Poetry Olympics: Word Games 17/07/12

– Reviewed by Dana Bubulj

@ Theatre Delicatessen

It was rather difficult to miss the looming [Redacted] over London this season. What better way to respond to this is by appropriating it for poetry? In a pop up Theatre Delicatessen, housed innocuously in an old BBC building, Cat Brogan hosted an alternate [Redacted], with poets hailing (or having grandparents) from all across the globe. The venue itself was gorgeous, a very red Twin Peaks-esque draped basement with cushioned benches and low lamps. As an official slam, the poets had three minutes, but in the absence of score cards, audience judges (and increasingly their entire rows) called out scores. With only three judges, there were no discarded scores, so the standard biases (humour, acquaintances etc) were a visible and embraced part of the event. The prizes suited the ‘grandeur’ of the corporate-free occasion: homemade medals, fruit shoots, vegan cheese & toilet roll.

Cat Brogan was an effusive host, full of energy despite the sheer number of poets involved, many of whom were slam champions in their own right. She performed two pieces: first, a fantastically scathing comment on the rigmaroles of the [Redacted] and its shadier practices where “wetland marshes become marchés”; second, an abridged epic history of the Irish (accompanied by a bodhran) that was suitably mesmerising.

Sacrificial Poet was the “Usain Bolt of poetry” Harry Baker, whose tale of proper-pop-up-paper people (after which his Edinburgh show was titled) was sickeningly slick. His political alliteration was astounding, in his pop-up metropolis of paper people hurt by all the “paper cuts” of “paper thin policies”. The last third, about people as inspiration, was almost less powerful for giving us time to breathe. (25.5)

First Round Highlights

Esther Poyer (Guyana)’s ‘Fruitcake’ was a nicely paced story about moving to a Victorian-terraced-England of fine china and English tea carrying an awkward box of Caribbean fruitcake steeped in demerara sugar. “We in England now, we must leave behind silly things”, her characters say, reluctant to put it down. It was her first slam, and I hope to hear more. 22.75

Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson (Jamaica) is a familiar face, and his Cultural Chameleon was fabulously performed, discussing the possible concept of a cultural “mean, mode or median” between roots in Jamaica and London. 27.5

David Lee Morgan (USA) Another Sabotage regular, Morgan performed an impressive ode to giving in to primal natures (“when the tiger hunts me I become the tiger”) and the disassociation/coming to terms with thoughts (“outside tiger, inside tiger, outside me”). 22.3

Michael Wilson (Northern Ireland) ECT poem was powerful, and the use of BSL added an interesting element to the relearning of communication (“my mind struggles into the clothing of thought”). 24.7

Stephanie Dogfoot (Singapore)’s ‘Asian people eat a lot of weird crap’ was great, both comic (“we look into its eye and dig eye out”) and mouthwatering in its conjured smoke and blistering chilli. 24.5

Ingrid Andrew (Australia) created a quiet personification of trees after bushfires, a “charcoal woman” with a “broken back where light comes through”. The extended womb analogy, while not novel, was very atmospheric. 21

Rose Drew (USA) had two particularly cutting political poems, one on the Olympics as distracting pomp (“leap like Superman over trash they can’t afford to collect”) and the particularly prescient ‘Dead Republican Girls’, a comment on the current erosion of Roe vs Wade in contemporary America. 23

Also ran (First Round):

Young Dawkins performed ‘Streets’, a nicely ponderous take on having done their time protesting as a younger man, now supporting from the “window seat” rather than frontlines. (21)

Oskar Hanska (Sweden) gave an exhilarating sensory explosion, but might have done better without the screaming. 24.25

Trudy Howson (England), whose poem is being used by the BBC for the [redacted] themselves offered up ‘English’, a succession of hat-tips that certainly hit all the traditional jingoistic name-checks. 22

Dareka Daremo (France)’s ‘Nouveau Globe’ alternated languages throughout in a fluent rhythm, with talk of the “chaos of endless night” and “les yeux d’un fou”. The times in which he committed content to one language rather than repeating multi-lingually was much more effective. 24.5

Ian (Canada), while published, has never performed, and it was evident; Hs ‘Rhapsody for Minimum Standard’ was dry and while he stated it was “no pedantic tirade”, it was monotonous and lecture-like (despite good intentions to “emancipate” the mind and dethrone corporations). 20.5

Matt Cummins (Canada) performed ‘I was a teacher’s pet’, an ‘it gets better‘ poem on being “kicked out of the closet” but lucky in having his friends’ support, urging people to turn the cross your bear into “wooden wings”. 26.5

Sophia Walker (Malaysia) performed a satirical take on ‘desirable’ laddish stereotypes. The seductive tone of “oh baby, I will separate your whites” made it, though the reveal that she is bereft of bad examples of men in her life could have been more incorporated. 29

José Anjos (Portugal) performed ‘I’m Walking’, a somewhat scattered succession of images of “one million worlds in one glance”, trapped in a search for both meaning and a place share or call his own. 22.9

Mel Jones (Wales) performed ‘Mmm’, an alliterative poem on bestiality (a pub challenge, apparently) with a relish suited to riotous filth. Like the acts described between Mandy and her mog, the poem was “magnetic, messy, moreish”, though often mildly disconcerting. 25.

Ant Smith (Rep. Ireland) was asked for raucous, and certainly delivered with a kinky rhythmic song that might have done better with less repetition of its chorus. As such, it dragged a little despite its sexual energy. 19.7

Chuquai Billy (First Nations: Lakota/Choctaw) spoke of gatherings and the ceremony of family and traditions to a rising soundtrack, but he also kept the piece rooted in the modern and quietly scathing of the outsiders with binoculars “convinced sage is a narcotic”. Unprepared for a second round, he later performed stand-up. 25.4

Alain English (Scotland) asked us about the “losers” of history, during this time of podiums, whose “endurance should inspire”. It was a rallying cry to the “survivors” of “overworked mothers”, the “lonely” or “caught-in-between” left “without a future”. 24.4

Final Round: Matt Cummins, Mel Jones, Mark Thompson, Chuquai Billy, Michael Wilson, Sophia Walker

Sophia Walker‘s ‘To the Man Who Punched Me’ was a fantastic piece: taking the “dyke” thrown at her, and reclaiming it with its original meaning (“please accuse me of holding back the sea”). 28.1

Matt Cummins‘ Valentines poem was a sweet stand against the overblown theatrics of the movies, with fireworks and orchestra-soundtracked declarations in favour of quieter affections. 25

Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson had a nice poem on respecting people and learning the “true value” of love and those around you. While it did advocate a particular type of relationship, it boiled down to “don’t be a superficial arse”, which we can get behind. 23.8

Mel Jones performed ‘Family’, a lovely domestic scene in a child’s memory, with a “wall full of eggs, tipping tapping shells” to the adventures of “invincible youth” and feeling the “Welshness in bones”. 25.3

Michael Wilson‘s poem to an old friend who committed suicide (an endemic problem in NI) definitely marked him as my favourite poet of the night. The quiet grief of looking through his room, seeing a “half pack of gum – he collects them, sorry, collected” was palpable, as was tying it to the greater context: “they say it’s the Troubles, but we always had troubles”. 27.5

1st Place: Sophia Walker
2nd Place: Michael Wilson
3rd Place: Matt Cummins (after Mel Jones’ disappearance disqualified her)

Verdict: Chaotic but enjoyable night. The sheer amount of poets dragged on a little, but it was a friendly atmosphere that made it fun, with some real gems to make it shine.

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