Thursday, February 03, 2005

An Ocean of Information

Ok, I still need to process the slam, but I'm hoping that as I write I'll do some of that. I am giving myself twenty minutes. At 6pm, The Simpsons are on.

One of the things I've been desperate to avoid in this blog is have entries that run something like "I did this. It was good. Then I did that. I liked it." I pray that this blog entry doesn't do that. If it does, I'm sorry.

(This line was inserted part way through me writing this - I don't think this is a good entry. I fear it's a bit dull... it's a bit shit. Sorry. It kinda reads like I reviewed every song at a gig. But seeing as pretty much every poem was by a different poet, you can't really leave anybody out. You know what, if you feel inclined, and you actually make it all the way through this entry, you could give me some tips on writing. Go on, I'm open to criticism! For a short time only.)

But firstly, I'm going to list those that performed. Just so I don't leave anybody out...

(Drum roll and Michael Buffer calling out the names, please.......)

From the US we have....
Beau Sia
Taylor Mali
Queen Sheba
Danny Solis

And from Canada...
Barbara Adler
Brendan McLeod
Mark Berube
C. R. Avery

And from Ireland...

Barney Sheehan
Sonja Broderick
Robin Parmar
Rose O'Shea

And lastly the home team, the UK Team
Elvis McGonagill
Rachel Pantechnicon
Kat Francois
The brilliant Bard Of Bridlington: Niall Spooner-Harvey

Plus sacrifical poet, the de-fi-nite-ly b-e-a-u-ti-ful Sophia Blackwell, and MC's Rob Gee, Steve Larkin, who's just some guy. Providing the sounds in between was DJ Aeroplane Man. What fine sounds they were too.

Ok, there's your list. All of them quality. Nineteen poets and a DJ. Could be a good name for a band.

(Ten minutes till The Simpsons)

If you've read the blog before, you will know that I am a fan of these things. They float my boat, they rock my block and move my groove. And you will know that I have waxed lyrical about waxed lyrics in the past. So this time I am going to try a slightly different approach. It springs from the fact that I wrote a review for the Taylor Mali gig in January for the Hammer and Tongue Journal, the Nail.

Actually, I have no idea what the slightly different approach will be, which makes me deeply suspicious that what I write will be exactly the same as every other bloody entry.

The slam was organised like so:
(Note there was no dinner for the winner, although I did host the winning team for dinner the night before, see a later entry that I haven't yet written... It will hopefully make sense! And who says it was rigged??)

The four teams were divided into two semifinals, the US v Ireland and the UK v Canada. The winners of each heat played off in the final. The heat losers started drinking and relaxed.

(It's time for The Simpsons)

(Ad break. It's the Snake Whacking Day episode with Barry White)

To warm up the audience, Sophia sacrified herself and read a poem, and got a tasty score for her trouble. MC Rob Gee spat out one of his own, and then we were off. There was a toss, which the US won and the Irish were forced to go first. Barney was up first with a poem called Cry, my Belfast, cry. In reply, Taylor Mali, the US captain gave us What teachers make. Now, I've seen him three times before, but I have never seen him peform like he did on Tuesday. Normally he's a bit laid back, but he was aggressive, he had one foot up on the speakers, and he demanded that we as an audience know, no, understand, just what a difference teachers make. Seeing as I was in the corner where all the poets were gathered, it was fascinating to watch him after the peformance. He was always watching, always scheming and plotting, and, you'd have to say, masterminding the slam. This was clearly a man who knew what he was about. Seeing as he has won the US title six times, this shouldn't really come as a surprise... Rose O'Shea was next up for Ireland with a beautiful poem about her daddy. I had the priviledge of driving her back to the accomodation at the evening and what a lovely and warm person she is. When I get to Limerick, I am going to look her up. Queen Sheba was the second US poet, with Poetry does not belong to you. They say she is royalty, and whom am I to disagree. Third up for the Irish was Robin Parmer and then we had the amazing Beau Sia for the US. I spent a great deal of time with him on Monday night and he came across as a quiet man, quietly listening and wanting to help out round the house. But... not when he is peforming. "I'm so deep, that I am the iceberg that let the other iceberg sink the Titanic". Man, did he sweat when he was at it. He was breathtaking and hilarious. I really don't remember the last Irish poem, but I do remember the last US poem. Danny Solis was another person I got to hang out with on Monday night. He is a beautiful man with a great deal of depth. This wasn't revealed in his poem, which essentially was a play on the old 'size matters' myth, except he used a backyard fire as the metaphor for penis size. I know I'm a sucker for a bit of puerile talk, but this was genuinely funny. There was a marked difference between the two sides. The US team were all about the delivery, the Irish were all about the content. It's a tricky thing to delineate the merits of both approaches. I know what I would pay to see again, but I also know what I would pay to read.

After all that, it was time for a break.

One of the resounding reflections of the evening is that in four hours I listened to between 30-35 poems. Most of which were rapid fire. Granted that the material, the poets and the performances were top drawer, that is a hell of a lot of information to take in. I can't even pretend to do half of them justice. I guess this is where the performance comes into it. The poems I remember were the ones I knew, the ones where I knew the poet, and the ones with the large performance. I know that as I listened to some of the others, especially the one by Rose O'Shea, that it was important, but two days later, I fear that it had got itself drowned in a sea of information.

DJ Aeroplane then lay down some slamming tracks.

The second semi-final was between the UK and Canada. It began with a poem by Tony Blair. Sorry, Elvis McGonagill. Then we had something truly different. We had a group poem by the whole Canadian team, which was a first for a H&T slam. These Canadians are all from Vancouver, and they are slick. Pity the fool that has to follow that. Next in line was, at least in my opinion, the rather disappointing Niall Spooner-Harvey. I suspect that I found him disappointing partially because he followed the Canadians, but also his list of things that he is intolerant of didn't really sit well with me. It might have been self-effacing in places, but I was left with a rather uneasy feeling about it. This observation does make me wonder if I even remembered it correctly... Maybe it's one of the half I'm not doing justice. Second up for the Canadians was Brendan McLeod, with a poem about fighting ants. I think this one also falls into the bracket of not really remembering it well. I do remember the next three, however. The stunning Rachel Pantechnicon was, in terms of performance, my outright winner on the night. She can put garden gnomes on my 'elf shelf' anytime. The next poem, I am informed by it's author,Barbara Adler, and is simply called Music. There was a line in it with a reference to just being me being perfection. It resonated with what I heard Buddy Wakefield perform at the December H&T slam, where he asked had I ever dreamt about living for a living. Barbara, if you ever read this, please don't forget to send me the words! Third in the set, was Kat Francois with a poem about wanting a man who understood women. Kat, again, if you ever read this, can I have the title and/or the words? Please? The semi-final was finished by CR Avery. Now, amazingly talented is a brace of words that gets bandied about a lot, especially by me. So I'm going to preface this by putting the word 'outrageously' in front of it. A man who can be his own beat box while rapping has talent. As Tom Waits once said, "hunt this man out".

With the semi-finals wrapped up (pun intended - ka boom cha), it was time for another break with more slamming tunes from the Aeroplane.




Before Steve Larkin could announce the finalists he had to one of his own; the Midas touch in reverse. This was bullshit. He does not have the Midas touch in reverse. Everything he touched on Tuesday night was gold. Not the cliched kind, either.

It was not exactly a huge surprise to see that it was a US - Canada final. As good as the Irish and the British were, the North Americans were better. Now we got to see if Taylor Mali could strategise a win. The two teams took very different approaches in the final. With the exception of the two group pieces, Canada seemed to favour, and I really hesitate to say this, substance over style. Brendan McLeod and Barbara Adler kicked it off with a joint poem about friendship. The poem was wonderfully read, and the warmth and understanding between the two of them was very evident... which was riposted in outrageous fashion by Beau Sia with The Asians are coming. Loud, funny and delivered with bucketloads of sweat! Mark Berube was the second Canadian finalist with a poem that I think was entitled Scarred by Nuclear Heat and was a powerful look into the effects of Hiroshima upon his family and beyond. His grandfather had been a POW in Japan just down the road at the time the bomb was dropped. Danny Solis was the exception to the style rather than substance approach of the US. Danny spoke about holding his godson in his arms while recounting the story of a Palestinian boy dying in the arms of his father, and wondering if the father sang to his boy amidst the suffering. Brendon McLeod was next up for the Canadian with a moving poem about passing an HIV test, but the implications that someone else has got it for him, and then taking this metaphor to other aspects of life. If there is another poem I'd like to get my hands on, this would be a prime candidate. There's some stuff in there I'd like to think about. Mr Mali had obviously decided that there'd been enough gentle stuff, and brought the audience roaring again with his Voiceover America. The last Canadian poem of the night was a group effort led by CR Avery about child abuse. To finish the competition, Beau Sia accompanied Queen Sheba with a poem that sadly I really don't remember. Does that make me a bad person? Probably not. Beau barely had time to sit down before he was right back up with a set (by this stage it was 12.15am) while the scores were totalled. Twenty sweat-filled minutes later we had heard our final poetry for the evening, and we knew our winner. The US had triumphed by a gnat, and Beau, the Queen and Danny had all tied for highest overall scores, with 29.8/30. Not bad, really. Nadia whatsherface (that gymnast), move over.

It has to be said that when the poetry finished a large sigh of relief washed over me. It was an excellent evening, but my brain was fill... Without being I don't know what, I think it's going to be nice to talk about something else for a while. The next slam is a month away (1st of March) and I think I'm quite ready to go a month without one! Three poetry evenings in a month has been enough.

The last observation I'm going to make is that when I first started going to these about a year ago, it was a bit of a mystery to me. Then I discovered the big slam and Taylor Mali. That was something else, and his sheer performance really opened up my eyes to this stuff. Since then, I have also had the priviledge of hearing a whole host of overseas and local poets. There is a whole lot of talent out there, and I suspect that there is a whole lot more I haven't found. My point is this: imagine if you'd never heard music before and all of sudden you were taken to a Blur concert. You discover you really like it, and then find that there is also Oasis, Radiohead, Suede, Pulp, Ride, Supergrass, Blue Aeroplane and a whole bunch of other BritPop artists. Then you discover that there is also rock, rock and roll, jazz, rap, the blues, heavy metal, manufactured pop, classical, swing.... In some small and very badly articulated way, that is what the explosion of slam poetry has been like to me.

Here endeth the rant.


Anonymous said...

Yeah - I've only done 3 slams and that was by far my worst!! Next time I represent the UK (which probably won't be ever) I'll try not to over-run by 90,000 minutes. I swear that poem's got longer. It used to be the right length.

Big up to Beau Sia though. He was magnificent. One day I'll slam like him. One day.


Anonymous said...

Hiya! Just read your blog and posted a comment on it to the wrong bit.

I'm just starting out as a slam poet - 3 slams old - and boy was I crap last Tuesday! Crapfully crapfully crap! There's no excuse for over-running as long as I did. The poem should have been 15 lines shorter on reflection. Bit naff. I guess I need to learn my material (I know one or two of my poems but not enough of them). Up until then I'd won everything I'd competed in, so to be that lame on the night was a bit deflating. The team said they didn't care, but I did! I felt I let the side down.

I've got to say though that the standard was hella good. It IS the best night I've ever attended. Beau Sia was amAZing and that elf shelf thing was fantastic. Not to mention Canadian Beatbox Guy, who blew me away.

I did notice you share my love of cricket and so you're clearly a man of taste! You might see me at Hammer and Tongue in a few months, by which time I'll have got a bit more experience and raised my game.

See you around!

Niall S-H

richard said...

Cheers for your comments. I think it was one of those evenings when anybody who was less than totally magnificent was gonna look bad. And you were very unlucky to follow those canadians!

Beau was astonishing. I do not think there are words that exist to sum up his abilities.

Give me a shout when you're at H&T in the future. I'm up for supporting my poets (I'm a fan, not a performer, which hopefully means I can comment on them!) and I'll buy you a beer.

Good luck with the slamming. Anybody who can do it has my total respect.

richard said...

Oh, and there was no way you were crap. You were just less than magnificent. But a long way from crap!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Richard - it's true! I'm a total perfectionist and the standard was hella high.

I've worked out what it is. When I won slams with that poem, I was single and pissed off! Now I'm smug attached. So it doesn't have the same vehemence. I chucked half the paper on the ground and trashed the set one time with it...

I've just written new stuff and will be slamming in London soon and maybe at H&T if I can find the time! Will keep you posted.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for posting such a detailed rundown of the 4 Nations slam Richard! And thanks for giving me a virtual hand with the slam I'm putting together here in Prague.

Ken Nash (Alchemy's organiser) and I are always on the lookout for features - please pass my info on to anyone you know who may be passing through Prague and would be interested in being a part of Alchemy and/or the Roxy slam.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing nice things about me. Makes up for the plethora of elves. And losing.

Rachel Pantechnicon