Hackney Hammer & Tongue (@The Victoria) 04/04/11

-Reviewed by James Webster

The Night
Another month and another Hammer & Tongue slam. The Victoria in Hackney is the newest place for H&T to ply their own particular poetic excellence, this being only the 3rd slam here. The venue does not at first look like a typical poetry venue, The Victoria having a certain ‘local pub for local people’ appearance, but appearances could not be more deceiving; you get into the back room and find a room decked out in fairy lights while resident DJ spins a selection of funky tunes.

The atmosphere was thusly incredibly welcoming, which is what’s great about Hammer & Tongue, they know slam poetry is a collaborative endeavour, one which the audience play as great a role as the poets. The judges are chosen at random and we’re encouraged to cheer or boo judge decisions based on our own opinions of the poetry. Poetry for the masses, oh yes.

The Host
‘Angry’ Sam Berkson (previously reviewed by Sabotage at the March Camden H&T Slam and at Sage and Time) is a generous host. Despite his ‘Angry’ moniker his attitude to the audience and the poets is nothing short of lovely. He remembers audience members who’ve attended before, he praises and encourages poets, he always has an astute or funny comment and he seems to really believe in the event, to believe in his poets, to believe in poetry. And speaking of poetry:

  • He opens with a series of ‘Hackney Poems’. As a Hackney local his poems are snapshots of loud, vibrant and sometimes violent life; a send-up to the streets in all their raucous abandon and grimy grit.
  • He followed these up with ‘Stop the Fucking War’, a poem full of fire and ire. He moves from poetically describing profoundly unpoetic events of a war abroad, to the ongoing war at home, a war of ideas, a war for our civil liberties. This battle cry to intellectual battles, to the war against war, certainly struck a chord or two.

The Slam
Format: 3½ minutes, any form, any subject, 5 scores out of ten (top and bottom knocked off), final score out of 30. The winner progresses to the Hackney final, and the winner of the Hackney final goes through to the UK Final in Brighton for the chance to be crowned UK Slam Champion.

This month was a surprisingly sparse slam, with only 5 performers , but I enjoyed each and every one of them.

  • Jenny Wright, the sacrificial poet (who volunteers to go first, so the competitors don’t have to), gave us some verse that was heavy with rhyme and layered with imagery of plants and human growth. It became a song of wasted youth that helped her find her voice, and what a voice it is. There’s a strength to her words and to her voice and to her poem in both form and content. 24.3.
  • Pierro: it was his first slam, and it was a poem with a succession of images of displacement, hope and struggle; lines like ‘I lived whole a life in the sky’ give it a wild and open feeling. His quiet and understated delivery had the whole room in a deathly hush as his words built us a picture of life as he saw it. 23.1.
  • Edward Unique: his ‘To My Darling I-Pod’ was much improved over his performance at Farrago, helped by his confident and warm introduction. The poem still lacks punch and punchlines, and could do with highlighting the ridiculosity of its conceit a bit more, but a vast improvement in delivery. 22.8.
  • Rob Orton: was one of the features at the first Hackney H&T, and his first one liner poem “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN … these are the names that we give to the toilets’ got a great laugh. His ‘Letter to Joe’ was short and vitriolic, and his ‘Life and Chips Twice Please’ was funny, but I felt relied too much on repetition of the same joke. 24.8.
  • James Webster: was dashingly handsome and devastatingly witty, but I can’t really comment on my own poetry for fear of bias. 24.1.
  • Patrick: his transcendental poem had a wonderful and wholesome message, and was refreshingly light on narrative. Some of the images I felt didn’t quite stand up. His score wasn’t announced, but I believe it was 22.5.

1st: Rob Orton.
2nd: James Webster.
3rd: Pierro.

Overview: A really high quality, if somewhat short, slam. I really enjoyed all the poets, especially Pierro who I would have picked as my winner, but he was unlucky to have gone first (no-one’s ever won a H&T slam going first) as I feel he would have gotten a score that more reflected the quality of his poem had he been on later. In the end it seems that Rob Orton’s off-beat delivery, vitriol and surreal humour clinched it.

The Features
Chris Parkinson
His confident manner, riotous carnival-esque delivery and excellent mutton-chops were very entertaining. He was heavy on irony; often layering it on so thick it was difficult to tell what, if anything, he meant genuinely. Indeed he even offered to sell his poetry pamphlet half-price to those who would go through and highlight his inconsistencies. Poems such as ‘Suburban Pastoral’ and ‘The Public Face of Meat’ were short, surreal, acerbic and sweeter than sherbet. His longer poems kept the surrealism, but repeated absurdist images in his longer poems seemed like they started to lose the audience.

The Dead Poets
The Dead Poets are an exciting verse experiment: Mark’s a poet and MC Mixi is, well, an MC and rapper. The two blend rap and poetry with considerable verbal dexterity; their arguments are funny and clever, showing (despite their disagreements) that poetry and rap both grow from the same roots. Together they make you laugh and think in equal measure, their joint efforts on rap and poetry and their storytelling exercise about a boy named Tarquill are definite highlights; separately they’re just as good, Mark’s sweet poem about liking a girl who reads, and Mixi’s rap about the prejudice faced being a rapper from ‘the sticks’ (‘look bud, I ain’t no actor, I’m just cruisin’ in my tractor!’) both hit home with panache.

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