The 2019 Glastonbury Poetry Slam!

Hosted by Brian McMahon Gallagher and Thunderclap Murphy,  the Glastonbury Festival Poetry Slam kicks off as the final event of the weekend. And it’s clear from the get-go that we’re in experienced hands with the hosts.

They divide those who’ve signed up (and turned up) into two groups of six.

Group 1

Lisa Goodwin (“Runner up last time. Bard of Glastonbury”) lambasts those who leave plenties of trace at Glastonbury, gets straight into it: “someone will pick up the bits”. It’s feisty and crafted – I can see why she got so far last time. The crowd love it.

Liam Young (“I’m speechless”) – Liam Young of the Deviated Septums, never intended to do it, but some Glastonbury magic happened. It’s put out to all the people who never believed in him, hip-hop inflected but slower than that implies. Crowd more subdued, but still enthused

Sunny Jim (@_SunnyJim) (“Environmental Spoken Word”) reads from his phone – something he wrote specially for the occasion. Like Lisa’s, it’s an ode to the magic (and possibly the hypocrisy) of the Glastonbury culture and the possibility – not always picked up – to let go of the frantic nature of everyday life.

Amy Rainbow (“Very happy to be at Glastonbury”) – sharing a poem about one woman’s search for love. It’s clever, gentle, and manages to have an -ate rhyme at the end of every line – well, except the last one. I’m still chuckling (as are the rest of the crowd)… 🙂

Andria Walton (@AndrianaWalton1) (“Lergy (seriously?! poets have interesting writing!) sharing poetry and diversity”) – there’s always a war, and she talks about the history of man’s greed and pillaging, and a call to renew, regenerate, revive, and become sustainable (there’s a theme developing in this slam!)

While the judges are totting up scores, Brian reminds us that, “when great British institutions need hosts, they go Irish – Graham Norton, Terry Wogan, Dara O’Briain,” then gives us a poem about Dublin and toxic masculine culture, homophobia (internalised as well as more broadly cultural).

Aidan “Thunderclap” Murphy comes to the stage with “the all important scores from Group 1”: Liam Young in 2nd place and Lisa Goodwin in 1st place go through to the next round. The audience can vote for the audience prize for someone who should have gone further, in their opinion…

Martin Grey (@martin_grey_poet) (“Nottingham’s best poet from Guildford”) – gives us Dancefloor, an terpsichorean ode to the magic of a favourite nightclub and music and friends and how memories stay etched in sweat and chord progressions.

Torrey Shineman (@TorreyShine) (“Witty wordsmith from across the pond.”) – launches into “If you can’t be comfortable doing naked handstands in front of me, I don’t think this is going to work…” and it talks about body shame and pride and makes the most of gestures and body language (heh). The crowd very much dig it!

Sophie Shepherd (@sophherdpoem) – The A5204 – a tale of being run over by a commuter on a scooter in London, imagining that the commuter has worked hard and worked out that she’s a poet and his bitterness at not being able to get his drama out of his system with, you know, actual drama, leads him to only being able to express himself with rage.

Jason Butler (“Lyrical [indecipherable] lurid” – poets, please learn a wee bit penmanship!) – “Excuse the voice, I’ve been having it quite large this weekend!” and then sets into a poem about his dog chasing a bird. This seemingly innocuous tale (“know your limitations, dog, you can’t fly!”), turns out to be him talking to himself, stifling his own dreams. Metaphor, kids! Ooh, the crowd love that!

Carl Burkitt (@carlburkitt) – “This is, er, this is a breakup poem…” and it starts exactly like a classic “my heart is a brick made of pain” (that’s me, not him, by the way) poem, both in words and delivery and then it turns out it’s an ode of farewell for… his foreskin… I literally shriek with laughter, then continue to lose it (like the crowd) as he then takes us through his pain and then his happiness at discovering that foreskins aren’t all that. I couldn’t tell you any of the allusions as I was too busy losing any shred of cool I once possessed, a mess of sniggers.

Bertram: That Geezabird (“70% Skittles”) launches into their dancey rap Confusion, concluding that not only are they confused, but so is everyone they know and so are we. Fair point. Magically, the bass beat outside synchronises briefly with them. People start bopping to their driving rhythm, and send them off with cheer.

Now Brian gives us a poem about the Marriage Equality referendum in Ireland. It’s heartfelt and important, and – luckily – reflected in the reality of the good decision that Ireland made.

Aidan brings us the scores from Group 2 – 2nd place Carl Burkitt and 1st place Torrey Shineman go through to the final.

Oooooooh…! It’s all to play for! They now hand out sheets of paper so that the audience can write down who they liked who didn’t get through and why they should be given a special mention. It’s genial chaos and very Glastonbury. Paper there is aplenty, but few scribbling sticks. Brian has my pen; I’m keeping an eye on it…

Torrey Shineman kicks off the final with a dismissal of the dismissal of #MeToo conflating “serious and childish” events. She makes sure we know it’s all part of the same spectrum. It’s visceral and terrifying and “If you can’t feel the heat, maybe you’ve been in the kitchen too long and you think this warmth is normal” it grabs you in the chest and every inner part. The crowd love it.

Liam Young is next with an introduction that tells us that his parents encouraged him to join the RAF, and his dallying with student (drugs) culture, the poem is called Dropping Bombs Is Not The Answer. It’s about refugees, empathy, hypocrisy, and institutional lies – “Dropping bombs is not the answer, it’s like curing AIDS by spreading cancer.” The crowd love this too!

Carl Burkitt is next with a tribute to line in a Paul Simon song “he sees angels in the architecture” It’s called Forty-Nine Rubbish Lines I Would Probably Have Written Without Ever Getting To That Line If I’d Tried to Write You Can Call Me Al – I mean, probably; I lost it by then. It’s a litany of dreadful puns and alliteration combined. I’m weak again, as are the hosts and audience.

Lisa Goodwin finishes us off with a true story about a educational seminar talking about the trouble with children, lambasting the idea that we can ram people into boxes, cut off the bits that don’t fit from early on off “those opting out of the prospectus of correctness”. The crowd shriek for the joy of identifying with “children in chaos” and all the potential they bring.

Brian now takes to the stage to read out the reasons people listed as to why they wanted to hear more from/ particularly liked the performers. It turns out lots of people have terrible writing – not just poets. I’m going to see how many of them I can grab and post on here (on a later post – I’m keen to get on with my Festival!).

We’re running under time. Somehow. Again. So Brian draws some names of the people who didn’t get through to the final to read a second poem. We get Bertram: That Geezabird (a track about being a starving artist: Art), Amy Rainbow (a piece about being vegan, despite her clearly massive love for cheese: Intolerance), Jason Butler (a piece about love at first sight: The Penny Dropped), Martin Grey (a found poem from the website sponsorthisroundabout.com), Sophie Shepherd (a poem about her hairy legs: Your Beautiful Legs). Then they invite Scott to the stage to give a poem about his son, Toby (the lovely one about the doll: Snapping Back).

Talking of Toby, the hosts ask him to announce the prizes (which he does with extraordinary aplomb!) while Helen hands them over.

Joint 3rd are Carl Burkitt and Liam Young, which gets awkward, as the prize is a rosette, which is pinned to the pair of them…

2nd is Torrey Shineman

And the 2019 Glastonbury Poetry&Words Slam Champion, returning to the Festival next year, and taking away a gorgeous trophy, is Lisa Goodwin, who gives us a victory lap in the form of a piece outlining the transformation from a poet to a bard with the story of Gwion Bach (and, of course, Taliesin).

And that’s it! We’re done and dusted for the year, with a new Slam Champion, new friends, new memories, and some new life skills…!

Introducing: Glastonbury Festival Poetry Slam, hosted by Brian McMahon Gallagher and Thunderclap Murphy


And to finish everything off is the famous Glastonbury Festival Poetry Slam, 17:00-19:00 Sunday. If it’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

Important points the organisers would like you to note:

  • Sign ups are once the tent opens on site (11:30 Friday 28th). No early sign ups. Nope, not even for you!
  • Booked poets can’t perform in either this or the open mic, so this is a chance to air/ hear new voices.
  • 12 poets for sign up plus 3 reserves.
  • Poets don’t have to memorise poems, but memorisation will be credited.
  • If you’ve signed up for the competition, you must present yourself at the side stage by 16:50 on the day or you will lose your spot.
  • The five judges will be a cross section of poets/ musicians/ performance artists, with the weighting being on poets. i.e. 3 poets, 1 musician, 1 other performance type person.
  • The slam prizes are: a spot in next year’s programme, and an awesome unique trophy designed by Pete Hunter of Apples & Snakes (see photos above).

Brian MacMahon Gallagher and Thunderclap Murphy will be your hosts, and their decisions re: any of the above administrative points will be final.

Fay’s words:

I love me a slam. My first introduction to performance poetry that wasn’t in Welsh/ someone else’s words/ both was watching my brother, and other competitors, slam in what turned out to be one of the earliest UK slams in Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre in the mid-90s. Of course, competitive poetry recitation is something we Welsh had been doing for centuries (see Chairing of the Bard, and the modern Welsh Eisteddfodau tradition for examples – yes, 200 years old is the modern version…), but this was dynamic, and sharp, and immediate and – more importantly – democratic; each event’s bard chosen by the acclaim of the people.

Almost exactly three years after I moved to England to the day, I entered a slam for the first time, mostly as a favour to a friend. It was a bit of a turning point. Say what you like about slams (and I have), but they’re an amazing way into poetry for a lot of people – performers and punters. I’ve been running slams for {checks memory; whoa!} twelve years now, and am showing no signs of stopping. People bring something unique and adrenaline-fuelled to slams, and the audience gets very invested in the outcome. This year’s Glastonbury Poetry&Words Slam will be no exception, with a pretty amazing prize plus epic bragging rights. I’m looking forward more than I can say to the finale of this year’s Glastonbury Poetry&Words!

Introducing: Jackie Juno, 2017 Slam Winner

Jackie Juno
Back to perform with us is Jackie Juno, 16:35-17:00 Sunday. If she’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In her own words:

“Jackie Juno is primarily a comedic poet, known for her dynamic stage presence and outspoken views on matters political, environmental and social, somehow managing to make such subjects hilarious; but her material can also be tender, sensuous and confessional.

“She is the current Glastonbury Festival Poetry Slam champion, and a multiple slam winner, including the Plymouth Literary Festival slam (2017) and the Green Gathering slam (2016). She was a contender in the National Poetry Slam Finals at the Albert Hall, 2018.

“She hosts ‘Outspoken!’ monthly Poetry Open Mic night in Chagford, Devon, and HOOT! Cabarets in various venues in Devon.

“She has performed her poetry at two TEDx Talks.

“She was chaired Bard of Exeter 2011-12 and Grand Bard 2012-19.

“She has been a finalist in many international poetry competitions, including Arvon, Writing Magazine and the Ledbury prize.”

Reviews:

‘Jackie Juno is the arts school, leopard skin wearing rock chick. Her poetry hits you like a slap in the face from a pink handbag. There is plenty to laugh out loud at here but underneath the swagger is a gentler sensibility that gives the performance a soft heart. Her observations of life are witty, poignant and full of social message.’
Lucy English, Performance poet and novelist

‘Jackie Juno’s voice will boogie, shimmy and sashay its way into your head – her words are hellbent and irresistible: listen up!’
Chris Waters, Poet, Through a Glass, Lately, (Mudlark 2014)

‘Jackie is warm and witty, frank and feisty, but above all, very very funny.’
Matt Harvey, Poet (Radio 4)

Fay’s words:

I’ve only seen Jackie perform once, to my memory – at the Hammer & Tongue National Final about 18 months ago. Since I’m usually locked into scoring and timing (and updating the presentation), poetry details tend to slide, but she made an impression that’s stuck with me. I remember properly laughing for possibly the first time that day, and feeling somewhat refreshed by her unique presence. Surfing YouTube serves to remind me why: Jackie occupies a different mould from the standard (London, under 25s) “slam voice”, and she manages that difficult task of hiding important things to say in comedy rhyming verse. (Don’t get me wrong: the London slam scene is vibrant, exciting, and important, and some of my favourite poets – and people – are part of it, but poetry’s a broad church, and it always feels to me like gaining an important nutritional element when I see and hear something different at a slam!) She also has a deceptively light voice that is actually a rich and confident alto. Her stage presence is commanding and assured, and she is very easy to listen to (in the best way!). Looking forward to seeing her make a triumphant return to Glastonbury Poetry&Words as a result of winning the GP&W 2017 slam.

Sneak preview:

Introducing: Brian McMahon Gallagher

Brian McMahon Gallaher from thejournal.ie

Photo courtesy of thejournal.ie

Performing for the first time with us is Brian McMahon Gallagher, 16:05-16:30 Friday; hosting slam 17:00-19:00 Sunday . If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

“Brian McMahon Gallagher is a Dublin Based poet and Slam Sunday co-host. As a poet, Brian has performed at the First Fortnight, Electric Picnic, Latitude, and Cuirt International Literary Festivals, and has performed with the Arts Group ‘Outstraight’ at festivals and shows throughout Britain and Ireland. He is also the host of LemmeTalk, a monthly open mic that takes place in ‘Poetry Ireland’.”

Fay’s words:

Another new poet to me, so back to the magic ot the internet to track down the sparse few examples of his wordcraft, YouTube doing me fewer favours than the Near FM Podcast. And it’s through this that I’ve discovered a gloriously sweary, young, Irish poet with pieces that take on some of the more egregious elements of Irish/ Dublin culture, from the personal to the political (and where that intersects, naturally). He rams a machine-gun clatter of words into short spaces, and none of them wasted. And he’s sweary as hell, which I loved (sometimes you only get to see/ hear the most sanitised, expurgated versions of people online); his passion is undeniable, and it’s wonderful to see it in service to some of the most important issues facing Ireland (and humanity), from the small to the crushingly broad. I’m really looking forward to see that febrile energy let loose in the Poetry&Words tent next month!

He’ll also be hosting the slam on Sunday with Thunderclap Murphy, about which more later.

Sneak preview:

Introducing: Thunderclap Murphy

Thunderclap Murphy
Performing for the first time with us is Thunderclap Murphy, 15:05-15:30 Friday; hosting the slam 17:00-19:00 Sunday. If he’s new to you/ you’d like a reminder, read on:

In his own words:

“Thunderclap Murphy is a spoken word performer, songwriter and live looping multi-instrumentalist.

“For five years, he was the host of Dublin’s monthly poetry slam, Slam Sunday. He has been the host and organiser of many spoken word and music events in his home town of Dublin. The weekly open mic show, The Monday Echo, was a first performance venue for many Irish based poets.

“His live performance combines poetry, songwriting, live looping and hip-hop. With influences as diverse as welsh poet Alun Lewis to 90s rap legend Skee-lo, Thunderclap combines covers and original material in a high energy show.

“2018 saw the release of self-penned single “The Party’s Over”. He occasionally performs arrangements of his songs live with a string quartet. His arrangements of other songwriters material for string quartet were showcased in a regular event called the Bamboo Sessions featuring live string players.”

Fay’s words:

Thunderclap Murphy is likewise new to me, but here we see where my plan to post in chronological order of appearance on the stage might have some issues. See, I may have to admit my first research defeat on this one, as I can find video and audio of Mr. Murphy’s music – either intricately looped, multi-instrumental covers or original music – but no written or recorded versions of any poetry in his name. (What hasn’t helped is that there is a (much older) Irish poet called Aidan Murphy who, conversely, I have been able to hear. He is not our Aidan Murphy, though…) I have found a recorded version of an interview with him on Irish spoken word podcast Boundless & Bare in May 2018 about setting up and running spoken word events. All I can tell you at the moment is that he has a really beautiful speaking voice – deep and resonant and expressive. And his music is catchy (I’m still humming one of them), deceptively complex and moving, delivered in a light baritone/ tenor, just to throw me into more confusion (man has an impressive vocal range!). If I discover any more before I see him in action in June, I’ll update this article! 🙂

In addition, he’s hosting the slam on Sunday along with Brian McMahon Gallagher, about which more later!

Sneak preview:

The Poet Beyond Compere – Rosy Carrick

…Ok so that was a terrible pun. Meet one half of this year’s Poetry&Words compering duo. Along with the inimitable Dreadlockalien, she’ll be bigging up poets, baying for whoops and hollers and bringing audiences to the boil. Ladies and gentlemen I give you the bold, brazen, brilliant Brighton-based MC, Rosy Carrick…

rosy

You have a reputation for being hard-hitting, underpinned with a playfulness and a penchant for the rude. You host Hammer & Tongue Brighton and cult movie-themed club extravaganza, ‘Trailer Trash!’, not to mention hosting at Latitude. The job of co-compering the Glastonbury Poetry stage seems perfect for you. Looking forward to it?

Yes! It’s a great stage to compere, a great team of people involved and, of course, an awesome festival, I can’t wait!

Compering is easily the hardest and most thankless job amongst all us poets at the festival. (It would scare the sh*t out of me). Do you prefer MCing, or given the choice would you do longer sets?

Actually I’m looking forward to compering the Glastonbury stage much more than I would be if I were performing a regular set. There’s so much going on at that festival all the time, so audiences are transient and sometimes impatient for something immediately grabbing, and my poetry doesn’t really work that way — I’ve performed at Glastonbury a couple of times in the past, but I always find myself avoiding the poems I like best in favour of dependable audience faves… WHEREAS I am a grade A expert at ordering people around and getting them to shut the hell up/be noisy/dance for my amusement etc… so this is really the perfect context for me to be there in! I do a lot of compering in all manner of places, and I really love it!

The P&W tent can be veritable hive of hippies, festy lovers and the literary batty, but on the occasions when the tent is a tad sparse, do have anything up your sleeve for pulling in the punters?

The poet Derrick Brown did a cool thing there a few years ago when things were sparse – he plugged his iPod into the speakers, played some BANGING TUNES for about 20 seconds and then got what audience there was to scream, yell, applaud and whatnot as loud as they could for as long as they could. It worked a treat! Lure them in with false enthusiam, and then retain them with death threats (or the magnetic power of poetry. I guess it’ll depend on who’s onstage at the time).

To digress ever so slightly, please tell us about your menstrual blood beauty tips videos. What was the idea behind those?

Aha. Well I have a 13 year-old daughter and last year she and her buddies went through this phase of watching online beauty tips videos, and they were all EXACTLY the same — super American, super ridiculous and super demoralising. And I was like: oh my god, what’s happening to my child?! What will this do to her?! Why is she watching this?! How can these even exist in all earnestness in the real world?! I needed to to take the power out of them pronto, and what better way to (literally) illustrate my point than with period blood. Given that half the population of the whole world bleed out of their vaginas for a quarter of their adult lives, I find the perpetual widespread disgust for menstruation completely bewildering.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love being on the blob, but it’s powerful, and the way that women are made to feel ashamed and embarrassed about it is significant in the wider context of gender inequality. So: unnecessary beauty instructions which play into mainstream cultural female degradation + reviled yet inescapable bodily female experience = blood on your lips, blood in your hair, blood everywhere! (And bee tea double-ewe Olive thought they were funny too — and she no longer watches beauty tips videos!) Maybe I’ll do a bloody make-over stall at the poetry stage actually, it could be very lucrative.

What or who are you most looking forward to seeing at Glastonbury?

Eek. I can’t wait to see ex-Pussy Rioters Masha and Nadya talking about their political work. I spend nearly every day writing about early Soviet Russian politics for my PhD, and there are some very interesting parallels going on at the moment. OH NO! I’ve just realised I’ll be compering the poetry whilst they’re on! That’s it, I quit! I was also really looking forward to seeing the Foo Fighters, but now of course leg-gate has scuppered that. So I guess I’m just going to be sitting in my tent crying all weekend. And dancing to DJ Dad’s awesome Djing at the night-time. There’s no one I’m super duper excited about this year to be honest, although I’m well looking forward to seeing Patti Smith. Who else is performing? I haven’t had a proper look yet. I can’t believe about the Pussy Riot thing, thanks for bringing it up, man!

And now a test for you, Rosy. I give you……

‘The Hypothetical Heckler’as a seasoned MC, tell us what you’d do in the following hypothetical situations…

A man tries to stage dive inappropriately during a tender poem by Charlotte Higgins.

Get him offstage, wait till the poem is over and, if he’s still there, invite Charlotte and the whole audience to dive on him in return as a fun interlude. Then tie him up so he can’t do it again.

A streaker does a lap round the tent.

I’m cool with that, as long as it’s just the one lap.

Somebody shouts “Poems are supposed to rhyme”

“You were supposed to be the contents of a condom, but sometimes we all have to accept that not everything happens as we’d hope.”

A couple refuse to join in on one of John Hegley’s songs.

Totally fine with that. One of my biggest fears is being forced into audience participation (pantomimes make me cry, it’s a terrible phobia!) Having said that, John Hegley’s songs instill such pure joy into my heart that I always join in with full vigour, so if I do see people not joining in I will probably just think quietly to myself that although I am fine with it, they are probably dead inside.

A member of the audience tries to get up on stage and grab the mic, claiming their poem about their recently deceased gerbil is better than anything they’ve heard so far from the professionals.

If they were clearly wasted/ a trouble-making dickwad, I’d take them out of the tent and make sure there were some crew members around to stop them from returning. If not… I would say something like: “To be honest, I suspect you are merely blinded by your own grief, but nevertheless I would love to hear your memorial poem…. but only AT THE OPEN SLAM on Sunday (which you can sign up for in the P&W tent any time over the weekend), at which time *I* shall be the judge of this alleged greatness… but in the meantime please bugger off because you’re f***ing up the programme, and your big-headedness might sully people’s impressions of your potentially fine poetry, not to mention the memory of poor innocent Mr. Dead.”

Kanye West gets up when the slam champion has been announced, grabs the trophy and insists it should go to Beyonce.

I like the idea that I would say something about how, unfortch, for me his misogynistic lyrics preclude his opinions about how much Beyonce should win the trophy in this case (particularly if she hadn’t entered the slam!)… but to be honest I would probably be like: OH-MY-GOD-I-CAN’T-BELIEVE-IT—SURE-BEYONCE-CAN-HAVE-IT-BUT-CAN-SHE-COME-TO-THE-STAGE-TO-PICK-IT-UP-SO-I-CAN-MEET-HER-AND-WILL-SHE-BE-MY-FRIEND-WILL-SHE-REALLY-THOUGH???, before chucking the real winner a packet of polos as a replacement prize and sailing off into the sunset in the glorious ship of Beyonce’s massive and beautiful-smelling hair.

Wonderful. Along with Dreadlockalien, Rosy will be whip-cracking the programme on all weekend from Friday 26th.

If you wish to sign up for the Open Mic (Saturday 27th at 12.50pm) or the Poetry Slam (Sunday 28th at 5pm), come to the Poetry&Words tent in Bella’s Field and ask either Rosy or Dreadlockalien to put your name down. Dreadlock will be the guy with the big hat and the dreadlocks (weirdly enough).

Only 6 days to go till the gates open!!!

Scott 🙂

 

 

Meet your Glastonbury 2015 Poetry Slam hosts – Varjack & Simpson

I caught up with Paula Varjack and Dan Simpson in London last week at the Anti-Slam Apocalypse to ask them about their partnership, their quirky projects and their plans for the hallowed Glastonbury Slam…

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The two of you have becoming quite a formidable creative partnership. How did poets of such wildly different styles end up working together?

Paula: I first met Dan at a gig where he was performing and I was hosting. I won’t give any details about the event other than it was a very strange format and all a bit awkward. At the break Dan and I bonded over how weird a gig it was, and how much we liked what the other was doing. It was then we realised he had performed at the second London Anti-Slam, the only one I had missed. I was excited about his enthusiasm for it and approached him after to co-produce it.

Dan: So then Paula asked me to help organise and co-host one year, and we got on really well on- and off-stage and it went from there. Our working styles and what we like making are quite similar – stuff that’s super fun for audiences to watch and, challenges performers in an interesting way.

One of your best known endeavours as a team has been the Anti-Slam. Whose idea was that, and how did it come about?

Paula: In 2009 I was living in Berlin and very much a part of the Slam scene there, and had links to the English language comedy scene that had begun to develop. I wanted to create an event where all of the performers from these artform and language divisions could participate. I was getting tired of the competition element of poetry slam. Not long after thinking all this, I went on a trip to Chicago & New York (a kind of pilgrimage to the early homes of poetry slam) and saw this performance by Jamie De Wolf at the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe that blew me away:

When I returned to Berlin I was inspired to create an “anti-slam” – a piss-take of a poetry slam, where I would programme those poets and comedians. By challenging everyone to do their worst, no one cared about the competition element. Because it was all so ridiculous, and it kept to the 3 minute time limit, it meant that audiences could enjoy performances despite the language differences.

European friends heard about it, so events ended up happening in Warsaw, Cologne, Turin, Sardenia – and even Sydney. I then went on to co-host it in Berlin with the Godfather of the Berlin slam scene Wolf Hogekamp for four years. Ray Antrobus visited me and helped me bring the first one to London, then Dan came on board! We now have events happening in 8 cities in the UK. It has become a brilliant Valentines event that sells out every year, and we have our Apocalypse – a national Anti-Slam final – and we’re keen to keep adding cities every year. I think one of my favourite things about it is how each city brings its own energy and helps revise the format.

Having had the privilege of participating in the Anti-Slam this year I found it hugely liberating to purposefully write bad poetry, particularly having had to sit through quite a few gigs over the last 15 years that have been strewn liberally with it. Have your other participants felt similarly liberated by the Anti-Slam format?

Dan: we get that response a lot! It’s a nice combination of challenge and liberation for excellent and established performers to engage with their bad side – but to do that entertainingly! As a gig organiser and host, as well as a performer, you do see a lot of genuinely “bad” writing and performers on the circuit – so The Anti-Slam certainly serves to perhaps relieve a bit of tension about that!

Paula: Yeah – I think there is so much that can be cathartic and liberating about it. It allows you to get one back at all the awful pieces and people you have contended with on the open mic and slam circuit. More importantly it enables you to harness the inner critic that respond directly to it. Something about this opens the floodgates of all kinds of shades of creativity. I think its about taking your fears of everything you try to avoid and going into it willingly, rather than being blocked by it.

You’ve been charged with running the revered Glastonbury Poetry Slam this year and the quality is always pretty damn high. Winners in the past have included now-massive poets like Hollie McNish and Luke Wright. Nervous? 

Dan: I love hosting regular, non-Anti slams too! It’s an honour to be asked, and always interesting to see who does well at these things. Not too many nerves – hosting is supposed to be the invisible foundations that the slammers can build their 3 minutes of stage time on!

Paula: I think the Slam is one of the nicest things that happen over the weekend. It always draws a nice mix of emerging poets and poets very very new to performance. I think the fact that the winner gets a set next year and a ticket to the festival really adds to the energy of it. It’s such a great way to get new voices on board so I am super excited about hosting it. I have hosted the Poetry and Words stage at Glastonbury before, many Anti-Slams with Dan, and also monthly host at Hammer & Tongue Hackney – so no nerves, I am only looking forward to it.

Tell us about your other projects like the Fail Better Podcast and Poetry Goes Pop!

Paula: In Fail Better we chat to two artists about their most interesting failures – usually something like messing up a gig in an epic way! We also look at fails of the month, and a current pop song that has terrible lyrics. It follows on from The Anti-Slam a bit – we both like the idea of failure and what we can do with it. I think embracing failure, rather than being ashamed of it, is fantastic for creativity. As much as I want my work to be polished, I am constantly reminding myself that I connect to other artists when they show their vulnerability. I also love interviewing people, and am obsessed with artists’ process, so the show is this great excuse to have conversations with artists I love and respect. I like them especially as they come on the show because they are as interested in the theme as Dan and I are and tell the most engaging stories.  We get lovely guests on the show every time.

Dan: Poetry Goes Pop! is a spoken word comedy panel show where we mash up pop culture and poetry. We play silly games like Poetry Karaoke – singing a poem to the tune of a popular song and Pop to Poem – turning bad pop lyrics into a serious performance of poetry. Like this!

Both of you have performed before at Glastonbury, independently. Can you share your weirdest moment(s)?

Dan: The giant mechanical spider. Every festival should have a giant mechanical spider.

Paula: Oh this is hard, I’ve had so many! My top 3 in no particular order are

1. Walking in and out of the Miniscule of Sound.

2. Finding the secret room behind the room down the rabbit hole.

3. A live art piece of a group of pregnant woman walking in a hazy daze through the fields. At least I think it was live art…

Finally, what advice would you give to potential Glastonbury slammers this year?

Dan: Don’t be intimidated by the setting – Paula and I will make it really fun and friendly! And don’t worry too much about the competition element – winning is awesome, but the best thing a slam can do is make you simply want to perform your work as well as possible.

Paula: Yeah what Dan said. I think my advice generally to anyone who is performing in any slam, regardless of whether they want to win or not is the same: Be the most you that you can possibly be. Perform with your own unique energy – the piece that is most distinctly the way you write and about what you are interested in. That more than anything is what audiences respond to. You can’t compete with anything else. Also remember scoring poems with numbers is always going to be at least a little bit arbitrary. Personal or Fantastical, Political or Silly, Lyrical or Monologue – just be super you.

The 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 interviews on the way…

Scott 🙂