The last time I went to Farrago I was unimpressed. For an event with such a strong reputation and long history, I found it supremely underwhelming, so it was with some trepidation that I chose to spend National Poetry Day at Farrago.
I was pleasantly surprised. There were some really talented and entertaining features, and the slam itself had some real high points. However the problems that undermined it when I last attended were still annoyingly present, seeming to buzz around like annoying wasps that no amount of poetical bug repellent would soothe.
The main problem is simply that there are too many poets of too varied abilities. The features (some of whom made my ears nearly explode with joy) were a mixed bag and with seven of them performing, none were given enough time to really shine. While the slam was far too long with 14 poets lining up and the judges scores were wildly disparate from beginning to end (thank to a phenomenon known as ‘score creep’). And John-Paul O’Neil, lovely as he is, needs to start explaining how a slam works.
Let’s break it down:
- Ollie Brown was the pick of the poets for me. His first, a poem on a relationship storming with hurt (the girl ‘has the rain inside her’), but finding comfort in each other was touching and heart-wrenching. His earnest delivery was coupled with a captivating way with words made me melt inside.
- His second was a choked cry of a poem, all forlorn, war-torn and dispossessed. A simple delivery, flowing rhyme, it was a poem that reached into your chest and squeezed.
- Amy McAllister was also superb. ‘Roleplay’ on a woman seeking to fill awkward silence with sex, was funny and lovely, ‘come wander in my jungle of distractions’ indeed.
- Her other poems from an ‘accidental series about this fucking guy’ were equally funny and heartfelt. Her joyous turns of phrase equally good for comedy and pathos.
- Abraham Gibson wowed me with ‘Tottenham Girl’ a viscerally dirty poem of a girl in an abusive relationship, who ‘thought she could run, but had no smiles left’ eventually finding the strength to run out was equally raw and uplifting.
- And his poem on ‘Margaret Thatcher and her African Lover’ was funny and cheekily satirical, I especially like the idea she ‘tightened up on immigration just to spite me’
- And of course Niall Spooner-Harvey is a bit of a monster of the spoken word scene. ALondonandUKslam champion his ‘Good Words and Bad Words’ was amusingly juvenile on business jargon.
- ‘I’m an Awkward Man’ was hilarious, summing up its own awkwardness brilliantly with professions that he ‘prefers the number 584 to people’, latterly breaking into tremendous awkward song.
The Not So Good.
Siam Hurlock showed some promise, had a very professional manner and made some good points with her poetry. But needless repetition, generalisations, cheap shots at easy targets (like religion) and annoying actions that didn’t seem to express anything meant it failed to reach me.
Jade Anouka again wasn’t bad. Her ‘There Once Was a Monster Who Bumped His Head’ was a charming childish rhyme. But other poems seemed a bit self-indulgent, with some phrases sticking out and interrupting the flow.
Rachel Pantechnicon was surreally funny, with amusing props, her poem on being into Protestant Reformism as a teenager ‘with posters of Calvin on the wall’ was very good. But ultimately the jokes ran a bit thin when she got to the ‘Centipede’s Book of Inn-Signs’ which was regrettably dull.
Again a real mixture. It did not get off to a great start when Jean-Paul forget to explain there was a time limit, or how exactly the scores worked, or about ‘score creep’ (a phenomenon whereby as the night goes on and the judges are drunker/have warmed up they give out better scores). He was, however, very clear that every poet wins a prize, which is a nice feature of Farrago.
Eleanor’s ‘Dear Hertford College’ (on her Oxford rejection) was well-rhymed, self-aware and witty, with a dash of social satire and class commentary thrown in. Apparently ‘the joke’s on you Hertford, as [she] pissed in your sink’. That’ll learn ‘em. 25.5
Jez had some very neat poems. Very droll and well-observed, his ‘I Want to Tell Myself How Much I Love Me’ was particularly fun. 23.3
Carmina Masolivier to my mind was the rightful winner, her ‘Ragdoll’ was all funny and sweetly desolate and ‘Fancy Dress’ was a multifaceted and fragile tale of self-creation. Her score 24.7 should’ve been higher.
Nia, the eventual winner, gave a tremendous performance, with a fantastic grasp of comedy. The refrain of ‘I know I’m not supposed to be with you’ (because you’re shorter than me) is well used and she manages to stop the sentiment from becoming trite by juxtaposing it with other aspects of femininity (e.g. motherhood and first-time-sex). Performing last, I felt she benefitted a little from ‘score creep’. 28.5
Lionheart. This was second time I’ve seen him perform and while his performance is excellent, all his poems seem to boil down to ‘I’m lovely and respect you for who you are, baby, so why aren’t you sleeping with me?’ In my opinion: insulting veiled misogyny. The phrase ‘a man’s woman is his wealth’ was especially bad. His 27 I put down to following the excellent Carmina.
Lloyd’s unfortunately short-sighted take on religion had clunky rhyme, seemed to miss several points and ultimately didn’t seem that poetic. 21.5
With so many poets it’s not been possible to mention everyone, and there were some other good poets in the mix, enough that I will come back again for the frequent gems amid the sprawling event that is Farrago. With a bit more focus, fewer features and slammers, then this would be a great night. As it is, it did just enough to draw me back.