She kept her nerve, she fought off stunning competition, she broke through the judges’ (I was one of them) icy forensic gaze and even held in a wee to become 2014’s Slam champ, joining the ranks of hugley respected poets like Toby Thompson, Hollie McNish and Luke Wright. I asked the thoroughly charming “but not so confident you want to punch her” Erin Bolens about her win, her work and her tips for this year’s slammers.
First off, an extremely belated congratulations for winning last year’s slam. You did brilliantly (obviously) and looked so relaxed despite the intensity of the setting. Can you tell us about the experience?
Thank you! I remember being really nervous actually and dithering a lot about when to run to the loo.
It was all very surreal. Dolly Parton was playing in the background, my friends were sat covered in mud and eating ice cream. It was one of those experiences that even as a dream would seem bizarre. I very nearly didn’t enter – mostly I just the wanted the experience of performing a few poems. When you’re starting out you rarely get more than two minutes anywhere so it’s really hard to get that experience. That’s what drew me in. It’s something the festival and Poetry & Words should be so proud of. It opened a lot of doors for me and made me feel able to pursue it with more vigour.
Where sits your fabulous trophy now?
Until recently I was living in very mouldy quarters so I protected it fiercely and locked it away. It survived and is now on my bookcase. I couldn’t believe the level of care and detail that had gone in to it – it’s so spectacular!
As a consequence of you winning you are faced with your first official Glastonbury Poetry&Words booking. A full twenty minute spot to engage with a crowd who have thousands of other performers outside the tent clamouring for their attention. Looking forward to it? 😉
So much! I hadn’t really thought about all that. I guess I naturally assume that I will be performing to my mum and a couple of twitching sleeping bags, but maybe I’ll be lucky and it’ll rain (sorry!) and there will be loads of people just grateful not to be drenched.
I’m also doing a set in the Greenpeace field at 00.50 on Wednesday night – I’m not sure that’s the most natural time for poetry and also not a time I often see so I think that one will be interesting too!
Will you come prepared with an unshakable set in mind, or do you plan to wing it when you arrive? (I have no problem with either approach).
Last year I got a bit confused. I didn’t really know the rules of a slam as I had never done anything like it. For some reason I was convinced that you had to write pieces specifically for the competition. I didn’t manage three on the spot as I didn’t think I’d get that far but I wrote my first, about the festival, a day or two before. I realise you don’t have to do that now – I’ll be a little bit more rehearsed!
You have a very relaxed, punchy and distinctly Northern style (I can say that, I’m a Geordie) in your gentle mockery of pretence and celebrating the absurd. Does your observation tend to always lean to the comic, or would you consider doing a hyper-serious 24 stanza epic about the futility of existence?
Really? I’ll take that. Um, it probably does at the moment but it’s not an intentional style. I think it’s different for everyone. I feel that you need a massive amount of confidence in your own views and opinions to write very hard hitting stuff; I find that difficult to muster and feel it has to be earned a bit by age and experience. However, I’ve heard other poets speak similarly about writing comically so I guess it’s just horses for courses.
As I gain experience I’m beginning to become more comfortable writing more personally. For me that comes with getting more airtime – I was getting into a habit of doing two minute slots and performing the same couple of poems. I don’t like becoming bored of pieces because I’m wheeling them out too often! It’s great to be trying out more new poems at the moment.
As for being Northern – that has definitely intensified since I moved to London. Its probably something very deep about identity.
The futility of existence? I’d be up for that – perhaps it could be a group piece we all write over the course of the festival?
You recently came runner-up in the prestigious Roundhouse Slam. Tell us about that.
It was amazing! I think 700 people were watching 12 young poets – that’s incredible. I was really naive about it; I had no idea how popular it is or how big the Roundhouse main space is – from above it looked like this huge sacrificial pit. I started to think maybe one of us would get burned at the mic. It was a real celebration of words; the standard was very high and the styles very different so I was so chuffed to come second.
Quickfire camping questions
Airbed or Roll-out mat?
I upgraded to an airbed a couple of years ago. Do it.
Lager or cider?
Gin til I die.
PieMinster or Goan Fish Curries?
As much as I love a pun based meal I don’t think I’ve had either – I tend to take advantage of all amazing vegetarian feasts. I also spend about a month’s wages on chai. At least.
Wellies or docs?
Trapped in a tent with – Lionel Ritchie or Roger Daltry?
Probably have to be Roger. I don’t think I’d have a lot to say to Lionel after establishing it wasn’t him I was looking for. That in itself would probably take longer than it should.
Finally, what advice would you give potential Glastonbury Slammers this year?
Do it! It’s such a great atmosphere. I’m often a little put off by the competitive element of slams but as long as you remember that it’s all subjective and there’s a big dash of luck in the first rounds particularly, then it’s really good fun. I really can’t wait to watch.
P.S. Really enjoying these posts Scott, cheers!
Shucks, aint she sweet? You can see why Erin Bolens is such a formidable performer in the Poetry&Words tent on Friday 26th at 4.55pm
The 2015 Glastonbury Poetry Slam will take place on Sunday 28th at 5pm at the Poetry&Words tent. If you wish to sign up for either the Poetry Slam or an Open Mic spot (which takes place Saturday 27th at 12.50pm) come as early as possible to the Poetry&Words tent and approach one of the MC’s to put your name down.
More fab folk on the way…