Hammer and Tongue Camden vs Oxford: Part 2, Oxford
@ Oxford Hub above Turl Street Kitchen
– by James Webster –
I have a fondness for Hammer and Tongue, their events were my first taste of performance poetry. Their slams running in 6 different locations provide a lot of people with similarly excellent introductions to poetry slams. So in October I was very happy to attend two H&T slams in two days in two different cities.
They were quite different, but drawn together by H&T`s core values: poetry, politics and an open and supportive atmosphere. It’s poetry opened up for (and often involving) the audience.
I thought it fitting given I saw them on successive days to compare the two. Second: Oxford.
Venue: Turl Street Kitchen vs. Green Note Cafe
- The Turl Street Kitchen was a lovely place. The upstairs events space doubles as the firstUKcentre dedicated to volunteering and activism: it features a notice board updating you to all the activism and collective projects they’re working on, and a lovely bar/restaurant downstairs. The performance space could’ve used more tables, but was a very intimate little room with good atmosphere.
Comparison: Good atmosphere in a seat of genuine activism. Just gets the nod over Camden’s hipster haven, the Green Note.
Hosts: Steve and Lucy vs Sam and Michelle
- The hosting was just a bit special at this month’s Hammer and Tongue, as H&T founder and Oxford host Steve Larkin handed over the torch to new hosts Lucy Ayrton and Tina Sederholm. Giving a brief history of H&T from its beginnings (originally inspired by the B52 Two) rooted in politics, activism and the belief poetry can be a medium for change, it was a rousing reminder of where H&T came from and the reason we perform poetry.
- He followed up by later taking a turn as the ‘Sacrifical Poet’ (used to calibrate judges’ scores for the slam) with a raucous poem ‘Fat Sex in D Minor’ ripping into the content of women’s magazines obsessed with body size and how to have better sex. Consummate delivery, matched with expert use of repetition, it build his aggravation to a frantic peak as he savaged magazines’ cynical recycling of sex, fat and the appropriated idea of the ‘new woman’. 24.2.
- Lucy Ayrton took over hosting duties (Tina was sadly absent) and she made for a charming host. Friendly, funny and with a bit of a twinkle in her eye, she and Steve combined to keep the evening ticking nicely.
- Like Steve her first foray into performance poetry was political and her poem ‘I Don’t Hate Men, I Just Hate You’ was overflowing with fluid rhythm and quick-footed rhymes. She packs a lot into the poem, rattling it out in righteous fashion as she dismantles the fiction that, as a feminist, she hates men. Her faux-patronising was especially entertaining.
The comparison: Tough. Sam and Michelle of Camden are excellent, butOxford’s touching handover of hosting from Steve Larkin to Lucy Ayrton distilled the essence of H&T and sneaked a victory.
Slam: Oxford vs Camden
- Peter Whitton. His poem on Savonarola (complete with audience call and response) was full of amusing rhyme and benefited from an enthused audience. A rollicking rhythm buoys the poem of monks, papal decadence and doom along. Gerald Manley Hopkins meets Tom Lehrer. 23.2
- James Webster. I had a lot of fun, it was a lovely crowd, they seemed to like my poem ‘What Are You Thinking’ (on a woman asking her partner for his thoughts, late at night and his reluctance to share) and gave me a very kind 25.7.
- Joe Hughes had a couple of nicely nostalgic poems. One on walking in on his parents en flagrante that’s very funny, becomes kind of idyllic and ends with him in hospital, and another ‘Dolly Mixture’ on the different ways he and his sister used to eat sweets. Appropriately sweet. 25.2
- Darrell Moore’s ‘Bankers Wrath’ was very funny and impressively full of jargon that kept the poem rolling, his banker character is appropriately awful and creepy (threatens the narrator with being ‘processed like a chicken nugget’). 25.7
- Paul Askew’s three short poems were fabulous. The first on an Oxford Tube journey that was a well-expressed example of public transport imaginings on seeing a pretty girl. ‘Sex in the City’ used the title as the central refrain about his ex-girlfriend, changing the words slightly each time that created a superbly embarrassed humour. And ‘Potatoes’ was on a poor family for whom potatoes are not only their sustenance, but their toys and in extreme (-ly embarrassing) cases their pornography. All very funny and exceptionally performed. 27.1
Winner: Paul Askew and rightfully so.
Comparison: Some very good poets at both events, butOxford were just a little more consistently excellent (and the score seem to reflect this).
- Anna McCrory is utterly charming. The president of Oxford University Poetry Society (pronounced ‘oops’) her poems were erudite, funny and charismatically performed.
- Her first ‘To Man who Splashed in Puddle’, inspired by a puddle inManchester, was a good character piece with some light parody of herself, it was self aware and very amusing.
- ‘Geeks United’ was by far my favourite. An incredibly sweet, geek-hip take on the socially awkward adapting to university life (“I’m going to listen to some of that ‘emu’ music …”). Her performance, complete with actions, was very accomplished and the whole things was endearingly loser-ish. When she said “We’re geeks who high-five … high-five?” I wanted to get up and high-five her.
- Her next ‘The Von Ratts’ was a reimagining of the singing family from The Sound of Music; Anna outlined her plan to get her singing and rapping family on Britain’s Got Talent/X-Factor. Hilarity ensued, and it was quite a nice commentary on the inherent problems on grooming children for stardom.
- Finally ‘The Wizard of Argos’ gave us some incredible lyricism onArgos, all dressed up as film and fairytale. Very nice satire.
Comparison: As charming and funny and erudite as Anna is, Paula and Richard over at Camden just edged it with the double team.
The final feature (both here and in Camden) was Henry Bowers, Swedish poet extraordinaire, who will soon receive his own Spotlight feature, as he is just that good.
Overall comparison: In the end there was not much between the two fantastic nights, I think I enjoyed Oxford a touch more thanks to Steve Larkin’s potted history of H&T and his moving handover to the new team. But both nights gave a great account of what makes Hammer & Tongue nights so fun and makes their brand so unique.
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