Event: Taking the six different chapters of H&T from across the country and pitting them against each other to see which location has the best poets: 1st two qualifying heats and then a final.
Judges were chosen from the audience, with standard slam rules. (Scores noted, “OT” = if points were docked for going over time.) I was relieved to see the turns alternated between the teams of four poets, keeping it competitive.
There was also an individual slam, with many of the same poets, but that will be covered in another review, so if you feel the poets have been short-changed, they may have longer write ups there.
Venue: Hidden in a back alley near Aldgate East is Wilton’s, the last surviving Grand Music Hall in the world; rather beautiful in its stripped walls, wooden floors and curled columns; a splendour perfectly suited to the occasion.
On a positive accessibility note: the name, team, score and time were projected behind the performers.
The hosts: were excellent. Working in pairs, they kept proceedings fast paced, cracking jokes while scores were collected. They also made sure the audience knew the rules, so as not to exclude newcomers.
- Angry Sam spoke wistfully of snow failing to affect the harshness of business. (25.8)
- David Lee Morgan performed movingly on the riots from the perspective of authority. I love this poem to bits, particularly its darkness. (26.8)
- Amy McAllister talked accessibly of falling unrequitedly for her flatmate and the drive to escape (“he forgot what he had, scratch that, hadn’t”). (26.5)
- Adam Kammerling’s poem about an overheard conversation captured the meandering nature of everyday chatter about a day’s events (things “proper kicked off”), in a realistic tone that nonetheless maintained poetic rhythm. (26.2)
- Hollie McNish performed “Wow”, a fantastic piece on body image post-baby. (26.9)
- Fay Roberts “I want more”, a friendly rejection of female magazine advice. Wished she’d made more of the last line that questioned what the media was hiding with such a distraction. (24.6)
- Jessie Durrant discussed notions of family in relation to seeing a picture-perfect “catalogue” example, and comparing it with her own version. (26.1)
- Mark Niel raged at the frequent misspelling of his surname with the tightly-wound fury of a child’s tantrum. Culminating in the revelation that he was defending himself to a judge, the piece was compelling (if only compelling you to run away – ed) but also rather disturbing. (26.5)
- Michael Parker’s passionate “100%” built momentum with the effective repetition of “we few” and “we stand together”, combining otherwise isolated protest groups into a united movement. (23.4 OT)
- Yvo Luna had several poems, one a great, disturbing love poem with a baby-doll voice conflating kisses with “cuttlefish bones up vertebrae” and “drowning kittens”. (25.3)
- Chris Parkinson keyed in to the manic energy of the media with “Fashion Tips for the Last Days”. It unleashed a frenetic bombardment of clashing headlines and surreal imagery, in a hilariously tabloid-worthy tone. (“Would Gandhi have voted for Clegg? We asked Ulster, and they said no!”) (27.1)
- Spliff Richard: A fabulous piece dedicated to Kate Tempest, beginning with thunderstorms and ending beautifully with: “She’s the reason hurricanes have girls’ names”. Though the delivery was so fast it was occasionally incomprehensible, his rhythms and amazing flow were exhilarating. (26.1)
Compound Scores: Brighton: 101.9, Cambridge: 104.1. Winner: Hackney, 105.3
- Sally Jenkinson went twice to make up for Bristol’s reduced team, which worked distinctly in their favour. Her first, (25.9) was a moving entreaty to her sister not to lose herself in disaffection, weaving the lyrical with the everyday in a tone choked with feeling. Both her pieces effectively used evocative details to create atmosphere, whether for the complex familiarity of siblinghood or the vulnerability of insomnia, when “white bones sing awake”. (26.3)
- James Bunting’s “Conkers” drew allusions and teased comparisons between a whirlwind romance and carefree children playing in the “rum-gold twilight”. But occasional nice turns of phrase couldn’t overcome the patchwork of clichés, repetitious imagery, and familiar lines you already knew. (26.5)
- Jeremy Toombs’s hypnotic voice suited his wandering, Ginsberg-ian reflections. “Hangover Meat Belly” focused on the origins of the meat and alcohol in his stomach. The second, “My Asshole is Burning”, was a musing on diarrhoea and that all poets must shit. Engaging, but the humour was not for everyone. (25.4)
- Curious first detailed a young black rapper’s use of violent/threatening imagery in performances, then his death at the hands of police who framed him. Vivid and well performed, but confusing and lacking an obvious perspective or message. (24.7 OT)
- Michelle Madsen performed “We’d All Melt”, of bittersweet offerings to a relationship that’s ending. I’ve always loved the line: “I give a gift of seven lemons”. (25.9)
- Charlie Dupré’s consummately theatrical performance animated this sweet tale of two band members, the kick drum and high hat, who fall in love, leading to solo ambitions, crushed dreams and eventual reconciliation. (24.8)
- Cat Brogan on the origin of boycotts and filibustering in 1880s Ireland was full of facts (at the time, 100% of the land was owned by 0.2% of the people) that tied history neatly to contemporary protests. A powerful piece (if a little stilted from occasional forced rhyme). (25.5)
- Tina Sederholm shared her cute take on a child’s understanding of sex and the euphemisms they’re told, compared to the messy reality adults know. (25.7)
- Mac McFadden did a ‘comic’ poem on the shock of being “old enough to be [his] dad”, full of repetition and feigned outrage. The audience responded positively, though the chauvinist fantasies of making a sex tape with Paris Hilton made us cringe. (25.9)
- Chris McCormick wants to be a pirate, free of girlfriends and beset by wenches. Much of the poem romanticised this archetype and more could have been made of its glimpses of a lonely, melancholic fantasist underneath (pirates prefer “savage lust, instead of love which they cannot trust”). (25.5)
- Phat Matt Baker ranted against landlords shafting students in a confused revenge tale that failed to impress. (25.2)
Compound Scores: Camden 100.9, Oxford 102.3. Winner: Bristol 103.5
Note: The scores in this round seemed to be frustratingly and unfairly stuck between 8.5 – 8.8. Don’t make me graph them as proof.
Special mention to sacrificial poet Peter Hunter, whose “On Eyebrows” was masterful: painstakingly explaining the traditional sonnet form and its rhyme scheme, he then performed the piece silently, using said dextrous facial-hair.
- James Bunting talked of looking for the voice of his ‘Generation’, and not feeling a generational identity. Fixating on icons of prevous generations, he contrasted important voices of the past such as Dylan, with the potential of (for example) himself, or a protestor, to be voices today, and emphasised the confusion and fear of choosing such voices with quotes and cliches. While feeling lost was easy to identify with, the poem’s sense of confusion and adrift-ness was expressed in back-and-forth thoughts which made it feel muddled, and gave it the impression that it suffered from too many endings, some of which were rather trite. We also wished the piece had explored its theme with more depth, perhaps acknowledging that we tend to rose-tint the iconic voices and identities of past generations, that this whole process is a contrivance shaped by our own needs in the present, and considering what acknowledging that means for feeling lost in the here and now. Ultimately, his sometimes strong turns of phrase were not enough to draw his disparate and confused metaphors into a coherent poem. (24.9) Performing twice in this round, his ‘To the Girl Who Loses Herself in Other Peoples’ Mirrors’ received a 25.8.
- Sally Jenkinson’s “The Gasman Cometh”, perfectly captured the way your world can shrink in the depths of despair and illness, feverishly elevating the pronouncements of visiting gasmen (“fluorescent gods” with blinding high-vis jackets) to prophesy. (26.4)
- Jeremy Toombs‘s “Badass Bop” was a glorious, mesmerising , jazz poem with a great flow, woven with the repeated sounds of beep, bop and beat. Listening was like falling into a dreamlike, music-induced haze. (27.7)
- Angry Sam‘s compellingly human “100 Greatest”, discussed our obsession with ranking/categorisation to fill voids in our lives with some lovely examples. (25.6)
- David Lee Morgan’s trilogy on children, finished with the memorable “Dead Babies”, which hammered home a solemn point by grimly suggesting the volume of dead babies around the world could be used as time-markers (a standard TV episode is 800 dead babies long). (25.8)
- Amy McAllister started her set with “Toilet Troubles”, about a break-up triggered by a boyfriend pooing at her house, using deliberately childish rhymes to mask underlying complex issues. Her second piece, “Burn”, was far superior, a sad, sweet poem which related a break-up in the present to her childhood propensity for burning herself accidentally. (27.2)
- Adam Kammerling’s tale of being stopped by the NYPD for drinking in public was accessible, went down well, and ended the night on a good-natured, comical note. (28.3)
Final scores: Bristol 104.8, Hackney 106.9
Winner: Hackney. (The less-consistent Bristol still provided some great highs)