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Saturday, 28 June 2014

Update... Score Creep

Within poetry slam jargon, the term "score creep" figures: the first poet goes up on stage, does an incredible poem and scores a respectably conservative 8.5. The judges then realise everyone else is fantastic, too, and start awarding 9s and 9.5s as each moment gets better and seems to build on the themes of previous poets. By the time the penultimate speaker gets up, removes the mic stand (I don't like these things, they take away the intimacy), pauses to give a penetrating glance at each member of the audience, and delivers the most heartbreaking haiku you've ever heard, the judges are already thumbing their 10 cards*. The final poet delivers the most memorable line of the evening in a poem that comes in at just under 3 minutes. And s/he wins, with a whopping 29/30 regardless of being the best poet of the night or not - I mean, hold on, what about that first poem that changed everyone's lives right at the beginning of the slam?

For that reason, there's usually a sacrificial poet to calibrate scoring. They perform at the start and are scored but exempt from the competition. We keep going back to that first poem, and we keep comparing how that first moment compares to all the other moments. But - and this is the flaw with slams (hence the aptness of the phrase: "the point isn't the points, the point is the poetry") - no matter how much you try to be objective, the cumulative effect of all those other poets taking the stage in their different ways means that the final poet steps into a ready-made atmosphere, usually to their advantage. When it's a really great night and the poets aren't just there to win but to respond to the temperature of the room, the last poem is what seals the deal, creates the turning point, links everything together. The last poet standing (and I repeat, if everyone else hasn't messed it up for them) has the might of a thousand words behind them and all they need is a match to spark the fuel already poured out before them**. And, if you're a conscientious judge, that's when you realise you can't compare any of the scores, because each unique poem has been a unique stepping stone to a higher truth.  

*That poet only gets a 27.5/30 (that's why the slam host is insistent judges shouldn't know any of the poets - and that's why the highest and lowest scores are taken away to mitigate against bias - but he's tried that penetrating stare one too many times on several single straight women in the venue on previous nights... I'm really deviating from my original thought, here...)

**I was trying to be clever and subliminally allude to Capturing Fire earlier. I gave up but this dodgy metaphor is staying. Bite me. (Go on, Suarez. Do it)

Steve Camden a.k.a. Polarbear

Kirsten Luckins and Jess Holly Bates

Whatever. I was just thinking about that after posting something on Facebook, following my night at Jibba Jabba in Newcastle on Thursday. I think I was writing "Omg. Last night was amazing!" And I realised my last few posts, going back a month have all said the same:

I'm with these awesome poets tonight
Last nights was amazing
Wow - what an incredible bunch of people

And I was thinking, maybe I need to curb on my superlatives. Once I say something is amazing, or awesome, there isn't really much further to go. I'm running out of score cards, so to speak.

But then I go back over the last month, and I realise - despite everything else that's been going on -  when it comes to poetry, I've just been having one exceptionally great experience after the other. And part of the score creep is how they've all fitted in with each other.

I still haven't written a post about Capturing Fire, mostly because I'm still processing, and it's difficult to put a whole range of experiences and emotions into something pithy (er... hang on, just reread... isn't that what poets are meant to do?) I'm also treading water, waiting till the end of the school term - which is also creeping up - so I can get more of a balance on writing/working/socialising/sleeping that enables me to do these longer posts.

But, in the meantime, since coming back from D.C., I feel I've been slightly more open, slightly more geared up, slightly more challenged. As the school term is meant to be winding down, I'm actually busier preparing young poets for slams, competitions and end of term performances, and I'm suddenly seeing the huge rewards of being long-term in a school and enabling the progress of young people who, at the beginning of the year were labelled shy/"problematic"/low-ability/low-confidence in English etc. and now are surprising their classmates and my colleagues on their writing/performances. I'm also looking at how my writing is changing - one of my poems is out in Beige magazine shortly (will post a link next week) - and seeing similar progressions.

When it comes to poetry events, perhaps because I can't go to so many right now, I seem to be getting more from them lately and finding myself making new friends and learning new things. The point isn't just the poetry, the point is how we communicate with each other, how we form communities, alliances and, hopefully, use that in the bigger world beyond cosy words on a Tuesday evening.

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Yrsa Daley-Ward, PJ Samuels, Dean Atta, Jay Bernard

Tuesday evening at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern was amazing. Thursday night at the Cumberland Arms was incredible. And, going back to my first point way up at the top of this post, it's exciting to see how the last few things are fitting into each other, changing me not just as a poet but as a person.

I'm not sure really what can top this week, but I'm just off to Chelmsford for The Fling festival in an hour or so... so I'll let you know. Meanwhile, I'll leave you with this post from an audience member/ open mic poet at Jibba Jabba's Facebook page:


Friday, 20 June 2014


So, I'm much more up-to-date than I've been in the past month, and I'll be checking in here much more regularly over the summer.

The next couple of weeks are looking varied, poetry-gig wise. So, I'll be on my toes and writing/performing new stuff. 

Tomorrow, I have my first Takeaway! "Customers" get to order a tailor-made poem from a talented team of steady-handed verse-makers, and I'll be helping out in the van (ketchup optional) at the Royal Academy of Arts!

Then, there's pre-Pride antics at they Royal Vauxhall Tavern on Tuesday (and I'm especially looking forward to hearing more of PJ Samuels, and seeing more of Jay Bernard...). 

And finally, I've been waiting to come up to this place for aaaages! Newcastle's Jibba Jabba is the stuff of legend; described by some as "the best night in Europe" - I really can't wait to be up there. Bearing in mind, Kirsten Luckins (who's Edinburgh show "The Moon Cannot Be Stolen" pushes spoken word shows to a whole new level) will be there and... Polarbear!!! (who needs no introduction), I'm willing it to be next Thursday already.

And, just in case that isn't enough, I get to head back to the South East to my first festival of the year, The Fling, on Saturday where, once again, I'll be sharing some words at the spoken word stage.

I'm pretty certain these will all have very different vibes and I'm looking forward to sharing my stuff and meeting with old and new friends too!

More to come soon... 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

An update in 5 parts…

I've been particularly lax over the past month or so with posting, but it has been an incredibly rewarding time.  I've been doing a lot of writing/editing and found it incompatible with the very loong updates I would like to post here. Basically, I can't multi-task very well...

But so much has been happening lately, I think this calls for a list. I'm missing out loads, but here are just some of the highlights of the past few weeks...

1. Gigs with Podcasts - Out in South London/ Queer'Say and Stand Up Tragedies: Tragic History

Both events were great (despite having massively inflamed tonsils at the Out in South London gig). Rosie Wilby organised this gathering, with Sophia Blackwell and Joelle Taylor, both dynamic poets I enjoyed spending time with (and I'm reading both their books at the moment). In addition to a full set of poetry, we were interviewed live on radio. I can't remember what I said, but it's definitely worth listening to the other two! Unfortunately, you can't see Joelle's shoes on the podcast - shame if you weren't there!

I wrote a new poem for Tragic History, which needs some work, but I was glad to be able to perform it in front of a lovely crowd. I'd recently prepared a lesson for school based on Smiley Culture's Cockney Translation… after remembering the dodgy circumstances of his death, and simply Googling all of the other deaths in police custody - many of them insufficiently resolved, with no officers held to account - I found myself including a list of just a few names. May they never be forgotten, and may the truth come to light - and justice served. End.

The Stand Up Tragedy events mix all forms of spoken word and music. I learnt about imperial injustice in Kenya, the foolishness of one man which led to mass lead poisoning, and Japanese nuclear damage, while also being entertained and enjoying the companionship of a friendly crowd and (not enough) kazoos.  

Both have follow-up events, and I'm looking forward to seeing more Stand Up Tragedy events when I can. I'll post a link to the podcasts later.

2. Work in progress

There's so much I can only talk about in small details. Right now, I'm preparing for 20 of my poems to be published at the end of the year as part of Eyewear Publishing's 20/20 series. And just when I think my poetry-writing's getting better, I'm learning that I need to up my game. One day, I'll get there!

I'm also working on an album with musicians (cue the drums, keys… and possibly the accordion). This has been an ongoing project which halted due to other commitments, but service has resumed again, and you'll hear more by the autumn.

I've also submitted work for anthologies and magazines - when they come out, I'll post more!

3. When I'm not been gigging or writing

I've been able to see a future generation of poets develop their writing at school. I've been able to see the fringes of Hackney gentrify further, at furious speed - with the addition of knitting shops, coffee lounges and fancy clothes stores opening every week. I've been able to see the summer term approaching the final strait, and some of my students will be taking part in inter-school slams, submitting work to competitions and writing, unprompted, at home. It's amazing seeing the confidence of some pupils grow, when I compare them to how they were back in September. The past few weeks have been crazily busy preparing pupils for end-of-term events. Am looking forward to seeing them all do well!

I've managed to have more of a social life than I did previously. Aside from walking around Camden/Primrose Hill and snapping random signs/graffiti over the weekends, I've also seen a few films. Among them, Fruitvale Station, which really affected me, especially after researching about police deaths for the Tragic History event; recurring themes always crop up… It probably won't ever feature on the US Tourism board's website(!) but glad to have seen it.
4. New York

Spent three days here before going down to D.C. for Capturing Fire.

Fairly emotional crossing Brooklyn Bridge, something I last did aged fifteen. I ended up reciting loads of 90s hip-hop, quoting places on the map where some of my favourite rappers used to rep. I did used to think New York was the centre of the world; I'd listen to Mos Def rap about Brooklyn as a teenager - or even Foxy Brown… or whoever - and I didn't realise how much I'd clung to these places as the centre of my teenage world, until I got very excitable up in Brooklyn Heights… I reverted!

Cat Brogan, first in queue @ Nuyorican Poets' Cafe
Wonderful to see Regie Cabico, pre-Capturing Fire, who happened to be featuring at the Bowery Club's slam; amazing riding off the energy of Cat Brogan, who was also visiting New York over the half-term. I won the Bowery Slam, which left me on a high for the duration of the trip. And then I was in the final five at the Nuyorican Slam two days later on Wednesday! After both events, grabbing a bite to eat with other poets and hanging out reminded me of why I do this. The poetry scene is about camaraderie, sharing ideas, words and then a pizza and a beer, having a laugh, and then returning to the big bad world the next day, full of fuel.

5. Capturing Fire!

This has been the highlight of my year so far and deserves another post.

D.C. was amazing, meeting all the other slammers was amazing, running a workshop with Sophia Walker was amazing, taking part in the preliminary slam - and qualifying with 29/30 was amazing. Making new friends, priceless. Unfortunately, I had to fly back to London in time for school the next day so missed the final. But maybe if I had stayed, I would have burst from all the excitement. Seriously!

I'll have a full Cap Fire report later this week - and proper links… Plus, I'll update my upcoming events tomorrow night so stay tuned!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Postcard from Home... Priceless.

I'm back again :)