It was fitting that Behind the Arras should make the effort to attend this Slam as the Youth Centre has closure hanging over it, to be determined on the 24th November, further evidence of the corrosive effect these harsh economic times are having on community facilities and the Arts. A full house turned out to support organisers Dee and Caitlin for a night of poetry boasting a particularly high standard. The convivial bonhomie in the bar beforehand was reflected in the competition after, one of respect and good humour.
Thirteen poets did battle over three rounds with Dee oiling the wheels, and offering a few poetic bon mots himself. An intriguing aspect of this slam was the diversity of performer, and performance, with unusually, the majority having notes as a prompt. Many Slams feature performers who eschew notebooks, sheets of paper or, (if you are lucky) a copy of a book of their printed work. I am never quite sure why. Poets are poets, not actors, and there is no requirement to have learned everything by heart,even though the freedom of movement and enhanced eye contact which a recited poem affords is undeniable.
The opening round didn’t have a dud in it, but Bill Thomas, Lydia Davis, Sarah Tamar, Ally Oxterby, Catherine Crosswell and Jezz were cruelly axed by the heartless judge as the competition requires. Sarah Tamar performed a defiant, overtly political piece Thatcher’s Legacy , and Catherine Crosswell, one of my favourite poets, spoke of baking cakes in a way that only Catherine can. Bill Thomas, a secondary school teacher ruminated on Kitchen Appliances whilst Jezz opted for a brilliant discourse on the problems of being an Rural MC, and the struggles that Snoop Doggy Dogg never has to face – like sheep.
Audience participation was a prominent feature at this Slam with no fewer than three of the six semi finalists using the device. Heather Wastie’s Halloween Nightmare chorus worked the best in the first round and was seasonally timeous .The nursery rhyme innocence, intertwined with malevolent intent, is a winner. Tim Cranmore disarmed us in the first round with a pastoral piece about the river Severn. Then cut loose with the Armageddon laden Where is God in the second round complete with ensemble requiring chorus. Tim is a compelling, powerful performer, and he delivered this piece with a zeal that judge John Hathorne from Salem would have been proud of. I liked it.
Girolamo Savonarola (21 September 1452 – 23 May 1498) was an Italian Dominican Friar, Scholar and an influential contributor to the politics of Florence from 1494 until his execution in 1498. He was known for his book burning, destruction of what he considered immoral art, and what he thought the Renaissance which began in his Florence—ought to become. He preached vehemently against the moral corruption of much of the clergy at the time. His main opponent was Rodrigo Borgia, who was Pope Alexander VI from 1492, through Savonarola’s death in 1498. As such, he is not an obvious choice for a call and response performance poem – unless you are Peter Wyton. The chorus, a reprise of the said Friar’s surname ,was chanted to the tune popularised by the television advert exhortation to ,“Bring out the Branston”. Hugely entertaining, I am not sure what it all meant though ……………………………………
Defending Champion Adrian Mealing spoke of bikes in the first round, and Dr Fox in the second. Not the ex Radio One DJ you understand, instead the ex Defence Minister. Poetry, like cartoons, has the capacity to cut the pompous and self righteous down to size. Adrian achieved this with some style, but sadly it was not enough to take him through to the final this time.
Dan Jukes, revealed to me over a beer afterwards that he is an occasional poetry performer, which is a shame, because tonight he shone and excelled, right through to the final. His style is quick fire, staccato and witty, with shades of Michael Barrymore, but without the swimming pool. Normally I tire of dyslexia poems, but in the hands of Dan it works , cleverly intertwining song titles as well without allowing the familiar lines to detract from the poem itself. His closing “list poem” It Might Be Good in Theory was yet another triumph of artistic ingenuity over a well worn format, but not even that was enough.
Amy Rainbow is quite a talent, she combines the on stage authority of a Headmistress with the mischief of a St Trinian’s schoolgirl. She is largely still during delivery, apart from a penetrating look to ensure that her audience is both listening closely ,and getting the jokes – she need have worried in neither regard tonight. Self Mastery had a killer pay-off line, I Don’t stands as one of the best poems of poetic misandry I have ever heard, and The C Word is destined to catch the audience out every time. Amy was a worthy winner, and although the culling process en route can be a harsh affair, the two best performers on the night invariably make the final as was the case here.
And so, with the cheers of acclamation ringing in Amy’s ears, the evening came to a close .If the centre fails to beat closure I am sure there will be no shortage of alternative venues keen to host this fine event in the future. Organisers Dee and Caitlin are also promoting Ian McMillan at the Coach House Theatre, Malvern this Friday 27th October.
Gary Longden 22/10/11