Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Steve Larkin’

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)

N.O.N.C.E. – Steve Larkin

In Performance Poetry on February 27, 2012 at 5:45 pm

@ The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford

– reviewed by Paul Askew

The Performer: Steve Larkin is a bit of a legend of the Oxford poetry scene.

In fact, some would say he’s the reason Oxford has a poetry scene.

He set up and ran the infamous Hammer & Tongue night, which has now spread to other cities too, for eight years before backing down to concentrate on his own thing. His own thing being his new one man show, N.O.N.C.E.

If the title seems a little confrontational that’s because it’s meant to be. Steve’s never been one to shy away from politics in his poetry, so a show about the year he spent as poet in residence at a prison was certainly going to be no exception.

The Concept: a one-man show?

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. Yes, we’ve all seen the art of the one man/modern theatre show parodied so well on Spaced, The Big Lebowski, Family Guy, etc etc. Small theatre shows are generally treated with the same sense of general disdain as self published poetry pamphlets, possibly even more so, so it’s difficult not to approach this without some sense of caution. I’ve seen Steve Larkin perform poetry before, I know how good he is, but a one man theatre show? Really? Yes. Really.

The Show: Spoiler alert:  This show isn’t just good, it’s really bloody good.

The basic storyline is that Steve and a Doctor (whose name I’m afraid I forgot to note) regularly go to HM Grendon to run a poetry workshop for the inmates. At first it appears to be met with a lack of enthusiasm, but as the prisoners who sign up get more into the course, the more the worth of what they’re doing seems. This rise in professional success is offset by a deterioration of Steve’s personal life, creating an interesting dynamic. I’m reluctant to go into much more detail, as the show’s reveals deserve to be kept as such.

The Performance: Steve Larkin is a warm and very engaging performer

It’s what made him such a good Hammer & Tongue host, so as he (and I’m loathe to use this phrase, but it really does describe it best) takes you on a journey through his year long placement, you go right along with him. It feels like he is talking to you, rather than at you (which in a full theatre is no easy feat). This presentation style is one of the main reasons why N.O.N.C.E. works as well as it does. It is never preachy, hectoring, judgmental or manipulative. Steve Larkin has the faith to just present his events and let the power of what’s happening be what affects us.

One of the other main reasons that N.O.N.C.E. succeeds as it does is by repeatedly taking you through Steve’s daily routine. This repetition is a clever trick, setting a framework for us to become quickly familiar with. It puts us in his place. He gets up, goes to work, certain same things happen, he leaves, stays in a B&B, calls his girlfriend, sleeps and dreams. By following this repeated routine, the changes are more highlighted and affecting. We are shown how Steve’s progress with the prisoners was slow to start, and each ‘Eureka’ moment makes us take more notice of it, because it’s outside of the framework. It’s unexpected.

The Prisoners: These people are people

A large part of the show deals with the interactions between the prisoners and a group of students that Steve is teaching in another job. The bringing together of these groups highlights a slight paradox in the way that the prisoners are taught and treated. These people are people, and when treated as such respond in positive ways and progress is made. Because they are people who’ve committed awful crimes though, they are never to be fully trusted. The interactions with the students highlight this conflict well, and it is a conflict that is never fully resolved.

There are a couple of uneasy moments in the Steve’s personal life side of the show, which serve to highlight how easy it could be for any of us to make an error of judgement and end up in the prisoners’ situation ourselves. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to think that you could, in one simple, unthinking moment, end up in the same position as someone in HM Grendon.

This is something we haven’t been given a chance to think about before. All the inmates who take part in the workshop are given the names of their heroes. This is said to be to enable them to loosen up and engage in the program, but I suspect it was also done in order to separate each person from their crime, so that by detaching them from what they’ve done they’ve done, they could see them as people rather than monsters. It works for the show too, as that’s the effect it has on the audience. It’s a lot easier for us to root for someone called David Bowie, say, than someone we know as a convicted murderer. It’s another little trick that really works in getting us involved in and sympathetic to the events of the show.

Conclusion: Moving, thought-provoking, superb theatre.

The ending of the show is superb. Again, I am reluctant to give too much away, but a couple of points are raised which confront us with our general perceptions and habits (both of which, I have to admit, I was guilty of), and this highlights another message of the show. We all have preconceptions, and these can often do a disservice to the people we have them of.

For all the uncomfortable moments and uneasy feelings we are given though, N.O.N.C.E. is in the end an affirming and uplifting show. Its messages are positive ones, and they are delivered in a way that makes you think about them long after the show is over.

Steve Larkin has created a moving, thought provoking, and, most importantly, a fantastic piece of theatre. I would highly recommend this show to anyone who has a chance to see it.

Hammer and Tongue Camden vs Oxford: Part 2, Oxford

In Performance Poetry on December 10, 2011 at 5:13 pm


@ Oxford Hub above Turl Street Kitchen

– by James Webster –

I have a fondness for Hammer and Tongue, their events were my first taste of performance poetry. Their slams running in 6 different locations provide a lot of people with similarly excellent introductions to poetry slams. So in October I was very happy to attend two H&T slams in two days in two different cities.

They were quite different, but drawn together by H&T`s core values: poetry, politics and an open and supportive atmosphere. It’s poetry opened up for (and often involving) the audience.

I thought it fitting given I saw them on successive days to compare the two. Second: Oxford.

Venue: Turl Street Kitchen vs. Green Note Cafe

  • The Turl Street Kitchen was a lovely place. The upstairs events space doubles as the firstUKcentre dedicated to volunteering and activism: it features a notice board updating you to all the activism and collective projects they’re working on, and a lovely bar/restaurant downstairs. The performance space could’ve used more tables, but was a very intimate little room with good atmosphere.

Comparison: Good atmosphere in a seat of genuine activism. Just gets the nod over Camden’s hipster haven, the Green Note.

Hosts: Steve and Lucy vs Sam and Michelle

  • The hosting was just a bit special at this month’s Hammer and Tongue, as H&T founder and Oxford host Steve Larkin handed over the torch to new hosts Lucy Ayrton and Tina Sederholm. Giving a brief history of H&T from its beginnings (originally inspired by the B52 Two) rooted in politics, activism and the belief poetry can be a medium for change, it was a rousing reminder of where H&T came from and the reason we perform poetry.
  • He followed up by later taking a turn as the ‘Sacrifical Poet’ (used to calibrate judges’ scores for the slam) with a raucous poem ‘Fat Sex in D Minor’ ripping into the content of women’s magazines obsessed with body size and how to have better sex. Consummate delivery, matched with expert use of repetition, it build his aggravation to a frantic peak as he savaged magazines’ cynical recycling of sex, fat and the appropriated idea of the ‘new woman’. 24.2.
  • Lucy Ayrton took over hosting duties (Tina was sadly absent) and she made for a charming host. Friendly, funny and with a bit of a twinkle in her eye, she and Steve combined to keep the evening ticking nicely.
  • Like Steve her first foray into performance poetry was political and her poem ‘I Don’t Hate Men, I Just Hate You’ was overflowing with fluid rhythm and quick-footed rhymes. She packs a lot into the poem, rattling it out in righteous fashion as she dismantles the fiction that, as a feminist, she hates men. Her faux-patronising was especially entertaining.

The comparison: Tough. Sam and Michelle of Camden are excellent, butOxford’s touching handover of hosting from Steve Larkin to Lucy Ayrton distilled the essence of H&T and sneaked a victory.

Slam: Oxford vs Camden

  • Peter Whitton. His poem on Savonarola (complete with audience call and response) was full of amusing rhyme and benefited from an enthused audience. A rollicking rhythm buoys the poem of monks, papal decadence and doom along. Gerald Manley Hopkins meets Tom Lehrer. 23.2
  • James Webster. I had a lot of fun, it was a lovely crowd, they seemed to like my poem ‘What Are You Thinking’ (on a woman asking her partner for his thoughts, late at night and his reluctance to share) and gave me a very kind 25.7.
  • Joe Hughes had a couple of nicely nostalgic poems. One on walking in on his parents en flagrante that’s very funny, becomes kind of idyllic and ends with him in hospital, and another ‘Dolly Mixture’ on the different ways he and his sister used to eat sweets. Appropriately sweet. 25.2
  • Darrell Moore’s ‘Bankers Wrath’ was very funny and impressively full of jargon that kept the poem rolling, his banker character is appropriately awful and creepy (threatens the narrator with being ‘processed like a chicken nugget’). 25.7
  • Paul Askew’s three short poems were fabulous. The first on an Oxford Tube journey that was a well-expressed example of public transport imaginings on seeing a pretty girl. ‘Sex in the City’ used the title as the central refrain about his ex-girlfriend, changing the words slightly each time that created a superbly embarrassed humour. And ‘Potatoes’ was on a poor family for whom potatoes are not only their sustenance, but their toys and in extreme (-ly embarrassing) cases their pornography. All very funny and exceptionally performed. 27.1

Winner: Paul Askew and rightfully so.

Comparison: Some very good poets at both events, butOxford were just a little more consistently excellent (and the score seem to reflect this).


  • Anna McCrory is utterly charming. The president of Oxford University Poetry Society (pronounced ‘oops’) her poems were erudite, funny and charismatically performed.
  • Her first ‘To Man who Splashed in Puddle’, inspired by a puddle inManchester, was a good character piece with some light parody of herself, it was self aware and very amusing.
  • ‘Geeks United’ was by far my favourite. An incredibly sweet, geek-hip take on the socially awkward adapting to university life (“I’m going to listen to some of that ‘emu’ music …”). Her performance, complete with actions, was very accomplished and the whole things was endearingly loser-ish. When she said “We’re geeks who high-five … high-five?” I wanted to get up and high-five her.
  • Her next ‘The Von Ratts’ was a reimagining of the singing family from The Sound of Music; Anna outlined her plan to get her singing and rapping family on Britain’s Got Talent/X-Factor. Hilarity ensued, and it was quite a nice commentary on the inherent problems on grooming children for stardom.
  • Finally ‘The Wizard of Argos’ gave us some incredible lyricism onArgos, all dressed up as film and fairytale. Very nice satire.

Comparison: As charming and funny and erudite as Anna is, Paula and Richard over at Camden just edged it with the double team.

The final feature (both here and in Camden) was Henry Bowers, Swedish poet extraordinaire, who will soon receive his own Spotlight feature, as he is just that good.

Overall comparison: In the end there was not much between the two fantastic nights, I think I enjoyed Oxford a touch more thanks to Steve Larkin’s potted history of H&T and his moving handover to the new team. But both nights gave a great account of what makes Hammer & Tongue nights so fun and makes their brand so unique.

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.