditions to a rising soundtrack, but he also kept the piece rooted in the modern and quietly scathing of the outsiders with binoculars “convinced sage is a narcotic”. Unprepared for a second round, he later performed stand-up. 25.4

Alain English (Scotland) asked us about the “losers” of history, during this time of podiums, whose “endurance should inspire”. It was a rallying cry to the “survivors” of “overworked mothers”, the “lonely” or “caught-in-between” left “without a future”. 24.4

Final Round: Matt Cummins, Mel Jones, Mark Thompson, Chuquai Billy, Michael Wilson, Sophia Walker

Sophia Walker‘s ‘To the Man Who Punched Me’ was a fantastic piece: taking the “dyke” thrown at her, and reclaiming it with its original meaning (“please accuse me of holding back the sea”). 28.1

Matt Cummins‘ Valentines poem was a sweet stand against the overblown theatrics of the movies, with fireworks and orchestra-soundtracked declarations in favour of quieter affections. 25

Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson had a nice poem on respecting people and learning the “true value” of love and those around you. While it did advocate a particular type of relationship, it boiled down to “don’t be a superficial arse”, which we can get behind. 23.8

Mel Jones performed ‘Family’, a lovely domestic scene in a child’s memory, with a “wall full of eggs, tipping tapping shells” to the adventures of “invincible youth” and feeling the “Welshness in bones”. 25.3

Michael Wilson‘s poem to an old friend who committed suicide (an endemic problem in NI) definitely marked him as my favourite poet of the night. The quiet grief of looking through his room, seeing a “half pack of gum – he collects them, sorry, collected” was palpable, as was tying it to the greater context: “they say it’s the Troubles, but we always had troubles”. 27.5

1st Place: Sophia Walker
2nd Place: Michael Wilson
3rd Place: Matt Cummins (after Mel Jones’ disappearance disqualified her)

Verdict: Chaotic but enjoyable night. The sheer amount of poets dragged on a little, but it was a friendly atmosphere that made it fun, with some real gems to make it shine.

Review: ‘Everything Speaks in its Own Way’ by Kate Tempest

In Pamphlets, Performance Poetry on July 7, 2012 at 9:46 pm

– reviewed by Dan Holloway

One of the most beautiful things I own

Kate Tempest’s first full-length book, published through her own imprint Zingaro, is printed on thick, acid-free paper that nestles between unctuous card covers embossed with minimalist gold print and the imperial purple endpapers that each hide a surprise – pocketed inside are the accompanying CD and DVD. To focus too long on the beauty of this book, CD and DVD set would be an injustice (though it’s hard not to linger on the sheer satisfaction of the object as it sits in your hand). Everything Speaks in its Own Way is both a superb book and an important one.

From Stage to Page

The multimedia format from an artist best known for her coruscating live performances could be seen as a hedging of bets – if the words don’t work quite as well on the page you can turn the sound on to see how they’re “supposed to be.” But that’s not it. Both sound and sight stand on their own (on which note I have to mention the layout of the words – presented on the page as paragraphs more than poems, which works incredibly well, not forcing us to guess or impose rhyme and metre but to let the words flow through us), but this does what beautiful artisan books should do – it is both a full introduction to an author’s work and a collector’s item, perfect for fans and newcomers alike, and a fitting way of bringing a genuinely landmark book to the world.

Tempest: a storming performer

Kate Tempest is such a stunning live performer, her shows so inspirational, that the first book asks key questions, especially for those who believe that performance and page poetry are different things. I first saw her last December in a disused boot factory in Oxford that had no working door, one heater and a dripping roof. She was wrapped in five or six layers, hat, and hood, with her arms wrapped around herself but for half an hour as her passionate, imploring voice rang through the building we were transported somewhere magical. The big question is: how on earth it is possible to distil moments like that onto the page?

With a precious and important voice

It was no surprise to me that the answer is her words are just as precious on the page as they are on the stage. Tempest may be a hip hop MC as well as a poet but she weaves Blake and Shakespeare effortlessly with the patois of the street. ‘What We Came After’, for example, is both a meditation on the loneliness of Prospero and Caliban and a piece railing against elitism in literature/education. It builds itself around imagery from the Tempest, riffing on the line “you know that Hell is empty coz all the devils are here”, effortlessly and intelligently glossing on the play in achingly beautiful language and rhyming as delicately as filigree:

“So, call me Caliban” she says, adding “they gave me language so I could rain down my curses in verses” though back in the day “this island was mine for a home. I was free to rhyme as I roamed now my mind is alone as I writhe and I moan – I’m the captive of consonants” before bringing the significance right to the present:

“we’re needing a breeze through the stifling heat of elitist descriptions of what we can reach”

Why it’s important:

The whole collection moves this effortlessly through the whole cultural canon whilst never losing its biting contemporary edge, from the brutal ‘Cannibal Kids’ to the brilliant dissection of modern working life, ‘Bubble Muzzle’:

“life goes on in a bubble, it’s tunnel vision all week and the weekend’s for seeing double…we’re like a dog wagging its tail, expecting a treat coz it learnt how to put on its own muzzle”

The highlight is the final poem, ‘Renegade’, a call to arms that had the audience in whoops and tears when I heard it, sending us out into the night with a very simple message “I care about genius I don’t care about celebrity” but it’s a message Tempest weaves brilliantly as she leads us through a long, dark night of the cultural soul:

“I’m writing tonight, I got a jam jar of wine, I’m rolling smokes spitting bars to myself with a swollen throat…if you wanna talk, just come find me – I’ll be on Lewisham way watching the dawn melt away”

through her personal epiphany

“I learnt about patience, I learnt about stamina, and every little moment stacked up and it all added to the present”

to the new, angry and frustrated, eyes through which she saw the world

“it’s all so physical here, the alcoholic in the offie, filling up his trolley till the world disappears”

before returning to Shakespeare

“why must we starve while they banquet and feast? But Banquo will rise, he has a message for the guilty”

as she builds to her climax

“meet me at the bar we’ll raise a drink to the sky – and I will show you that you’re fucking incredible.

We’re not flesh, we’re all energy.”

You can buy it here.

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.

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)

Edinburgh’s International Women’s Day All-Female Slam

In Performance Poetry on March 17, 2012 at 11:16 am


@ The Banshee Labyrinth

– reviewed by Harry Giles

A couple of days ago we reviewed the International Women’s Day event Poetry in the Parlour, now continuing this theme Harry Giles reviews another of the plethora of IWD events, this one in Edinburgh – ed

The Event

Poetry slam can be difficult, chaotic, oppressive, liberatory, or many other things besides – but at its best it’s a beautiful expression of poetic community. At its best, slam stops being about competition and starts being a celebration of poetry’s diversity  and of our direct and passionate relationship to an audience.

Edinburgh’s International Women’s Day All-Female Slam, organised by local poet Claire Askew, set out to redress the male bias often prevalent in Scotland’s slam scene (a bias both in numbers competing and in those winning) by showcasing some of the most talented and ambitious of our female poetry talent. The make-up of the slam was also aiming to break down some of the perceived barriers between page and stage, welcoming poets more comfortable on the page into the performance arena.

This deliberate mix led to one of the most surprising and delightful slams I’ve ever attended. Though I attend and compete in slams regularly, I often find myself twitching impatiently through tired forms and heard-it-before comic turns – but every performer at the women’s slam brought something fresh and new to the stage. The audience was packed into the Banshee Labyrinth, filling every available corner, but host Claire Askew’s welcoming enthusiasm made sure everyone was happy. Although her nerves were sometimes clear, she used her passionate belief in the event and warm encouragement of every single poet to ensure that every participant has the best possible time.

The Slam

In the first round, Gayle Smith and Rose Ritchie both gave us comic observations from the tradition of Scots ballad verse. Both performances were rough and unpolished, but had real heart and warmth. Hayley Shields and Theresa Munoz‘s poems, very much from the page-led tradition, had the complexity and richness of imagery we often miss in slam, though again more practised and paced performance might have helped the audience appreciate their depth. Elizabeth Rimmer and Katie Craig both had wit and charm, and performed with enough aplomb to carry the audience with them in true slam style. A surprise performance late in the night from Lara S Williams, although she arrived to late to compete, treated us to a romp through the difficulties of trans-national identity – something that certainly spoke to a diverse audience in a country like Scotland.

Amongst the stand-out performances in the first half, qualifying for the second, Katherine McMahon startled thhe audience with real joy in her delicate but celebratory performances of “Shine” and “Forest”, which drew on the American declamatory slam style as well as a more English simplicity. I’d like to see more texture in her delivery, to help navigate her often quick and surprising poetic moves – she feels like a performer still discovering the power of her rage. Camilla Chen‘s tight, sparse verse journeyed through both snap puns (“Camilla Chen is a vegetable”) and moments of astonishing grace and insight (“Tell me the sea”). All I could wish for here is more time to enjoy the full range of what she’s reading. Tracey S Rosenberg treated us to a dry transatlantic wit with both “Genderclusterfuck” and “So where are you from?” – she found a raconteurish style that kept well away from the cynical comedy prevalent in slams through its audience-focussed warmth, while still revelling in wordplay and cynicism. Sally Evans – the editor of the venerable Poetry Scotland, who it was thus a real delight to find at a slam – gave us poems so rich in meaning and direct intention, so pleasingly funny, that her inexperience with a microphone barely mattered at all.

The Final

Tracey and Camilla both qualified for the final, and both again changed pace to perform some of the most lyrically beautiful moments of the evening. Tracey’s “Miracle”, which she revealed to be a wedding poem, was an extraordinary expression of love, while Camilla’s “France, Spring 2011 (as soundtracked by Badly Drawn Boy)” evoked waves of place, experience, and feeling with sharp, quiet stanzas. Both poets seemed slightly fazed by finding themselves in the slam final – or perhaps it was simply tiredness from the many highs of the evening. Nevertheless, it was a real pleasure to hear these last performances.

The star of the night, though, and its eventual winner, was Rachel McCrum, whose frank and resounding poems captivated the audience every time. “Are the Kids Alright?” reflected on urban unrest and violence with an enquiring and passionate concern, while “Last Night Ashore” delivered timely reflections on masculinity and poetry. Her finest turn was “Broad”, for me the highlight of the night, which moving journey through the working female bodies of the poet and her mother. This performance, in the first round, held every breath in the room: a poet talking simply, directly and beautifully about her own experience of her body while she stands just a few feet away from you is just the kind of extraordinary magic that slam at its best can work.

The Allies

Alongside these great female talents, Claire had invited a number of local male performers (including myself – see the disclosure below) to be sacrifical poets, or warm-up acts, before each round. The male performers took this opportunity to express their solidarity, and both performed with great aplomb. Matt McDonald‘s devastating poem on male shame, “Open Letter to a Rapist”, was delivered with an unrushed quiet sincerity and written with honesty and, astonishingly, tenderness: it was a highlight of the evening for many.

Colin McGuire‘s exploration of Glasgow’s queer masculine identity, “Filthy Man” brought the house down multiple times per minute – but had real depth too. The decision to include male performers was important to the integrity of he slam – it demonstrated quite clearly that this was about celebrating diversity rather than separating female poets somehow, and allowed men to vocally express their support for the slam

Colin’s set saw an extraordinary expression of just how strong the sense of solidarity and community in the venue was. Earlier in the evening, Rose Ritchie had been forced to leave the stage when, as has happened to so many slam poets, nerves claimed her memory of her poem: Colin used his own stage time to welcome her back to the stage to perform the poem she had left unfinished, which she did brilliantly.

It’s hard to say whether this slam was so exciting just because it was an all-female slam. Certainly, a sense of purpose and solidarity united the audience behind every performer, and gave each performer a definite support and welcome to play to. Certainly, a slam setting out to improve diversity will always have a better chance of surprising us with something fresh. But in the end, the success is down to something much more basic: great performers, speaking directly to the audience with skill, style and originality. That’s something that every slam needs. I hope the legacy of the first all-women’s slam is that we see it more.

Claire Askew’s own reflections on the event can be found here and here.

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.