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…!

Friday Part 1

And we’re off! pre-show act The Antipoet kick us off with their patented Glastonbury track We Are The Warm-Up to a surprisingly crowded tent for this time of the morning on the first day. People are already signing up for the slam and the open mic. The set collapses and they shrug. They bounce, gyrate, and greet the audience with words and gestures, beckoning grins and nods and cheers drom the assembly. Topics covered include: politics, proper tea, festivals (and their alternatives), an elegy for a friend, and hipster grammar. The tent feels properly warmed now!

Compere Rosy Carrick takes to the stage like a glamorous poetry beacon in shades of flames to introduce the next section, inducing the audience to cheer like they’re watching Bowie in 2000, making a Mexican Wave of sound.

Scott Tyrrell has set up his easel, supported by son Toby, here for the first time. He’ll be live-illustrating proceedings, fighting the high winds that are keeping us all cool in the tent and the stage set unfortunately so mobile!

Courtney Conrad takes to the stage after a rousing introduction, letting us know that she kicked off her poetry writing after a break-up. Her set covers the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, religion, migration, and always being Other. We’re plunged immediately into the intimacy of family and clothes-fitting. I’m sure people have rhapsodised ad nauseam about the liquid, hypnotic mellowness of her voice, but it’s hard not to when it manages to support the intense combination of gentle yet frustrated, determined, emotional, yet almost academic words with its constant ripple, an incredibly articulate storyteller in English and Jamaican dialect. She chooses to redo early piece One Love with a better rendition (and breaks my heart with smiles and sadness combined), and honestly I wish more poets had that confidence and commitment to quality. Call me a fan!

Rosy and Vanessa Kisuule exchange happy banter about matching shorts (“I hate to objectify, but mate, you look banging!”) Rosy manages to squeeze in a poem from her latest collection about trainspotting (Ferroequinology). It is a species of frankly uncomfortably erotic, difficult and unusual and textured with the kind of words that trigger my synaesthesia.

Toby Campion takes to the stage in fantastic dungarees to a rock ’n’ roll track and kicks off with what he describes as a poem written the last time he was here, after seeing Adele, describing it as his own Adele Moment. He captures the audience immediately, then exchanges Midlands banter with an enthusiastic section of the crowd before going on to read from his book about his childhood, dropping us into the middle of a series of intimate word portraits of growing up queer in Leicester. His skill has only grown in the time I’ve known him – both words and stagecraft, and the audience are enraptured as the sequence of sketches slots into place. After this more family intimacy, grief, and humour. It takes and keeps everyone who listens. After the poem about his father’s terminal illness, he gives the audience a moment to take them through some studied breaths. If more artists took the time to practise radical care of their audiences, thw world would be a better place. And then his drunken, unedited poem, breaking the fourth wall with wrist-bitingly hysterical images. Clever, heartfelt poetry competing with a brass band and some ground-vibrating bass beats? He wins.

Rosy borrows my £5 flannel shirt against the chill of the wind. I don’t blame her – it’s an excellent shirt.

Desree takes to the stage like an explosion, with a series of pugilistic poems about #MeToo, gentrification, relationships, gender, toxic/ fragile masculinity, body image, race, privilege, abuse of power (and complicity), and all the important things to get angry about. Anyone who can make a list poem (an overused and all-too-often rubbish form) sing and dance, with quick feet and lightning punches deserves as much love and admiration as we can give them! Her poetry manages rapid-fire rage, clever allusion, and a glorious use of language and compassion and observation. She also uses trigger warnings to bring us into her piece about R. Kelly – well-needed and reminds me why I’ve bought into TW and CW – it gives people the option to leave or stay (literally or metaphorically), and allows us to protect our bruises.

Rosy gives us an ode to Arnold Schwarzenegger, letting us know that she’s hoping to build her body in a similar fashion… More double-entendre and angry eroticism, this time combined with the frustration of PhD writing.

Demi Anter takes to the stage in a teeshirt made by her father of her at the age of two. She warns the audience that they may hear things that upset them, but that the teeshirt will hopefully make them happy. She has a very specific stage presence I associate with American spoken word poets – crafted and confessional, borrowing from theatre and standup – but without that staleness and fake intimacy that I also preemptively associate with it (like a massive snob? probably), if that makes sense. She tackles love (self- and others), mental health, eating disorders, confidence, art-making, and family, and has longer intros than any of the other poets so far. The explicitness of the language sneaks up on you, broadsides of orgasms and trebuchets of sweary rage among the gentle intimacy. Her final piece lampoons Californian artist culture and DIY culture and Valley Girl speech, while at the same time being deeply personal and factual like a terrifying dating profile.

Liv Torc takes to the stage and we’re straight into family intimacy, and immediately afterwards the graphic, terrifying realities of childbirth, name-checking fictional, kick-arse heroines and bombarding us with visceral imagery and glorious wordplay, followed up by the lubricous romance of the damp patch. The ugly-beautiful realities of family life continue with a Kennings-laden piece about sharing a family bed that you can frankly smell! Family is the theme overall – connection and love and the physical texture of it. (She further wins my heart with a piece about hair and hands and genetic and cultural heritage, even though, for me, I’m the end of that particular line of curl and strength and stubbornness.) She ends, of course, with That Poem – the one about three generations and the legacy of a cluttered Earth – which still has the power to bring tears to the eye and throat (including her own). The arrival at the far entrance of people who are litter-picking is one of those Festival Magic moment.

Scott is still battling the wind, sketching Demi while Liv performs.

Somehow, despite this being a) a Festival, b) a stage of poets, we’re running under time. So Rosy yanks Luke Wright up to the stage. This is the most dressed-down I’ve ever seen the dandy wordsmith, but he grabs the opportunity to strut out an excessively impressive univocalism about North-South cultural differences.

Ana Paz takes to the stage with an abundance of energy, plunging into the intimacy of the audience with mic in hand, demanding that we exchange passion with a refrain of “I continue to fight”. After Luke and The Antipoet, she’s the most physically dynamic of the performers so far, combining lyricism and wild, wide, high imagery with the pace and punchiness of hip-hop. The performance is like dance – and, unlike many poets, especially those who use fast-paced urban rhythms, she lets the flow breathe. She isn’t afraid of pauses, floating silences louder than the (utterly unremitting) clamour outside the tent. She repeatedly thanks the audience for their energy and attention. It’s the quietest part of the day so far for the stage – an unfortunate period for someone who’s so very dynamic. But she switches pace down to one about grief and despair, the kind of helplessness that can lead to an end. She tells us that performance (and all art?) is about finding a mirror in each other. I’m totally stealing that phrase. Random people hug each other to her words, overwhelmed as she finishes talking about why she writes (and much of that appears to be to fill the gaps and inequities in our current cultural models of “truth”). Fabulous stuff, and I’m hoping she has a larger audience (and at least as equally enthused!) for her next performance with us.

Thunderclap Murphy takes to the stage, bringing looping equipment with a maze of cables, instruments, and buttons. I take the opportunity (while Rosy conducts a quiz and Liv covers my gear – thanks, Liv!) to grab a quick dash to the toilet and my packed lunch and return exactly in time to see him start his loop of musical layers to underlay a farewell poem by war poet Alun Lewis (Goodbye, published in 1944) – guitar, flute, song, handclaps and vocal percussion. He decides to go with a hip-hop, drum ’n’ bass vibe for the next one (after teaching us a beatboxing shortcut – “born to be clever, too clever to be too clever”, if you’re interested), Match of the Day, the persistent ice cream van theme in Dublin. The guitar is dark and the flute sounds like that place where Middle-Eastern/ Spanish music meet in liquid ripples and curves. He ends with an a cappella blessing, having us all chorus Sláinte!

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: 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: