Note to self – do not call this entry ‘Slampionships’

Before I begin properly, I wrote a blog entry some time ago about what to do after writing a novel. Last week, it was posted on the official NaNoWriMo website.

And now, on with the main event.


On Saturday, I attended the Scottish Slam Championships for the first time. At this event, poetry slam champions from around Scotland compete to be crowned the first among their peers. Before we move into the details of the evening, what is slam poetry?

Ross McFarlane, who performed at the event, outlined the idea in an article from 2015:

Based on different criteria depending on the slam itself, poets are expected to, in one way or another, perform their poetry to be judged by the audience as a whole or a panel of onlookers (sometimes experts and sometimes not). While it might be the case that a lot of slams have more in common than just this description, it would be pretty safe to say that any event with this format could be considered a slam.

Source: Glasgow Guardian

This particular Championship is run under Glasgow Rules:

  1. The running order of the performers is determined by names drawn from a hat.
  2. In round one, the performers each have 3 minutes to perform a poem in front of a panel of judges. The running order is then reversed and each performs a second poem.
  3. In the second and final round, the three highest-scoring poets each duke it out with a third poem until a winner is declared.

Rosenau Poetry Slam

The photo isn’t from this night, but it is royalty-free. Here are the photos from the night. [Photo by Charlyfoxtrott4 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)]

So what type of material can the audience expect to hear? While there’s no fixed theme, don’t expect to hear nature or Shakespearean poetry, except in a satirical context. You’re more likely to learn about the political landscape, LGBT issues, religion, and of course the self. It’s not uncommon to hear swearing either. I attended to support Angela Strachan who performed a hilarious satire on the appeal of Aldi, and A.R. Crow who reflected upon the death of George Michael.

I also happened to meet a university friend attending her first-ever slam, and what an introduction it was. It’s sometimes possible to guess who the finalists might be, but the performances were so strong that the field was wide open, even at the end of the first round. The host Robin Cairns kept the night running smoothly, trading the occasional strong insult with some of the poets.

If you want to find out who won the evening, head to the Scottish Slams Twitter page.

All of which is a nice warmup for StAnza, the poetry festival in St Andrews. I took part in their slam last year and I’ve signed up to compete again.

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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.

Different Trains.

About four years ago, I started attending a creative writing group I’m still in today. The tutor gives a prompt and the job of the class members is to write a passage inspired by it. In one of the early sessions, we had a member who often wouldn’t write anything, but would instead describe what she would’ve written. I had a similar experience at the StAnza poetry festival in St Andrews on Saturday.

I’d been meaning to attend this for some time, and this year I finally bought a ticket for Clive Russell (Coronation Street, Game of Thrones). My plan was to arrive around midday and buy tickets for other shows on an ad hoc basis. I queued at the Byre Theatre box office for a show about Alexander Pushkin and Russians in Paris, to be told that the tickets were now available only at the venue door. When I reached the, they had just sold out.

I decided instead to have lunch quickly, then see a 12pm show by a artist and a poet who had written a Ladybird-style book about St Andrews. An enjoyable 40 minutes as they described the challenges of being in two different cities but having to collaborate, but only the audience members attended.

After tea and a scone with one of my classmates who was working at the event, I headed to Musings@MUSA, which encouraged visitors to use the objects on display as inspiration for their own poetry. The first exhibit I saw was marked Seal of Approval and that phrase stayed with me. The 17-line poem I wrote was definitely inspired by elements in the exhibition, but ended up not being about the place.

Finally, time for Clive Russell. I queued up at the auditorium to be told it was, “At the top of the building.” I wasn’t sure how she knew this from looking at my ticket, as there were no obvious markings, but I moved upstairs to the top entrance and took my seat. We were treated to a duet poem written by Rock McKenzie, then the experimental Veridian String Quartet performing Different Trains by Steve Reich.

I made some notes in advance of the main event. The photograph below shows some of these.

image

When the house lights came up and there was no Clive Russell, I was puzzled. The man beside me said that venues for these two events had been swapped around. I slowly worked out that the first ticket checker had meant a completely different venue, while the second one should have paid attention to the show name on my ticket and not let me in. However, I was indeed in the venue printed on the ticket.

To compound the matter, I’d offered to review the events for Dundee University Review of the Arts, or DURA. If I were writing for The Guardian or suchlike, or I’d’ve been sacked on the spot. Fortunately, DURA’s contributors are volunteers, so I explained the situation to the editor in question and it was no big deal. She even gave my classmate and me a lift home in the evening.

I still enjoyed the day, and I’m tempted to go back next year. I’ve learnt nothing is a waste of time if you can take from it a good anecdote or a free pen.