Slam

For a few years now, I’ve been going to the StAnza poetry festival in St Andrews. On Saturday, I was invited to compete in the Slam, hosted by Paula Varjack. Although I’d applied some time ago, I was only told that week I’d been granted a place.

There are a few simple rules:

  • The running order is drawn from a hat.
  • In round one, everyone is allowed to read a poem for up to two minutes. You’ll be stopped if you run over.
  • In round two, after the interval, the top four scorers from round one are given 2½ minutes each to read another poem.
  • The 2017 Slam Champion is crowned.

    English: Textbox at the Casa Encendida (2008) ...
    English: Textbox at the Casa Encendida (2008) – Textbox is a performance space for spoken word poetry and literature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first poem was always going to be Crossing the Road, published last year; it’s punchy and takes less than a minute to perform. The strength of this Slam is that there’s no ‘house style’, so the contenders spoke on subjects as diverse as ageing, love, insomnia and contemporary politics. Just about everyone put in a sterling performance, including the other first-timers, and I thought I made a good job of mine.

The exact number of points given by the judges were not revealed, but five people progressed to round 2 because two contenders had scored exactly the same, none of which where me. The ultimate victor was Kevin Mclean, who goes on to compete in the Scottish Slam.

I’m not disheartened by my placing. I’m accustomed to performing in front of large audiences, but not with a competitive element. So what I want to do now is sharpen my skills even more by studying what other poets do and how they appeal to the audience.

Elsewhere at the festival, I witnessed excellent performances from Jackie Kay and Sarah Howe, and I chatted to the latter for a while. I also bought Paula Varjack’s book, and filmed performances from poets inspired by looking around St Andrews.

Paper View

Last week, a friend was complaining about a major writing competition that still only allows postal entries. I’d also submitted work because it’s a prestigious publication, but I agree with her point of view. Considering the hundreds of manuscripts that must be received – versus the tiny portion that makes the final cut – this seems a colossal waste of paper, not to mention the needless postage time and cost.

Many competitions offer the postal route as an alternative to an online submission, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Nor is there any issue with posting work that must be physically held to be appreciated. But there are still a bunch who want normal prose and poetry to be sent on paper.

English: A stack of copy paper.
English: A stack of copy paper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until the 1990s, this was how submissions were made. Internet access and e-mail accounts were generally the domain of academics and computer enthusiasts. Come the next decade, however, and newer technology began to creep into people’s homes. Nearly 17 years after the millennium, online access is nearly universal in the Western world, and postal submissions now look incredibly outdated.

That’s not to say I don’t like a paper book. In fact, some recent research has concluded that sales of e-books are falling. But a book is the final product; the process of gaining the interest of an editor or a competition judge ought to be as quick and cheap as possible.

Yet I would like to understand the other side of the argument. Do you run a publication that only wants submissions on paper? How does it benefit you? What would make you consider accepting online entries?

 

What’s The Story?

A couple of entries ago, I mentioned that I rarely post my work on the Web. This is because I enter competitions and contact publishers. The rules invariably state that any story submitted should never have appeared either in print or online.

I have one story that’s already in the public domain, and I’m going to share it with you below. I wrote it for a Twitter friend, and it gives you a flavour of my style, although I don’t usually write in American English.

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Text In The City
By Gavin Cameron

Monday, and for the third week in a row, I took to the streets of downtown Ladymill. I had made some acquaintance with a few of the commuters, one of whom had bought me a cup of coffee every day last week.

But as pleasant as it was to meet these people, I wasn’t doing this for the friends. I desperately needed something that nobody seemed able to give me. I perhaps should explain why I attracted so much attention. I’d been carrying two dry-erase boards attached by two ropes over my shoulder.

The one on my front read: NEED A JOB. CAN’T GET MORE WELFARE. Oftentimes, the rain washed off the semi-permanent ink and I had to rewrite it two or three times.

The blank board on my back allowed potential employers to write down their details. So far, I had only attracted a couple of comments, including KICK ME and I’M WITH STUPID.

But I believed this Monday would be different. Perhaps it was the optimism from the sunnier weather, or that the commuter’s coffee had gone straight to my head after an inadequate breakfast, but I definitely felt a new sense of being.

As the commuters thinned out at around six o’clock, no doubt rushing home for a well-earned beer, I considered finishing up for the day. But I had no beer, just leftover Chinese food.

I walked to the train station, when a man in an expensive-looking suit approached me. Over these three weeks, I developed an ability to tell when someone was about to speak to me, and I spoke first to show I wasn’t afraid to take the lead. “Good evening. I’m Rachel Morton. Can you help me?”

The man nodded. “I think I can.”

Excited, I replied, “Oh that’s great. What kind of work can you offer?”

“I work in advertising and marketing. Have you any experience of the industry?”

“No,” I replied, “but I’m a fast learner. You can even give me a week’s trial, but I’ll only consider a paid trial.”

“Don’t worry,” replied the man, “I would pay you, although it’s minimum wage. And to be fair, you don’t need much experience.”

“I’ll consider any reasonable offer.”

“I have an office a couple of blocks from here. How about you come in tomorrow morning? Here’s my card. Bring a resumé and some ID.”

I arrived as instructed wearing my most professional outfit. The office looked very glassy and modern, and didn’t contain many staff, so I could work almost uninterrupted. Yes, I could do this. No more rainy days wandering around town. I was now an office worker. I signed a month-long contract that day.

I soon found out why there were so few staff. This advertising company wasn’t offering a desk job. They wanted people to walk around the streets with billboards strapped to us.

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