Word Wrestling Federation Presents: Page Match 2

@ The Camden Roundhouse, 25/02/201

– reviewed by James Webster

The Concept: An odd mix? 

Performance poetry and professional wrestling seems like an odd mix. On the one hand there’s the machismo, violence and soap-opera of pro wrestling and on the other the more reflective, cerebral and verbal poetry.

But in organising this event Dan Cockrill drew on the similarities between the two: larger than life personalities, crafting narratives, the showmanship and performance, audience interaction, and the competition of both poetry slams and wrestling matches. Thus the pomp and aggression of wrestling is introduced to the wit and meaning of poetry: culminating in Page Match 2 (a nice pun on the pro wrestling ‘cage match’) a verbal battle royalé between seven of London’s top poetry collectives.

The Match-Ups:

Round 1: Apples and Snakes vs. Word of Mouth

Winner: Apples and Snakes

Round 2: Roundhouse vs. Rubix

Winner: Rubix

Round 3: Bang! Said the Gun vs. Chill Pill vs. Dirty Hands

Winner: Chill Pill

Round 4: Rubix vs. Chill Pill vs. Apples and Snakes

Winner: Tie between Chill Pill and Apples and Snakes

Round 5: Poets Against Page Match vs. Apples and Snakes vs. Chill Pill

Winner: Apples and Snakes

It certainly built up a lot of hype.

  • The build-up and promotion was excellent. A series of verbal battles and trash-talking on facebook drummed up tension, while a series of amusing youtube videos by the collective PAP (Poets Against Page Match) created a villainous cabal of poets set on ruining the event. This created a classic wrestling narrative, that of the ‘heel’ (short for boot-heel), the bad guys that the audience and other poets can unite against.
  • This clearly worked: it was sold out. The audience packed into the Roundhouse in Camden (an appropriate cross between an underground bomb shelter and a gladiatorial ring) waiting for Page Match 2 to begin, to see if the hype would pay off.

It did fulfil the hype! (mostly)

  • As both a pro wrestling and a poetry fan I was impressed with how the pageantry of wrestling was mixed with the wit and verbal wizardry of poetry. Hosted by Dan Cockrill‘s Rhyme Stone Cowboy persona, he introduced each collective to entrances complete with lighting effects and music, some really impressive trash talking, some great costumes, and lots of vibrant characters.
  • The best entrances: Dirty Hands, made their entrance in demurely hipster-ish glasses to Christina Aguilera’s ‘Dirty’, Word of Mouth were all street with masks and hoodies, Apples and Snakes used confetti and party poppers, and Bang! Said the Gun’s Rob Auton entered to White Stripes’ ‘Little Room’ wearing a giant robot costume.
  • I was wowed by the battle between Apples and Snakes and Word of Mouth with their imaginative insults and ‘street vs. classics’ theme. Especially Angry Sam/The Dalston Destroyer’s piece with poetical put-downs and clever, and had powerful points on the best poetry coming from the ‘street’.And Poet Curious’s smooth rhyme and slick, plentiful art analogies that created a classical-art-street-chic vibe.
  • Dan Simpson/The Dandelion’s response to the ‘uncultured swine’ was clever and creative in his trash-talk and consummately performed, but it lacked the focus and convincing arguments of Word of Mouth. But he did still win.
  • Other highlights were Roundhouse member Jessica Green’s firebrand, entertaining performance on societal pressure on women who choose to enjoy ‘cider, spliffs and casual sex’ rather than having kids. Brave, bold and powerful.
  • And ‘Notorious’ Mr Gee (of Chill Pill): his poems on body image, hoodies, and a battle-style poem written for the event were funny, poignant and relevant and they propelled him like a one-man rocket into the final.

But some aspects of the night had room for improvement …

  • First off: the round pairings. Roughly organised by theme, with classic vs. street, old vs. new and then the themes kind of petered out, making the third round feel a bit redundant.
  • Rubix vs. Roundhouse was a poorly planned round; their poetry styles were painfully similar (Rubix are former Roundhouse poets themselves), and as there were four members of each collective each doing a long poem it felt like it went on forever
  • And throughout both collectives I had the same problems with many performers: their poems, while in places strong (especially Jackomo Rook’s piece on his father and Talia Randal’s ‘Chicken Bones’ on London and her family history) they often lacked focus, switched randomly between themes and almost all went on too long.
  • I was slightly disappointed by the usually excellent Dirty Hands and Bang! Said the Gun collectives. Bang’s Rob Auton/The Ultimate Worrier was funny, but he relied on one pseudo-pun and had no deeper meaning; while he’s good enough to rely solely on his delivery, he’s far better when he brings some substance.
  • While Katie Bonna and Amy Acre of the Hands’ interlinked poem was immaculately performed, and was full of lovely character and moving imagery, but their linking themes diverged more and more as the poems went on.
  • The gatecrash appearance from Poets Against Page Match/PAP, while amusing and appropriate to the wrestling theme, went on far too long and wasn’t clear enough to the audience members who hadn’t seen their youtube videos.
  • Their appearance in the final Belt vs Masks match was anticlimactic as when they were unmasked to reveal Peter Hayhoe (of Bang! Said the Gun and Dirty Hands) and Paul Cree (of Rubix) absolutely nothing was made of it.

And some aspects just didn’t work for me.

Such as the scoring. Scores were assigned by the judges anonymously, which missed a huge opportunity getting the audience involved booing or cheering the judges’ decisions (a staple of both wrestling and poetry slams).

And the lack of clarity as to how rounds were scored, coupled with the scorer admitting they might be making mistakes, meant the overall results seemed less than 100% (which comments from judge Charlie Dark ‘The Invader’ would seem to support).

Martin Galton disappointed with a poem about how the world is so depressing you should ‘blow your brains out’. I found this refrain more offensive than amusing, as I don’t think suicide’s all that funny (admittedly sections of the audience disagreed).

Rachel Pantechnicon is a veteran on the performance scene who’s quick with a pun and a joke, but I just feel they could do more with their act than elaborate puns. Dan Simpson, to my mind, carried the Apples and Snakes team to victory.

And Justice Lyric (of Rubix) had some great phrasing, but the premises of her two poems (one using poetic terms as innuendo and the other using dubstep/dancing as innuendo) made some effective wordplay seem trite and, with the ‘I’d go gay for poetry’ theme of her first piece, insipid.

A strong, fun night, with some flaws.

It was an entertaining evening, the success of the premise definitely overcoming the format and some performers’ shortfalls. The most entertaining were performers like Word of Mouth, Notorious’ Mr Gee and Dan Simpson all wrote poems especially for the event that mixed trash-talk with affecting poetry. They, coupled with the superb showmanship of a wrestling event, made Page Match 2 stand out. Just not as much as it could have.

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