You! Me! Slamming!

7 May

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The tone for the 21st Swindon Slam! was set by Swindon Arts Centre technician Ben. Hot Stuff blared out as hosts Sara-Jane Arbury and Steve Rooney danced their way onto stage. Revelling in her finger-pointing authority, the mistress of the mic stoked an already humming audience with the measures of applause: Cheering! Wooping! Stamping! Clapping! Whistling! Winking(?)! Kissing(??)! Hearting(???)!

After the rules had been explained and the judges calibrated with Steve’s ‘sacrificial poem’ concerning the joys of the work sickie, the draw for the first of four heats that comprised the first round was undertaken. The resulting draw put out three Swindonians in consecutive order: Heather Still followed by Stephen Daniels and Nick Lovell, with experienced slammer Peter Wyton rounding out what transpired to be blisteringly close first heat.

Heather and Nick went high-octane, with Heather delivering an uncompromising defiant piece on hereditary illness and Nick translating an interesting take on life into greyhound comedy, with The Race of His Life. In between, Stephen used audience-baiting and metatextuality to great effect, whilst Peter used similar devices with a Big Bang Theory-esque introduction leading into an at times self-deprecating piece on his place in the poetry pantheon. The combination of good humour and well-practiced delivery ensured Nick won the closely fought round (by a length or two!).

The second heat was as tight as the first, with Joy-Amy Wigman tying on points with Chloe Jacquet. The feminine-centric topics of The Pregnancy Test and the workplace sexism of Dear Mr Colleague are delivered accessibly as well as professionally. It is possible to feel a little sorry for Peter McDade, whose multilingual verse The Shrinking Violets carried a weighty sadness that in a non-slam environment would be very affecting. It was much harder to feel sorry for DrayZera, whose weak poem and erratic stage routine was clearly a mile away from what the others in the first two rounds were offering.

Sarah Snell-Pym kicked off the third round with exclamatory verse, Star Stuff. It was a clear reading, but distracted from a straight shoot-out between two of Swindon’s laugh-inducers Jonathan Muirhead and Clive Oseman. Jonathan drew a couple of big belly laughs from the audience with a booming sales pitch of The F**k It Diet. Clive generated a constant stream of low-level chuckling with a self-deprecating third person presentation of School Report. The judges rewarded structured rhyme and belly laughs, Jonathan taking the heat.

The fourth heat sadly contributed little to the evening: Ben Poppy’s As I Lay Sleeping, a traditional verse on war, was well written but nerves were visible throughout, resulting in a performance which more matched the “murmured wars” mentioned rather than lifting the poem. David Williams’ You Made Me Crawl delivered anguished clichés with only a sprinkle of gritty repetition. In this company Andy Brown, whose lament on identity and exploration of his existence in Split the Twin, won easily with a more measured and confident performance.

The interval and mark-counting saw the audience dancing in the aisles under the musical guidance of technician Ben, fuelling an already excited atmosphere going into the second round. Nick and Andy delved into the despair of modern politics, both sharp and cutting with Right on Your Doorstep and Civil War Poem #2. Stephen Daniels (going through as highest scoring runner up) experienced a different sort of despair, suffering a horrific memory block which resulted in him leaving the stage before he had even begun to get into the subject of the poem teased in the first round. Jonathan surprised everyone with a tender poem about the death of a colleague’s friend in A Walk in the Shadow with Kimberley. Once again the ladies were neck-and-neck for talent and subject; Joy dealing humorously and decisively with a muscular disease in Can You Spell Fibromyalgia, whilst Chloe built a terrifying narrative based on domestic terrorism experienced by two girls in Picture a Girl. The scores reflected how tight things got: Nick and Joy-Amy were separated by a single point, but it was the ladies who went through to contest the final, Chloe winning the round by a few points.

After some housekeeping and a little more dancing, Chloe and Joy-Amy took to the stage. Chloe delivered a fiery political poem on being a citizen of the world, punctuated only by a couple of stumbles which were ably saved with the production of a written version. Joy-Amy responded with a wonderful poem about potential love (there was the loveliest line about licking hot chocolate off stubble) filled with cultural appropriation. After the briefest of waits, and the threat of more dancing, the joy of love won over the anger of politics when Joy-Amy was announced as a worthy winner, replete with trophy and bubbly. Technician Ben was lauded for his music-infused atmosphere.

The crowd left in high spirits. Many of the participants spoke of an excellent evening – experienced slam competitors hailed the calibre of the performances, and other audience members seemed in high spirits. There wasn’t any more dancing in the Arts Centre that evening, but the sound of feet leaving carried more of a tap dance and less a heavy trudge back home.

Slam poetry is alive and well and knows ballroom.

Swindon Slam! took place at Swindon Arts Centre as part of Swindon Festival of Literature, 6 May 2017.

Words by Sam Loveless. Photos (C) Calyx Picture Agency.

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