Farrago Freshers Slam, 12th September, 2014, 7.30pm, The Poetry Café, Covent Garden, £6/5
Reviewed by David Turner [Originally published in LP3, October 2014]
Crumbs!! It weren’t ‘alf ‘ot! Audience members were crammed into the Poetry Café’s familiar hot-box of a basement, full to bursting. As always the latest Farrago slam, the country’s (Europe’s? The Universe’s?) longest running, was hosted by John Paul O’Neill.
Peering over perspiring shoulders of paying punters (£6 if you don’t mind. Great it was too to see so many happy to pay to watch a poetry reading) I just about managed to catch a glimpse Kayo Balogun’s set. Via the wonder of modern technology I watched one of her poems on the screen of a smart phone as a friend filmed her set. Kayo gave us three poems in her debut feature set. While it took the duration of her first poem to dispel her nerves she still delivered her set with her usual, unflinching, passion and palpable pain.
Kayo’s first poem ‘A Love Like Fire’ suggested to us, through a dialogue between herself and another female character, that we settle for nothing less than a love that would “find us” whether we looked for it or not and “sweep us away like a tsunami”. The second character was left to wonder, though, if this kind of love did present itself would she actually want to let it in? Kayo had made it seem pretty terrifying.
I’ve seen Kayo perform her second poem ‘Lost’ four or five times. It never fails to cut me in half. The use of such beautiful imagery (leaves turning to jellyfish is on loop inside my head) to frame a description of rape continues to leave me breathless. When those with no experience of spoken word ask “what should I expect?” this is one of the poems I regularly refer to. Powerful, beautiful and captivatingly painful.
Second to feature was Tim Kiely with a four poem set. Tim’s Radio 4 delivery always makes me smile. This is probably the best thing about these kinds of events, Tim’s reading style couldn’t be more different to Kayo’s and indeed those that followed.
Tim’s first poem ‘Live’ was an attempt to capture the feeling one is left with after witnessing a powerful spoken word performance. I say attempt as I don’t really think he did justice to the amazing ‘A Thousand Paper Dinosaurs’ by Anna Kahn. But then that’s probably the point, isn’t it? How could he do it justice? As Tim, himself said, “you know nothing will quite be the same afterwards even if you don’t quite know why”. A very interesting point was raised about live spoken word events in this poem. Would a recording of Anna’s piece be worthwhile? Would there be any point in trying? Probably not but, as Tim points out, it would probably be perfect to fall asleep to.
So, regarding this (important) question; “Does spoken word need to be experienced live?” I think we can all agree that this question is best asked and “answered” while in the audience at a spoken word event. (Internally or during the break with friends, obvs! Bit of respect for the performers like!)
In Tim’s final poem ‘Some Excuses for Keeping Quiet’ he talks about being paralysed by his own thoughts of desire toward a new love. It was touching, honest and funny and captured very well the claustrophobia of being restricted by your own thoughts. “You’d be concerned if you knew my thoughts”, which include nibbling at her cheeks. Audience members were given the impression that the nibbling wouldn’t exactly be playful.
Next up, Chip Grim a.k.a. The Brother’s Grim. Chip began by facing away from the audience (an over-looked, under-used performance technique in my opinion) drew up his hood, turned to look us all in the eye (Chip has a great ability eyeball fifty people at the same time) made a “gun” gesture with his hand and launched into his first poem ‘Nobody Gets Hurt’. While the performance was pretty full-on if you were (un)lucky enough to be in the first three rows, the poem was less about actually intimidating people and more about the idea of intimidation. An exercise in stretching the relationship between audience and performer. The conclusion? It isn’t that difficult to shit-up a slam audience.
Chip followed up with three poems, ‘Call me Dave’, ‘A Class Act’ and ‘Pack away’. All three dealt with the idea of a government trying to appear at one with “the common man” and give the impression of a classless society. All the while, unfortunately, showing themselves in a very different light through their disappointing actions. It was refreshing to hear this kind of social commentary at a slam event, though with Chip I wouldn’t expect anything else.
The fourth feature of the evening was Amy Acre. This was the first time I’d seen her read. Her first poem ‘Fuck Off and Die’ was a humorous piece about being head-over-heels in love with someone you pretty much hate. The depth of the poet’s feelings toward “this man” explained through her wish to carry out a list of mundane tasks, “I wanna make packed lunch for you”, “on Sundays go to Ikea”. Wrapping up with the line “I want to be your girlfriend, now fuck off and die!”
Amy finished her set with the hard hitting yet, at times, funny “F.G.M.” a poem about female genital mutilation. An extensive list of euphemisms for the vagina was delivered quickly enough to be funny yet not detract from the main message of the poem. “Mothers mutilate girls. For God. For marriage.”
Amy’s performance felt a little flat but as I haven’t seen her perform before I don’t know if this is a deliberate technique. It was also getting hotter. How could it be getting hotter? It was impressive that the audience were hanging around.
Kathy Tytler gave us a few poems, mainly referencing her love of running. The first was a description of reading in public and play-on the film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner: battling the elements and screaming children, ‘There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Poetry Gig’. There was a great line about turning up for the same gig the following year to be told your material is no longer deemed family friendly.
Another poem, ‘The Marathon Tourist’, gave us a conversation between Kathy and her insurance provider. “Sorry but marathons are not on our approved activity list”. Kathy goes on to ask, “do amorous travellers need to pass medical tests before being allowed to have sex abroad?” I liked Kathy’s set but I think she would have benefitted being earlier in the line-up.
Now I have a confession. Due to a combination of the stifling heat and the knowledge I would be reading next I allowed my concentration to drift. This resulted in me not really listening to the evening’s final feature act, Grace Beadle. While I remember her as being confident and passionate (and incredibly young!) I won’t say any more about her. Sorry Grace.
So we come to the slam (thank you all for your commitment). There were some very good readings, notably Emi Morimoto and Deke Dobson.
The slam was won by Salomé-Dior Williams with her poem ‘The Corner’. The poem dealt with her infatuation with the “cool” boy that hung out on the corner near her parent’s house. The poem was written after the passing of time and graduation from university. She had moved on, widened her perspective. He hadn’t budged. Salomé has a very lyrical delivery and she carried the audience over words and syllables like a rigid bicycle travelling over cobblestones. Exciting, thrilling even, but not always comfortable. There were some great lines in her poem but I think Salomé could probably do with paring down her “lyrics” a little. Less is.
My name is David and I fucking hate poetry.