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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:


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