“Usually, the slam is opened with a set from the previous heat’s winner, but they can’t make it this evening, so we’ll need someone from the audience to set the bar for the evening’s scoring.” After a bit of too-ing and fro-ing, a woman from the front row coolly gets up on stage, takes a breath, and starts slowly talking. And as the piece progresses, the pace accelerates, in a tour de force performance that left me thinking I should sneak out the back, and pretend I’d never turned up. If this is a random person from the audience, and she is this good, what will be the standard of my rival slammers?
But I’d paid my admission and booked a slammers’ slot, so I’m sticking with it. First, before the slam, there’s a set from Charlotte Higgins, here as a featured artist at Hammer and Tongue Slam because she had won the Young Slammers comp at Cambridge Strawberry Fair a few weeks ago. And that’s not all she’s won, with several years of success from her poetry starting point in Ireland.
On with the slam, which was excellently compered by Fay Roberts; funny but firm. And giving me some confidence I’d get a fair hearing, as I was feeling very much the lone visitor amongst a crowd of familiar friends. There were eight of us slammers, having a go, some clearly very experienced at performing, others less confident in delivering to an audience.
I performed “Rise and Shine”, a piece celebrating the commodification of sex, through a product made better known by the cast of “The Only Way is Essex”. (A programme I’ve never seen, as I know it’s all true and will make me cross.) The warm and friendly audience liked my piece, and the judges gave it good scores. The difference between my score and a top three placing was small, and the worthy winner on the night was Antosh Wojcik.
After the slam, we were treated to a set from the evening’s headliner, Raymond Antrobus. He gave us a wide spread of material, punctuated by some very amiable chat in between, making the audience feel uplifted by his spirited take on life. Highly recommended.
Here’s me at the top, learning my lines for Hammer and Tongue at Cambridge on 12 June 2013. Despite my chief coach’s best efforts, I was unable to learn my piece that had just six four-line verses and a regular rhyming scheme. But I gave a fair account of who Fred is, and what he can do.
So, who was the mystery random person in the audience that opened the slam? Turns out she is the fabulous Alysia Harris. Having now seen her You-Tube vids with 5 and 6 figure hits, it made me feel better about my relative beginner’s attempt at performance poetry slamming. I hope to have another crack at Cambridge H&T next season, and hopefully the gulf between the talents of Alysia and myself, will, by then, be slightly narrower.