Confession: Yesterday, I had no idea what a Poetry Slam was. A third year English Lit student with the words “culture vulture” in the bio section of my Instagram page, yet still clueless when it came to slam-dunking sonnets. Any knowledge I had of this murky world of metaphors was gleaned from 22 Jump Street (“YELLING! Julia ROB- hurts…”) and Katie Makkai’s slam-poem ‘Pretty’ (check her out on YouTube).
I knew slam poetry was poetry delivered onstage, to an audience. I had no idea, however, about Poetry Slams, which are both brilliant and brutal. Forget your ideas of poets running around in fields, clutching a bunch of daffodils. Tonight, the performing poets compete against each other, with poets knocked out at the end of each round based on a show of hands by the audience. And in this case, the room is packed.
Sat in Queens Café, I’m about to watch 11 performers compete in the Dead Poets Society’s Slam, chaired by Social Sec, Amani Saeed. The poets are split into two groups before the first round kicks off . In Group One is Julian Isaacs, Kate Byard, Lydia Vincent, Haroon Khan and Peter Tse. Highlights include Julian, mature English Lit student and veritable BNOC, tossing his flashcards on the floor, and Haroom’s poem (written at 10am that morning) calling us to “rise up against the injustice”.
Following on from Round One is the first performance of guest-slammer Robert Garnham, self-proclaimed as “once the second-best poet in Swindon”. Garnham has the audience in hysterics in both of his readings, in particular during his poem about beard envy (“Stroke it, big boy”). The other guest-poet for the evening is Saba Khan, who delivers a poem about beauty ideals. Haroom and Kate are voted the winners of Group One, before it’s time to hear from the performers in Group Two: Robyn Di Giacinto, Farda Ali Khan, Tristan Gatward, Christy Ku, Aida Mugabo and Jonathon Fletcher. Highlights include Tristan-who-likes-to-writeabout- lemons’ poem about a waitress, Christy’s poem on racism, and Farda’s honest account of anxiety: “the future looms like a creature in a Predator movie.”
This time, Tristan, Ida and Chris are voted through to Round Two, and the five remaining poets are given the opportunity to perform their second poem. Aida impresses everyone with her impromptu poem about her Rwandan, British and Muslim heritage, as does Kate with her poem about gay marriage. The two are voted through to the final round, where Aida delivers an impromptu poem about her mum. There isn’t a dry eye left in the room. The overall winner is Kate, whose final poem is a blistering tirade against a guy who broke her heart and then wrote a best-selling song about her (I’m itching to ask who he was).
The slam is a huge hit, and a great night for Dead Poets Soc, which was only created last year. I’m in awe of all of the poets who had the guts to perform. Anyone who enjoys writing or listening to poetry, keep your eyes peeled for the next event. It’s bound to be another ‘slamming’ success.