Friday, 19 December 2014

Ahem. An announcement

So here's a thing. As some of you already know, I applied last month to go to part-time working in my day-job.  Today I heard that they have agreed "in principle". What this means in actuality is that I'll come back on 5th January full-time, but will swiftly move to part-time (3½ days a week, for those of you who really want to know) once we've worked out all the logistical details, signed the bits of paper, etc. After 12 weeks, we review and find out if it works (can I get all my work done in the time, can the people who deputise for me cover well, can I cope on less money, etc.?).

I couldn't be happier* - this is a chance for me to get a proper work-life balance, look after my health, enjoy more time to write/ focus properly on poetry promotion, etc., maybe even just sleep more. I suspect that, for some weeks, it'll be a case of just sleeping more. :)

You know what? It's beginning to look a LOT like Christmas... :D

* well, obviously if they'd signed it off last week and I was looking forward to starting part-time straight after the holidays, that would be

Tuesday, 9 December 2014


So, people have been getting stuck into debate about this article.  In “Slam Poetry Does Not Exist: How a movement has been misconstrued as a genre”, the author contends that people have misconstrued a poetical movement into a poetical genre. He contends this for the best part of 2,000 words, and is talking from the perspective of the North American slam scene, but much of what he says can be applied to the British slam scene, though more in some places than others (yay cultural diversity).

And other poets have been getting stuck into this, so I thought I’d give my personal take on it.

I love slams.

I hate slams.


Slamming got my poetry out from notebooks and onto a stage, where I’ve always felt more comfortable (I was a singer, now I’m a poet, this happens; also - poetry was wickedly badly-taught in my school). I started running a slam in Milton Keynes, which moved onto a mixed-slam-and-open-mic because people wanted to perform but not everyone likes to slam. Getting involved with (and now running) Hammer & Tongue in Cambridge got me exposed to more people, and upped my hosting game immensely.  Competing in (and then judging) the BBC Slam again linked me to performers and promoters I wouldn’t otherwise have met. I have friends I’d never have even met if it wasn’t for slam. I’ve witnessed poets I might never have experienced if it wasn’t for slam. Seeing people get poetry for the first time because they were drawn in by the more universally-understood hook of competition and having them come up afterwards and say “OH MY GOD! POETRY! I NEVER KNEW! WHERE CAN I GET MORE?!” and then running off to read All Of The Internet (Poetry Section) that very night - that’s exciting and humbling in one breath.

I can’t slam myself. It’s too much. I shake and freeze and the explicit judgement (and anticipation of the same) is like physical pain. I don’t care that I’ve done well in them in the past; I only remember the humiliation of doing badly, and the bored/ pitying looks of those who were expecting funny, or political, or just louder, please, louder, we can’t hear you... And there’s a style that’s creeping into (especially big city) slam that’s becoming a bit homogenous - a tickbox, cut-out-theatrical, three minute emotional blackmail personal story with artful gasps to break the flow into lines. It takes inspiration from some of the most beautiful artists out there and clumsily apes it, and it makes me bored, and angry that I’m bored.

We see people performing poems they clearly wrote in order to win slams, not as good performance pieces that fit the timeframe, and that annoys me.  But then, hell, page poetry has its forms where people compress thoughts into a set number of lines, and rhymes, and syllables, and enter those into the relevant competitions. We have people setting out to deliberately fling a string of vague-but-beautiful metaphysical bon-mots at their readers/ listeners. We have people who take easy political potshots for empty applause. EVERY form of poetry... hell, every form of ART has its hackneyed pretenders, and its cynical manipulators.

Recently I’ve seen a series of poets storm slams with brave, meaty, relevant, excellent, vital, original poetry, and the people who won did so with difficult, challenging, viscerally true pieces. Few of them, once you get to a certain level, are
slam-style poems, and I think for good reason: because people enjoy showmanship, but you need that and the truth to win a poetry crowd. It’s also important to note that - like X-Factor or whatever - it’s not the winning that necessarily gets you gigs, if that’s your aim: a promoter in a crowd may dig your stuff and book you, no matter what the judges say.
In short, in my opinion: slam poetry can be a genre/ style, but it is ultimately self-limiting. Slams are bringing people to excellent and exciting art in a way they can understand, and then they can choose whether and how they want to explore performance poetry (we see plenty of people who go from our slams to our open mics and decide to stick with the gentler nights; we also see plenty others “graduate” from trying it out on the open mics to competing the high-octane buzz of slam; and then there are those who like both...!). And I’m starting to lose count of those artists I seen for whom slam has been the platform for them to go on and do great work outside of the slam arena.

Slam can be exciting, and entertaining, and infuriating, and educational, and self-important, and inspirational, and nepotistic, and awe-inspiring, and dull, and connecting, and divisive. Like life. So I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lucky, really, as tomorrow I'll be running a slam: go to for more details.