-Reviewed by James Webster-
I had such high hopes for this slam. Farrago’s been running since 1994, making it one of the longest running slams in the country; a plethora of great and entertaining poets I’ve seen are former Farrago winners; I always hear it publicised at other events; essentially I’ve been bombarded with good things and people encouraging me to come along.
Maybe it was only natural after so much build up to be disappointed.
Not that it was terrible, there were several entertaining and accomplished poets, but the high standard I’d expected was not quite present and what was advertised as a ‘slam’ was more of an open mic with scores given than any kind of performance poetry competition.
Farrago’s website lists host John Paul O’Neill as ‘one of Britain’s leading new poetry performers and emcees’ and while he seemed like a nice chap and was filled with genuine enthusiasm for his poets, he lacked the energy and verve that I’ve come to expect from a host of performance poetry. He was softly spoken and encouraging, but the room started out a little cold and some lackluster performances didn’t help; in the end John resorted to simply telling, rather than encouraging, the audience to give the performers louder applause, which made me feel like I was being admonished for not enjoying myself.
• His poem “The God Of” was pretty good at least, his musings on a trip to LA, it was dedicated to ‘all the hippies’ in the audience. Its soft sibilance made cars and planes sound smooth, his words flowed out with liquid smoothness and his rejection of traditional religion and treatment of nature as Goddess is appropriately hippy-ish. His delivery was a little pretentious though.
From that poem at least I could kind of see how he’s done the respect-worthy things he’s done. Co-founder and coordinator of Farrago, they claim to have introduced slam to Britain, importing it from America on the 19th of February in 1994. To keep a poetry slam going for 17 years is an impressive feat, and perhaps I just caught him on an off night, but I don’t think he did himself or the event any favours by forgetting to explain what a slam was, what the rules were or choosing any scorers before the slam started.
At its best, Slam Poetry is vibrant, enjoyable, funny, biting and often political. Above all, good slam has something to say. It’s the poetry of people, of expression, of conversation and of intellectual and emotional discourse. When it’s not at its best, slam is like last week’s Farrago. Occasional flashes of brilliance didn’t cover up what was a limpid event and distinctively un-vibrant verse. But on the plus side every poet did win a prize. With 13 slammers altogether, I’ve not enough space to give them all justice, so the highlights are as follows:
• Charlie DuPres (prize: packet of Tutti-Fruiti’s) was the runner up of last month’s Camden Hammer & Tongue. His acerbic and witty poem on being asked pre-coital “What’s your real accent?” was just as strong the second time, bagging him first place with a score of 27.8
• Sh’mya (whose name I’ve probably misspelt, but won a Peter Rabbit trowel) gave a great epic-style poem called ‘Beyond’, a rousing throwback to heroic journeys overseas. Sadly he didn’t have time to finish. 25.5.
• Maya (won a thing that makes a bird sound) dedicated her poem to ‘everyone who’s going through a breakup’. It was touching, emotionally raw, but could have been a bit more polished and she stumbled over remembering some lines. Full of promise and deserved her 25.3.
• Noal Curate (Liquorice Allsorts) misunderstood Wordsworth’s ‘Lonely as a Cloud’ and called it a poem. I disagreed. 21.
• Jack Lawrence (Fruit Pastels) attempted a funny poem called ‘Bald Truth’ which he hadn’t yet finished and a poem called ‘The Meaning of Life’ which was let down by a lack of punchline. 22.8.
• Gulliver, the sacrificial poet, his poem in ‘franglish’ was sweet, but his playful touches between two languages lacked punch and meaning. 22.5.
• Edward Unique (Jelly Babies) showed promise with ‘My Darling I-Pod’ which was what it said on the tin. A sometime funny love poem to an I-Pod needed rehearsal and polish, but was an amusing idea.
• The Wizard of Skill (Tutti Fruiti’s) I’ve seen before, but his poem about the internet was less impressive the second time around, too reliant on his amusing delivery and underworked technological puns to be a really strong slam.
The slam suffered from too many poets, too many attempts at humour rather than meaning and too many poets not really understanding the ‘performance’ aspect of ‘performance poetry’.
There were 8 feature poets and really only two of them stuck with me.
• His first poem about being able to taste someone’s attempts at poetry on their lips was creepy in tone and performance, treating writing verse as a bad habit. It was a bold choice that I found strangely engaging.
• His second, ‘Tell Me What You Believe’ was addressed to himself, and was poignant, full of references to outstanding moments of belief from history (such as Tienamon Square and Rosa Parks). It’s a call to meaning, if not to action.
• Finally a poem to his mum was über-sweet.
• His poem ‘Ghost Slug’ was great horror-parody and one of the few genuine laughs of the night.
• ‘Dear Bump’ to his unborn child was a funny and politically aware apology for the messed-up state of the world he’s bringing a child into.
• ‘The Accident’ was more poetic, all resplendent language and the content was pleasantly baffling. Examining what would be found in his head if split open, it was strong and well written and performed, but too often his lines are just set-ups for the next punchline.