-Reviewed by James Webster–
I’ve reviewed H&T a couple of times before, so let’s get straight to the good stuff. On the 9th of May the audience were treated to one of the most consistently superior nights of poetry I’ve been to. There were 10 poets in the slam and (barring one exception) they all brought their a-games; the judges’ scoring was also consistent throughout (if in one case consistently mean); and the features Niall O’Sullivan and Mark Gwynne Jones were both very entertaining. The only problem I had was that while the poetry and performances were consistently good they lacked brilliance; there was no stand-out poet who really set my mind aflame, but still a very good offering.
Sam Berkson and Michelle Madsen hosted with their usual verve, charm and humour, especially during the slam their professionalism and rapport with the audience shone as they rambled onwards to cover the judges’ delays in getting their scores up. Hosts don’t always get the credit they deserve, but if I were a judge scoring them they’d get a perfect 10. Michelle summed the evening up: “If you’ve never been to a slam before then you’re in for a treat. If you’ve been to a slam before then you’re in for a treat.”
- Niall O’Sullivan (host of Poetry Unplugged) was ace. I particularly enjoyed his toast to the evening where he downed a pint on stage.
- Mark Gwynne Jones was a wonderfully entertaining and superbly professional performer. The highlight, for me, were his impressions of the poetic archetypes you can find at open mic’s. The depressing poet who asks ‘why do we start each day with mourning’; the hip-hop artist’s “I wave my arms in front of your face, to distract from the fact I’ve got nothing to say”; he lampooned poets and himself brilliantly and I heartily recommend him.
As I said, a really consistent slam, starting off with the sacrificial poet:
- Catherine Bragan: her ‘Fingered by a Terrorist’ was a great mix of teen embarrassment and political violence. The language lilts and swoops with its rhymes, the poem accomplishes the rare thing of being both personal and political.
- Natasha: the first of the ‘slam proper’ told us she thinks you should write about what you love and what she loves is Spanish men. It was a very amusing poem, filled with playful puns and clever word juggling, the Spanish/Spanglish blending well into the English. Ultimately, though, it was a funny poem with muchos charm, but lacking any deeper meaning and I don’t feel it really used the ‘slam’ genre to its full potential. Not my cup of tea at all, but very well done, and it left the room feeling much hotter. 24.6.
- Jason Why: his on-the-spot poems were previously reviewed at The Tea Box and I really feel he could do with cutting his introductions, which serve more to lose the room than draw them in. Still, his poem was well delivered, had great pace, and put a lot together from the prompts the audience gave him, even if his last line was a little baffling. His 19.7 seemed a little harsh.
- Konstantine: The first poet to read from the page, his performance suffered from it; his eyes cast down on the page robbed him of one of a performer’s most powerful means on connecting. His poem’s language was rich and grew and flowered over itself, it had a dirty nostalgia that I loved, but the imagery flickered around a bit too much and lost me at times. 22.2.
- Josh Miko: had engaging big eyes. His poetry was strong, rooted in history and fable, drawing new meaning from old stories and used the word ‘spectroscopic’ which gained him points in my book. I wasn’t, however, quite sure where one idea/poem began and the other ended and he seemed unsure whether he wanted to dwell on any one reference or merge them all. 22.4.
- Darico: His French accent went down well with the crowd (as they always seem to) and his performance was wonderfully engaging and his poem of babbling words not equalling conversation was well expressed, if basic. The one phrase that stood out to me “Ears like arms that never embrace me” made me quiver inside. 23.7
- Alan English: Wove together an interesting story of sweetly endearing everyday tragedy. His simple rhymes reflected the small-town simple romance and simple loss that really reached into my chest and plucked my heartstrings. Sadly he went 38 seconds overtime and lost 4 points ending on a 19.2.
- Alfred Lord Telecom: Gave us ‘Torvald the Bi-Polar Bear’. He had slight microphone malfunction that I found unfortunate until it started working and I realised his entire poem was predicated on the idea a ‘Bi-Polar Bear’ was intrinsically funny. It successfully made light of several serious issues whilst simultaneously failing to address them or indeed anything interesting at all. I wish the mic had continued to fail. His 24.2 nearly made me cry tears of frustration.
- David Lee Morgan: His poem from his ‘Medea Chained’ series was a poem of two halves, the first the risky gambit of singing at a slam, while his voice was strong, the basic lyrics lacked punch. The second part, an impassioned evocation from Medea for the return of her child was primal and powerful and a great performance. His 20.7 seemed extremely harsh.
- Adam: Had my favourite poem of the night, a superb twisted love story with awesomely perverted internal monologue along the lines of “I bet she fucks like a gazelle on meth”. It was beautiful and twisted, but his quiet and subdued performance let him down. 21.6.
- The Good Samaritan: Rounded off the evening with a surreal suffusion of images and a very polished performance. He threw themes and images together with gusto, painting a landscape of ideas, touching on humankind’s lost innocence and the violence inherent in political ideas. His surreal varied images sometimes seemed to lose the audience, though. 21.8.
A very good slam, won by Natasha (the first poet I know of to win a H&T slam with the starting spot), that just needed one brilliant poet to make the night.