I’m never sure about poetry slams. Some days I think “what a great way to get more people involved and excited by poetry. What a brilliant thing to be a part of”. Other days I think “What a bad idea we’ve imported from the US. Scoring poetry? Judging art in such a crass way? Creating a culture of poets who write poems specifically to win poetry slams and please an audience in less than 3 minutes?
I performed in the World Poetry Slam in 2009 when I was still quite new into the whole poetry scene. I found it unnerving. I have always written poetry on my own, by and for myself and then chosen ones I think might interest other people. And read those. But I had never thought of writing for an audience. At the World Slam, I met a lot of poets, especially those from countries like Germany and the US where you can make a living as a ‘Slam Poet’. Poets who write poetry for the stage, for an audience, for slams primarily.
“What’s your strategy?” I was asked.
“Make them laugh, cry, laugh” I was told
One poet even pretended to stop during his poem and pretend he was trying not to cry. The poem was about being adopted and his parents leaving him on ships from Cuba. I found out it wasn’t true. It made me very skeptical about poetry slams in general.
But right now I am sitting in Glastonbury Festival Poetry and Words stage watching the poetry slam, the final event in this stage for the entire festival. And it’s bloody great. The audience is happy, the poets are genuinely just so enthusiastic about poetry and words and it is one of the few spaces on the stages at this beautiful festival where other people, people not asked, get a chance to speak; to perform.
The guy right now is brilliant. A man called Colin is on stage empassioned and storytelling in a deep Irish accent to a fixated crowd. The next performer is a young female, nervous, softly spoken, uninterested in stars anymore, she says.
And I remember why I love Slams. Because most of them aren’t full of cycnical people who write a poem based on a tested guage of potential audience reaction, they are full of a huge variety of people of all ages and hair colour and a huge variety of opinions, stories, personal worries, tributes told through a microphone held with nervous hands because it really means something to be allowed this space to speak.
And now Ali Gadema, co-hosting double act with Dreadlock Alien, reminds us of the most important rule of poetry slams: The point is not the points; the point is the poetry. And the poetry here is great. The hosts are brilliant. And the audience sit together laughing, smiling, making faces when they are not sure, disapproving, approving, whatever. And I am reminded of how great it is to sit together with a group of people listening collectively to people telling poems and stories as first impressions of people are thrown crashing out the window as we hear what is really going on inside these people’s heads.
Today I like poetry slams. It’s been lovely. I think it is a very important arena for Poetry and Words, despite my occasional skepticism.
In the second round Ali Gadema, hosting amazingly, says: I will not time this. I have thrown away the clock. I hate poetry slams.
I’ll tell you who won later.
That’s not the point right now.
OK. The winner was Tory. She was very good. She said “I want to watch your naked ass doing hand springs across the floor.”