Monday 7 April 2014

Wise Words Dizraeli Poetry Slam

I have had a brilliant weekend.

I was lucky enough to be invited to be one of the official bloggers for the Wise Words Festival.  (Well, I say invited - I applied and they said yes, but it's basically the same thing so let's not split hairs eh?). 

You may remember the Wise Words Festival from last autumn on the blog - well, it's back and it is bigger and better and wiser than before.  I've got a number of posts coming up showcasing and reviewing different festival events that took place over the course of the weekend.

My festival kicked off for me on the Friday night.  I legged it home from work, showered, changed, gulped down some dinner and got to the Gulbenkian Theatre on campus for 8pm.  One press ticket later (you have no idea how excited I got about this.  I may frame it) and I was settled in a corner with my camera, iPad and phone, ready for a night of poetry.
Slam poetry to be exact.

Oh, you don't know what a poetry slam is?  I must admit I wasn't sure although I had made a few guesses!  Slam poetry is basically a quick fire poetry competition.  Here's the Sladmin.  There are 10 competitors who each have 3 minutes to impress the judges.  They are given 30 seconds grace and then for every 10 seconds that they go over their time limit they lose a point.  
The judges are unbiased members of the audience, 5 in total and they score each poet out of 10.  The top and bottom score for each poet is removed and the score is averaged out.

This was competitive poetry, poetry with bite, poets going up against each other for admiration and adulation.

First up was Emrys Plant, last years winner.  He was sent in as a sacrificial lamb, to get the audience and the judges warmed up as he paints a fairly hopeless picture of Margate, his new home town.  Yet despite the severe and bleak outlook, this is a love poem, a nesting poem for his wife.  He stands, eyes half closed, hand clasped to his breast and you can feel the overwhelming love for his family come flowing through his words.  He remembers his dead friend, Ben and the women at work he doesn't get on with.  His description of smoking is so powerful that they should use it on the back of packets to encourage people to quit.  You can see him lose himself in his own words and rhythm.  The audience are rapturous with their applause, he scores 21.
The poets are selected in a random number order.  Helen Seymore is next.  Her poetry is both a tribute and an accusation to her disability, Chromosome 17B.  She talks about it as an old friend that both pushes her to be more than her physicality and holds her back.  You can feel her anger, frustration and confusion in every gesture she makes, every word that she utters yet she ends on a high, celebrating what makes her different, embracing the diversity that the world offers and acknowledging that without it, she would be a different person.  She gets 24 points
Rikosaurus is next.  He has a different vibe and style from the previous poets, and his chants lulls the audience into a stupor as they sway to his hypnotic rhythm.  He talks of the child in the war zone, the boy in the road traffic accident, the sex worker on the streets and the factory worker in a 3rd world country and begs the audience to stop watching and start changing their stars by opening doors.  His social commentary scores him a respectable 21.
Neelam Saredia takes the stage and addresses a subject that a lot of the women in the room respond strongly to, the idea that you are more than your dress size.  Cardboard packages can't contain me she cries and demands that she will no longer conform.  She scores 19.
Michael James Parker is called to the microphone.  His poetry is fast paced and with a slightly manic edge.  He mocks the Slam itself with a poem about the award winning poem that we would have heard.  It is a lighter, funnier and more dynamic style to the other poets and leaves the audience breathless. 
Tariq Moore, one of the youngest poets, a self declared sad teenager is up next.  His poetry is raw and bares his soul to the world as he chronicles a descent into alcoholism as a youngster and his struggle to claw back. It is a apology for a life out of control and one of the bravest things I have seen, a 19 year old holding his heart open to a room full of strangers.  He scores 24.  
Jordan Friend delivers a poem called Grow A Pair that criticises the expectations on boys to 'Man Up'.  He quotes statistics of male suicide and the topic is a powerful one.  He is clearly nervous, his hands shake as they clasp the paper between them but the audience is on his side and supportive.  It takes courage to put yourself on that stage.  He scores 19.  
Lucy Fennell allowed the audience to choose between three topics, zombies, superheroes or love.  Zombies was the clear winner and she launched into a highly amusing, if rather revolting poem about her survival, or lack thereof, in the event of a zombie apocalypse.  Her references to pus erupting custard scores her 21, a score that would have been higher were it not for the fact she ran over time and dropped 3 points.  A Slam can be brutal.   
Sven Stears begs for audience participation, encouraging them in the chorus to switch their brain off and turn their body on, eventually demanding that people observe and engage in the world around them, finishing with a request to turn the telly off and switch their brains on.  He gets 24 points. 
Becky Furnley's poem is a tribute to her future daughter, Matilda, a child who defies societies constraints and conventions and lives a life more than her mother's, more than her children's, a life full of explosion and wonder, fire and brimstone, chaos and love.

The audience adore it and she scores 25 points, winning the Slam.
Our host, Dan Simpson, points out that points aren't the point, the point is the poetry and Slams were created to stop dry and self involved poetry readings.  This is fast paced, electric, energetic, participative and raw and showcases what modern poetry is.  There is also humour, as Dan shows in his tribute to love through the medium of mathematics.  

After a short break it's time for the headliner.  Dizraeli is a rapper, hip hop artist and poet, self styled half-daft missionary who forced folk to marry hip hop.  He views poetry as a platform for honesty, and his mixture of rap, hip hop and haunting guitar melodies drift though the air of the Gulbenkian theatre, punctured with astute observations about life and beaten with the rhythm of the worn red Nike's that look like they have never seen an athletics track.
He sings of a garden made of sand, mixing humour and poignancy to perfection and pushes language to its limits.  The audience are enraptured, enthralled.  He is a magician and has cast a spell over their minds and ears.  He speaks of his trip to Jordan, the juxtaposition of the normalcy of everyday life in a highly sensitised military environment.  He honours his grandmother, his ex girlfriend and his brother as he sips elderflower cordial and vimto.
The layers strip off as he gets more comfortable, more relaxed and viciously honest.  The audience are lapping it up and respond voraciously when he asks if he can run over his allocated time.
After all, when it comes to living, there are always more trains

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  1. Great article! Just one thing- it's Neelam Saredia not Neela Sarardiar (if you could change it that would be much appreciated!)

    1. Thanks and sorry about that - it has been corrected!