Saboteur Awards 2015: Best Spoken Word Show, Regular Spoken Word Night, Spoken Word Performer, and One Off Event

awards– In which James Webster sums up Best Spoken Word Show, Regular Spoken Word Night, Spoken Word Performer, and One Off Event –

What an evening.

The Saboteur Awards really were the most wonderful time. It was lovely having so many amazing, creative people all in one room to celebrate the exciting achievements in indie literature over the last year. 12 awards, 12 trophies, 12 bottles of very nice champagne (we had the best prizes this year), two fascinating panels, one embarrassing gaffe, a hotly contested game of bingo, a few tears and more than a few drinks later, and the awards were over.

I joked on the evening that “we are all winners here, but some are more winsome than others” and, of course, I was lying. Everyone involved in the awards (those who could be there and those who couldn’t) is equally winsome and it was an incredible pleasure to be a part of bringing such an awesome crowd together.

Best Spoken Word Show

In a phenomenally exciting (and very closely fought) category, there was a brilliant mix of shows in the running. From Colin Davies and 2001: A Space Ode and Ditty‘s warmly nostalgic account of a life in geekdom that took people on “a witty and wonderful trip through sci-fi and comic fandom” and was also described as:

“Engaging, refreshing, touching. A revelation!”, “Colin is a fantastic writer and uses every word to great effect. Nothing is wasted.”, “For a show which is about sci-fi, it manages to include non-fans and not alienate them (pun not intended …. or should it have been?)” and “A brilliant hour of geekdom writ large. It’s so dense with pop cultural references that one wonders how he managed to fit any other words in.”

To Schlock! and Hannah Silva‘s multimedia smorgasbord of poetry, sound and British Sign language that took 50 Shades of Grey and “made a silk purse out of a pig’s ear” and brought it to life with “humour, honesty, laughter and tears”. Voters also said:

“Best thing to come out of 50 shades”, “Because there is nothing like it and it made my heart flap in my ribcage like a stuck bird.” and “Because it’s unique in content and performance: shocking, controversial, darkly funny, revelatory and risk-taking with absolutely no safety net. Hannah Silva takes the art of live multi-media performance to a whole and extraordinarily memorable new level.”

Then there was Sophia Walker‘s Can’t Care Won’t Care, an excoriating one-woman interrogation of the care system that voters called “socially conscious, gripping theatre” and according to our review she “wields words so strongly they might break you”. Further, it was:

“a show that hangs entirely on the writing, and that should be how we judge spoken word shows. Stripped back, simple, show with a script that knocks you sideways. When I saw it, more than half the room cried”, “I saw Sophia Walker live earlier in the year, and her work is just so powerful and moving, she is definitely worth amazing recognition.” and “This is urgent, vital spoken word that acts out the counternarrative to every time you ever hear ‘care workers’ or ‘the care system’ on the news or in the pub. Which is every night. It matters now, and it matters that it is given the attention, the grit and the eloquence it needs to convince people of that.”

But coming in as the runner-up in this absurdly competitive field was Ross Sutherland with the work of split-second, synesthetic brilliance that is Standby for Tape Backup. Voters called it: “Funny, heartbreaking, compassionate and innovative” as well as “fucking dope” and, having managed to catch it myself earlier this year, I can attest to its sheer creative joy. Further praise:

“Because it was imaginative and entertaining, and anyone who dares to do such daring stunts with technology deserves an award.”, “He is incredible. Funny, heartbreaking, compassionate and innovative. A charismatic performer of unusual and compelling material.”, “He has a beard” and “The most original, captivating, super cool spoken word show I’ve ever seen!”

But, the winner, which was greeted by shrieks of glee by an appreciative audience, was Jackie Hagan with Some People Have Too Many Legs. Our review called it: “a poetic, playful, psychologically-astute piece of theatre which engages the audience’s hearts as well as minds”

While voters said:

“This show makes something witty and life affirming out of a nightmare experience, and with not a trace of inspiration porn in sight.”, “Hilarious show about a heart- stopping subject, brought into the limelight in such an intimate and toughly tender way. Jackie is hard and funny as care bears wearing steelies.”, “Cos its fucking awesome. Clever. Funny. Poetic. Sexy. Sad and a dancing unicorn” and “Because it’s a brilliant show and she is an extraordinary wonderful warrior of a woman and deserves all the prizes and goodness life can throw at her.”

Sadly, due to an incident with a dodgy thumb, Jackie couldn’t accept her award in person, but she sent a lovely acceptance email in which she showcased the chutzpah and humour that won her they award by professing to be “off my tits on morphine”, hoped that we were all suitably drunk and claimed to be working on new show “Some People Have Too Many Thumbs”. Fundamentally, you have to love a performer who’s bold enough to cover herself in glitter and drink cava out of her own prosthetic leg.

Some People Have Too Many LegsBest Regular Spoken Word Night

A lot of great nights in this one, from across the UK. Evidently is a Salford-based night with an emphasis on warm atmosphere and riotous entertainment, with voters saying:

“they have totally rejuvenated the performance poetry scene across Greater Manchester”, “Well-programmed nights with all the best talent. They treat guests so nicely and produce kick-ass films.”, “The friendliest, most exciting night of spoken word, brilliantly hosted and put together by the team of Kieren King and Ella Gainsborough. First timers are made to feel welcome, and seasoned performers can’t wait to take part” and “My favourite place on earth. Warm, friendly and encouraging.”

Another of the northern contingent, the Say Owt Slam has a reputation for being a real melting pot of styles and ideas, with such varied topics as pokemon, anarchy, feminism and contemporary politics all thrown down and taken apart; voters said:

“It is a show that four times in a row has sold out, that I have been to and been blown away by the quality of the performers and the hosts, and their gust poets have always been amazing. As one of the hottest nights out in York, it deserves awesomeness!”, “Not been going long, but every time it’s been fizzing with creativity, emotion and brilliant performances. The best night in York!” and “Tons of energy at this well loved venue. A real gem and true ambassador for the spoken word.”

Project U is the performance arm of Unthank Books, also nominated for Best Anthology; relatively new, it’s a playful and friendly space that’s achieved impressive popularity impressively quickly by showcasing the best of performance prose instead of poetry. Voters said:

There’s a wonderful atmosphere there – friendly yet serious about good writing. Well organised: no ‘free mic’ – just high quality storytelling and experiment.”, “spoken word in a unique atmospere that makes you want to grab your pen” and “The readings are consistently excellent and there are always new people to meet. A thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining evening, every time.”.

Despite all these strong contenders, this ended up becoming a straight-up head-to-head between two titans of poetry. These behemoths of spoken word duked it out to the very end, with less than 40 votes between the winner and the runner-up. Said runner-up, a previous winner in this category, was the stand-up poetry juggernaut that is Bang! Said the Gun. An absurdly successful event that’s hosted some of the biggest names in spoken word and been broadcast on Sky and Channel 4, Bang! Said the Gun is, in many ways, the spoken word night. To quote the voters:

“To make people like poetry, Bang! is where you take them. It’s our gateway drug.”, “This night is genuinely fun, off-kilter, raucous, and the roll-on of the open mic winner nabbing a feature slot for the next night is a great idea.”, “Love it love it love it.” and “BANG is the best in the country: lively, welcoming, professional to the nth degree behind its friendly facade, and a genuine transformer of the poetry landscape. The others are all good but only Bang regularly attracts people who do not identify as spoken word fans – just as people looking for a good night out.”

It is all the more impressive then that the winners defeated these kings of poetry, wresting the crown from their very brow(s). Bad Language is another Manchester-based night, which, as well as hosting a selection of top performers, reserved half the open mic for newcomers every time. Voters heaped praise upon them, such as:

“Incredible open-micers for a free night, run with great friendliness & professionalism. Hugely encouraging to new performers, and fiercely promoting gender balance.”, “Literally changed my life. Their supportive open mics took me from a stage-fright wreck into a performer and semi-professional writer. I owe BL so much.”, “Truly egalitarian night. Encouraging people not just to watch but to engage and becomes an entry point into the entire ‘scene’. A friendly corner of the literary community entirely without snobbery or pretension.” and “Great beards.”

bad langBest Spoken Word Performer

Always a fascinating category, in the past few years this one has consistently thrown up surprise after surprise, showing just how vibrant and quickly evolving the spoken word scene in the UK is proving to be.

Newcomer Stu Freestone has been on the Spoken Word scene for just 18 months (after being inspired by Scroobius Pip in Edinburgh) and has wasted no time finding his style, winning fans and earning an impressive reputation, taking his debut show to Edinburgh last year and following up with another this year. Voters said:

“Stu always speaks from the heart and you know you are in for a roller-coaster of emotions when you see and hear him perform his poetry. Fantastic – thoroughly deserves this nomination and fingers crossed he wins!”, “Best eyebrows that curled words around a microphone this year.” and “Stu Freestone brings a fantastic energy with everything he does.     He defines what a spoken word poet should be, to me.”

Oz Hardwick is clearly a man with a ridiculous number of talents. A writer, journalist, photographer, musician and professor, he’s both performed and been published across the world and has been gracing the back rooms of pubs with his poetry and music for years. Voters said:

“Having heard Oz read in person, I see that he finds in each audience, in each room, potentialities–added elements that can make that given reading singular. Like a good cook, he knows how to make the most of his ingredients!”, “Because Oz Hardwick delivers his mesmerising and wonderfully diverse poems that delve into the depths of the human condition with passion and heart.” and “A voice I trust and words that stay with me.”

Chimene Suleyman is a London-based writer and performer who is always good value. In the past she’s represented the UK at the Internationale Biennale 2011 and her poetry collection Outside Looking On has been stonkingly received and was mentioned in the Guardian’s Best Books list. Voters said:

“She balances a conversational style of delivery with heavy subject matter in an unforced and therefore galvanizing way”, “She is a powerful and fearless performer.” and “I’m voting for her because she came to Margate”.

One nominee, however, who was no surprise was Sophia Walker. A mainstay of the Saboteur Awards shortlists, she once more made the shortlist for both Best Performer and Best Show and came the closest out of anyone to challenging our eventual winner. She’s a one-person storm of a poet, combining powerful emotion with elegant wordsmithery and consummate performance who never shies away from important topics. Voters said:

“Raw, honest, un-sensational but quietly mesmeric. Her performances build in intensity until they have you by the guts.”, “Beauty, truth and humor delivered in one package. It is brilliant what she does.”, “passion + truth= enlightenment” and “She spins words like silk, transforming the raw and rough of the human experience into pieces of profound beauty.”

But the winner’s rise to the top was, in the end, unstoppable. An ascendant star of spoken word, Hollie McNish has captivated and gobsmacked audiences, gone viral on multiple occasions, and bravely taken on a bevy of societal issues in a way that speaks to all kinds of people. Earlier in the day, Sophia Walker had commented on how in other countries spoken word is an art form of dissent and of protest, whereas in the UK it’s mainly an art form of entertainment. It feels to me, then, incredibly appropriate that the top two performer spots were taken by Sophia and Hollie, two performers who constantly engage with social and political issues in a way that is thoughtful, fierce and persuasive.

Plus, Hollie wrote a piece about how giving birth is like being a transformer, which makes me geek out for her massively.

Voters said:

“Commitment, integrity and a willingness to stick her neck above the parapet on social issues which expose her to a whole lot of trolling.”, “Engaging, honest poetry performed with a realism which allows any audience to engage with the genre, coupled with an irreverence for the conventions of performance which proved to be refreshing.”, “More important than ever to have strong, engaging and funny voices for feminism if we’re having 5 years of Tory horror.”, “Because awesome.” and “She has brought poetry into the public consciousness and opened up women’s issues in an accessible and enjoyable way.”

Hollie McNishBest One Off Event

Another award that never fails to deliver, presenting this one has made me tear up at two awards ceremonies in a row now.

Heart Poems for Children’s Heart Week, for example, has an inspiring and heartbreaking story behind it, as one voter put it, Rebecca Goss became “an ambassador for paediatric heart charities following the death of her own daughter. Her selfless commitment deserves recognition.” As well as spawning some amazing poetry, the week-long event also raised awareness for the Children’s Heart Federation Charity. Voters added:

“Stunning array of poets supporting a great charity.”, “Fantastic poetry but also for a really fantastic cause – shows poetry can simultaneously work as art and something purposeful/useful.” and “Beautiful and haunting poems”.

MINE by Holly Corfield Carr was the only project to be nominated in more than one category, as the textual accompaniment to this live piece was also nominated in Best Poetry Pamphlet. A fascinating and intimate experience that was at once both guided tour and live literature, Holly took audiences into unusual spaces and opened both their eyes and their ears to a new and haunting experience. Voters said:

“An amazing, multi sensory experience.”, “Best site specific piece I’ve ever seen – just beautiful” and “Corfield Carr is always finding unusual, forgotten, underused spaces (old factories, Victorian public toilets, boats) with their own fascinating history, and transforming them into vivid experiences through poetry. MINE blended place, poetry, science and history to create an unforgettable experience”

Words and Women do great work all year round, supporting women writers working in the East of England, providing a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. Their International Women’s Day event brought together music, theatre and literature for a whole celebratory day that was called:

“This event was so inspiring, really well attended and a variety of readers and performers – this variety was reflected in the audience too. Words and Women are doing really good work for women writers in the east of England.”, “wonderful community event inclusive and popular. unfailing commitment to this special gathering by the team behind it. tireless effort in making it happen.” and “From funny and thought-provoking readings to powerful and emotive dramatic monologues, the Words and Women International Women’s Day event was an excellent showcase of work from a range of talented female artists.”

OE by Max Barton, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston was another innovative multidisciplinary experience that retold the story of Orpheus with poetry, art, music and performance, creating an evening that tingled across the senses and lingered in people’s minds – so much so, in fact, that it emerged as the runner-up!

Voters said:

“nothing prepared me for the immersive and brilliant experience: Tom’s pictures of the underworld, Kiran’s poetry, Max’s music …deserves multiple showings”, “this show brought together the performing arts, the spoken word and visual art forms. An immersive experience the performance thrilled its audience (of which I was a part) and created a sense of wonder and laughter and pain that I have not often felt – and certainly had not expected.” and “Such an amazing night! Each component (song, poetry and paintings) strong enough to stand alone, coming together in an extraordinary way.”

But, in a field full of inspiring events and projects, the real stand-out and clear winner was Jo Bell’s The 52 Project. An experiment in creative engagement and criticism, participants were encouraged to write a poem a week for a whole year under her eager-eye. Providing prompts, feedback and plenty of support, Jo Bell marshalled the project 500 members on to new heights. The thing that really struck me about this project, was the sheer number of people whose lives it touched and changed and the continuing ongoing impact that will continue to ripple across the poetical landscape for years.

Just listening to Jo talk about it in her acceptance speech made me cry some of my own tears. What a project.

The voters said:

“Amazing project which just grew and grew, encouraging experiences poets and those who had never written with her well-thought out prompts, Jo Bell has given her time selflessly to this project.”, “An absolute phenomenon. Life affirming and life changing for so many people.”, “A unique event that will widen and deepen poetry in Britain for years to come”, “Because 52 is beyond fucking brilliant!!” and “Because of Jo Bell’s 52 I’ve had poems published and plucked up the courage to embark on an MA in creative writing. 52 has supported and encouraged so much talent in just twelve months and has become a wonderful network of poetry friends. Jo gave up a year of her life to help other writers find their courage and their voice. She, and the 52 project, truly deserves this award.”

52 ProjectSee you next year, folks!

Review: The Last Word Festival – The Roundhouse (16 Nov – 1st Dec)

– reviewed by Lettie McKie

(image courtesy of Stuart Leech)

A hot-bed of thrilling spoken word …

The Roundhouse is without a doubt one of the best performing arts venues in London. Not only does it have a diverse creative programme that includes some very exciting work with young people, it is also a huge champion of the London spoken word scene.

The Last Word Festival is a sumptuous feast of fresh poetic talent. The performers have been working with Roundhouse producers all year to develop new writing, telling honest and heartfelt tales in contemporary voices that are inspired by music, poetry and storytelling.

A Tale from the Bedsit by Paul Cree is hands down the best piece of spoken word I’ve seen all year.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I joined the little crowd of audience members as we left the Roundhouse bar to be welcomed by Paul in a tiny room of the Camden Lock Hotel. It was bizarre to be ushered into a room masquerading as a theatre set, but Paul made it all the more easy by being laid back and friendly, taking our coats and making cups of tea.

The idea was simple but really effective; re-create the look and feel of a young guy’s home in a run-down bedsit, then cramn in 8 people at a time to listen to an hour of poetry while sitting on his bed! It was extremely well executed, with a detailed, chaotic setting and unobtrusive music produced by sound designer Phillip Davies. The sound was integral to the piece as Paul draws heavily on his MC roots to explain how he got into poetry.

The poem told, through simple and considered language, the story of Paul’s journey from growing up near Gatwick, through moving to Brighton and trying to find something meaningful and fulfilling to do. He talks candidly and with sharp humour about his time living in the bedsit, reading comics, working in Sainsbury’s, falling for a colleague and gathering enough courage to find a better job, move out and get on with his life.  It is a gentle, personal and honest coming of age story about his discovery of poetry: a complete delight to listen to and also very funny.

A collective story to carry you away …

Run is ‘An exciting collaboratively-imagined story that draws eleven distinct voices on a thrilling journey through one night’. Told by 11 young poets who’ve come through Roundhouse’s creative mentoring programmes, the stories have also been written by the company with each poet developing a character, a story and a sustained presence throughout piece. The whole performance felt comfortable and relaxed, the poets sharing a literary score that carried us away into our imaginations and their stories.

The poems were written and delivered in a diverse collection of styles, rhythms and tempos, with monologues interspersed with group work (a witty and essential way of holding the piece together). Often one poet would narrate whilst others took on personas within the story, not acting things out but standing still or sitting, so that the action did not detract from the words. The poets invited us to see their images in our minds eye, rather than re-creating them on stage, a sophisticated and cerebral storytelling approach.

With such a farrago of different personalities on stage it was possible to find some voices more compelling than others. The performance was fast paced and lasted under an hour without much emotive action, so I found it a little hard to entirely keep up with each thread. For me the stand out poets of the evening were Sean Mahoney, who is effortlessly witty and watchable (‘the thing about taste the difference is that you can really taste the difference’) and Zia Ahmed who’s impassioned poetry is crammed with a stream of original and darkly perceptive images. Zia’s portrayal in this piece of a guy’s obsessive love was tragically vulnerable and funny, a highlight of the piece.

An intense installation interlude …

In between the two performances I booked into the installation Salander which was an immersive experience in the main Roundhouse space. Inside a tiny shed and armed only with a torch I had ten minutes to read poems hung from the ceiling, written by young people involved in the project all to the mesmerising backdrop of Gorecki’s beautiful Symphony No. 3. The poems were extremely accomplished, written on themes of childhood memory, pain and loss; my favourite was You’re the sun’s rays on a stormy day by Rayyan Khan. The idea of giving participants ten minutes alone with the poems guaranteed they’d be given the attention they deserved, rather than glanced over in a busy room.

Nurturing new performers …

I caught some other great events during the festival including scratch competition Words in Progress where artists were given 15 minutes to impress 4 judges with an unfinished piece, bidding for an exclusive Roundhouse development package. The audience were also asked to give feedback through answering specific content focussed questions on a form. This analytical process was extremely interesting, and indicative of Roundhouse’s inclusiveness, giving the audience a chance to directly comment on creative ideas! The standard of Words in Progress was a little hit and miss, but my favourite was Sophie Rose who wrote and memorised her extremely funny and perceptive poem, Quiet Violence, in a little under a week.

And in case that left you wanting more …

Before I left I made a quick pitstop at the Poetry Takeaway. Masterminded by Bang Said the Gun! creator Dan Cockrill. This fantastic stall allows you to order up a poem like you would a chicken chow mein; give these talented poets a title and they will whip you up a poem. Peter Heyhoe scribbled me down a fantastic piece entitled trapped grape on the vagaries of dating.

The Last Word festival is a perfect example of spoken word at its brightest and most intelligent …

It showcases some of the most promising new talent in London and it’s exciting to see this art form being taken seriously by a top London venue dedicated to fostering the careers of creative young people.

Saboteur Awards 2013: Performance

-in which James Webster sums up the categories he presented at the awards –

saboteur awards - performer

Best Performer

When it came down to the final day, Best Spoken Word Performer was the most closely contested of all the categories, with first place going back and forth several times and only three votes separating the winner and runner-up. That runner-up was Dan Cockrill, who deserves real credit for pushing the winner all the way to the wire, receiving many enthused comments from voters along the way. One such person said they voted for him “Because he is funny, engaging and full of bags of energy. And you never get bored of him however many times you see him!”

The other nominees also deserve a lot of kudos, Raymond Antrobus (who is one of the co-hosts of Chill Pill and whose pamphlet The Shapes and Disfigurements of Raymond Antrobus was published this year) reportedly “has a way with words, is unique in delivery and is spinetingly inspirational.” While Emma Jones (regular at Bang! Said the Gun and virtuoso performer) has “A tongue so sharp they call it a mouth knife. FACT!!” and an “Uncanny ability to absorb a character and present a perspective rarely seen.” Fay Roberts (host of Hammer & Tongue Cambridge and founder of Allographic) was said by one voter to have “a range and depth that I envy. Her poems combine beautiful word-smithery, wisdom and wry humour and her highly original delivery is a delight.”

The winner, however, was Vanessa Kisuule. A phenomenal poet whose performances are often heartfelt, often funny, and always excellent, and have delighted audiences all over the UK.

Winner of a multitude of slams and a regular at festivals, she “combines warm humour with beautifully measured emotion and a sprinkling of bite, Vanessa Kisuule is simply one of the best performing poets around.” Another voter said “Vanessa’s poems actually steal me and take me on an adventure”, while another commented “Vanessa has a depth and maturity to her work I’ve never seen matched in spoken word”. The most prevalent commendation, however, was her uncanny knack of expressing the inexpressible, she has “the ability to articulate feelings previously considered ineffable; a skill as rare as it is wonderful” and “has the most relevant poetry to so many people, she finds the perfect words to express what so many people think but can’t vocalise because they don’t have her words. She is a total boss.”

Best One-Off

Another close category, with the intriguing events that were Penning Perfumes (exploring scents through poetry and vice-versa) and Poetry Parnassus (an almost unprecedented conglomeration of poets from around the globe) coming in joint second. Penning perfumes was called “innovative, bold, mixing genres and going outside poetry audiences to engage through use of the senses with a wider audience” while Poetry Parnassus was praised for being “a once in a life time gathering of poetry and poets and community and sharing and wisdom.”

Also in the running was Poetry Polaroid (mapping Edinburgh through poetry) that was “a beautiful concept that drew a lot of people into exploring the city and thinking about it in different ways”, while Binders Full of Women (beautifully hand-made binder celebrating poetry of writers who identify as female, trans, intersex or gender-neutral) that was “urgent, organised and awesome: a combination of creative publication and lively gatheration, with a side order of campaigning poetics”.

But the winner was the massive nationwide platform that was Shake the Dust. A mixture of performances, workshops and other events, it gave a platform to young people across the UK to explore poetry in a way that “visibly changed young lives, connecting the poetry and spoken word scenes around the globe with new rising stars. Total brilliance.”  In fact, several people commented on the power of the event that was “really changing young people’s lives through poetry”, that “provided so many opportunities for so many young people who were able to come together for a unique and special event on such a large open scale. it changed many lives” and that was “bringing together the disparate youth in art and spoken word; an undervalued gift”

Overall: “An amazing celebration of the voice of youth”

saboteur awards - one-off

Best Spoken Word Show

Some truly wonderful shows of different kinds were celebrated in this category, from the Wandering Word Stage that brings poets to new crowds at various festivals and provides “a marvellous sanctuary in the daytime and a hubbub of insanity at night”, to Dirty Great Love Story‘s fusion of verse and theatre, winning a Fringe First, touring to New York and according to one voter being “truly awesome inventive ninjas and made me cry”. And Emergency Poet (Deborah Alma) who provides rhymes in a crisis from a real ambulance: “The world’s first and only emergency poetry service, in a genuine 1960s ambulance, do you really need to ask why it should win?”

Runner up, Lucy Ayrton: Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry (a selection of feminist fairytales and dissection of the power of children’s stories) got a lot of love, one memorable remark saying she “not only harnesses the seductive power of fairytales to make powerfully incisive and beautifully made points about gender and society, but also she has lovely hair”

But the winner was Whistle by Martin Figura, a heartbreaking, yet uplifting, tale drawn from his own childhood that has toured throughout the UK and abroad. “It made me want to cry and I never want to cry except in the bank” said one fan, while others commented that this “Immensely personal tale of tragic upbringing yet hugely enjoyable” and that it “Invaded my dreams and will stay with me forever”. It’s a show that truly seems to have matched content to performance, with audiences saying: “Whistle is a bravura performance and a valuable text that makes no concessions to simple delivery but is delivered with great dramatic conviction.”

Finally, the comment that perhaps most sums it up is this one: “The most heartening true story of human resilience told in stunning poems I’ve ever seen in such an intense, understated show.”

 saboteur awards - spoken word show

Best Regular Spoken Word Night

It was a running joke on the night that we would repeatedly refer to categories as having been ‘an incredibly close race’ or having gone ‘right down to the wire’. This was not one of those categories, the winner of Best Regular Spoken Word Night was clear and deserved.

That is not to say the other nominees didn’t put up a fight, Come Rhyme with Me (blend of food and poetry) earned plaudits because “the poetry is consistently amazing both from the headliners and the open-mic-ers. Plus it’s worth going simply for the food!” While Hammer & Tongue Oxford (founding branch of the national network of slam poetry events) was praised for its “friendly and funny organizers, great community, and excellent performers”. Inky Fingers (inventive and inviting Edinburgh based collective) “provides a welcoming and open space for new spoken word artists whilst also showcasing some top spoken word talent to inspire”.

The runner up, Jibba Jabba (multi-disciplinary and superbly supportive open mic in Newcastle) really looked like giving the winners a run for their money (read: rosette) for a while with their “great performers, great venue, great audience & words that sear into your chest & stay with you for days”.

But in the end there was only ever going to be one winner: Bang! Said the Gun, whose anarchically fun and involving events have consistently raised the bar for poetry events. As the voters said “BSTG show us all how it should be done – fun and eclectic and challenging and loud and quiet and generous. They’ve also mastered the fact that poetry nights should be engaging to look at as well as listen to!”.

It’s an event that voters pointed out isn’t just good, but is also always colossal fun: “Rock and roll poetry, why shouldn’t it win?!” Plus, it always gets the audience going: “Let’s shake, rattle and roll with poetry. Need I say more. Absoposifrigginlutely BANGTASTIC!!! The best show for miles.”

Finally, Bang! Is such a unique night because it opens poetry up to new audiences: “Weekly and sometimes on the telly too. Poetry’s best chance of a tv breakthrough.” and because it “makes poetry electric and sexy”.

saboteur awards - regular spoken word night

All very deserved winners and nominees, plus a fantastic night. Can’t wait for next year to do it all again!

Saboteur Awards 2013: The Winners!

A more in-depth post will come soon, with comments from voters, logos for each winner, pictures and links to videos from the night (if you have any, do email them to us!), but we thought some of you might like to know as soon as possible who won in each category. You can find links to reviews of the shortlisted works here. We’re also featured in the Guardian today here, while Dan Holloway reviewed the event here! There is also a storify here of the event.


The Results!

Best one-off 

Winner: Shake the dust
Runners up (joint-place): Penning Perfumes and Poetry Parnassus

Shake the Dust represented by Sam-La Rose, Kareem Parkins-Brown and Charlotte Higgins (photo Dan Holloway)

Shake the Dust represented by Sam-La Rose, Kareem Parkins-Brown and Charlotte Higgins (photo Dan Holloway)

From @jsamlarose's twitter after Shake The Dust's win

From @jsamlarose’s twitter after Shake The Dust’s win

Best short story collection

Winner: Tony Williams, All the bananas I’ve never eaten
Runner up: Tania Hershman, My Mother was an Upright Piano

Best magazine:

Winner: Rising.
Runner up: Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts.

Rising Editor Tim Wells

Rising Editor Tim Wells

Best poetry pamphlet:

Winner: Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman
Runner up: Lune by Sarah Hymas

Best spoken word performer:

Winner: Vanessa Kisuule
Runner Up: Dan Cockrill

Best regular spoken word night:

Winner: Bang said the Gun
Runner Up: Jibba Jabba

The Bang Said the Gun team at the awards!

The Bang Said the Gun team at the awards! Photo from @bangsaidthegun twitter feed

'They don't shake themselves' (Bang said the gun)

‘They don’t shake themselves’ (Bang said the gun)

Best spoken word show:

Winner: ‘Whistle’ by Martin Figura
Runner Up: ‘Lullabies to Make your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

Best poetry anthology:

Winner: Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot
Runner-Up: Adventures with Form

Best fiction anthology:

Overheard: Stories to be read aloud
Runner Up: Unthology volume 3.

Overheard editor and contributor Jonathan Taylor

Overheard editor and contributor Jonathan Taylor

Best mixed anthology:

Winner: Estuary: a Confluence of Art and Poetry
Runner Up: Still (Negative Press).

Best novella:

Winner: ‘Holophin’ by Luke Kennard
Runner-Up: ‘Count from Zero to One Hundred’ by Alan Cunningham

Tom Chivers, editor of Penned in the Margins

Tom Chivers, editor of Penned in the Margins

Most innovative publisher:

Winner: Penned in the Margins
Runner-up: Unthank Books

A birthday card for Sabotage from the Sidekick Book team!

A birthday card for Sabotage from the Sidekick Book team!

Runner up for best poetry show Lucy Ayrton, event organizer Thea Buen, poetry editor Claire Trévien

Runner up for best poetry show Lucy Ayrton, event organizer Thea Buen, poetry editor Claire Trévien (photo by Tim Wells)

Saboteur Awards 2013: The Shortlist

Your Pick of this Year’s Best Indie Lit!


Once a year, to mark our birthday, we at Sabotage like to give out some awards to the publications we’ve most enjoyed during the year. This year, we want YOU to vote for the winners in twelve different categories.

After over 2000 votes, voting is now closed! Winners will be announced on 29th May at the Book Club, London. It’s going to be a big celebration of indie lit in all its glory and we’d love it if you could attend. There’ll also be performances, a mini-book fair, music from LiTTLe MACHINe and our very own critique booth.

Here’s what happens next:

  1. Voting is now closed!
  2. Buy a ticket to the awards ceremony/birthday bash.

Please find the shortlist below, which consists of the top 5 nominations in each of the 12 categories, with links to their reviews in Sabotage.*

*Reviewing or featuring all of these works (through interviews for instance) is a work-in-progress which we hope to achieve by the time of the event. Obviously, it is quite a monumental task in a short time, so we appreciate any help from past, present and future reviewers in achieving this, as well as the cooperation of nominees!

Many congratulations to all those who made the shortlist!

In no particular order:

Best Novella

Synthetic Saints by Jason Rolfe (Vagabondage Press)
Holophin by Luke Kennard (Penned in the Margins)
Count from Zero to One Hundred by Alan Cunningham (Penned in the Margins)
The Middle by Django Wylie (
Controller by Sally Ashton (Dead Ink)

Best spoken word performer

Raymond Antrobus
Dan Cockrill
Emma Jones
Vanessa Kisuule
Fay Roberts

Most innovative publisher

Burning Eye
Unthank Books
Sidekick Books
Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press
Penned in the Margins

Best short story collection

 The Syllabus of Errors by Ashley Stokes (Unthank Books)
My Mother Was An Upright Piano by Tania Hershman (Tangent Books)
Fog and Other Stories by Laury A. Egan (Stone Garden)
All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten by Tony Williams (Salt Publishing)
The Flood by Superbard (Tea Fuelled)

Best poetry pamphlet

Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman (Annexe Magazine)
Body Voices by Kevin Reid (Crisis Chronicles Press)
Lune by Sarah Hymas (self-published)
Songs of Steelyard Sue by J.S.Watts (Lapwing Publications)
Lowlifes, Fast Times & Occasionally Love by Lawrence Gladeview (Erbacce Press)

Best ‘one-off’

Penning Perfumes
Shake the Dust
Binders full of Women
Poetry Polaroid (Inky Fingers Collective)
Poetry Parnassus

Best Spoken Word show

‘Whistle’ by Martin Figura
‘Dirty Great Love Story’ by Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh
Wandering Word Stage
Emergency Poet
‘Lullabies to Make your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

Best magazine

Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts

Best regular Spoken Word night
Bang said the Gun (London)
Hammer and Tongue (Oxford)
Jibba Jabba (Newcastle)
Inky Fingers (Edinburgh)
Come Rhyme with Me (London)

Best poetry anthology

The Centrifugal Eye’s 5th Anniversary Anthology (ed. E.A. Hanninen)
Rhyming Thunder – the Alternative Book of Young Poets (Burning Eye)
Sculpted: Poetry of the North West (ed. L. Holland and A. Topping)
Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot (English PEN)
Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins)

Best fiction anthology
Unthology, volume 3 (Unthank Books)
Post-Experimentalism (Bartleby Snopes)
Best European Fiction 2013 (Dalkey Archive)
Front lines (Valley Press)
Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (Salt Publishing)

Best mixed anthology

Estuary: a Confluence of Art & Poetry (Moon and Mountain)
Pressed by Unseen Feet (Stairwell Books)
Still (Negative Press)
Silver Anthology (Silver Birch Press)
Second Lives (Cargo Press)