Hey everyone. On Thursday night I had the privilege and believe me it was a privilege of attending the 2013 Scottish Poetry Slam Championship final. This is where we see the very best our country has to offer on the spoken word scene as those poets who have won slams all over Scotland in the past 12 months come to do battle and not only gain the title of the best slammer in Scotland but the chance to represent Scotland in the World Championship Slam in Paris later on in the year.
For those who have never attended a slam before it has recently been described in a Scotland on Sunday article as a blood sport for poets. I didn’t see the article myself but whoever wrote those of words of wisdom wasn’t a million miles from the truth in fact if I’m honest they weren’t even one mile from the truth. Trust me I have competed in slams and I’ve still got the bruises to prove it. Well it may be a place for the best in spoken word performers but as I was saying to a first time audience member or as we prefer to call them slam virgins its no place for the sane.
As I circulated at the bar it was good to see friends and fellow poets amongst the gathered flock including some who weren’t competing in the events such as Jim Ewing, Rachel McCrum, and Peter Callaghan. Well it proves what I’ve always said a quality event will attract quality people
As tradition dictates there is a sacrificial poet who gets the audience in the mood before the contest begins. Last night the task fell the man who was our genial host and compare Robin Cairns. Robin is a man who has won many slams in the past so believe me he knows what it takes to be a champion. His sacrificial poem was one which though I’ve heard it many times before I never tire of hearing, Other People’s Poetry was a perfect way to set the tone for the night that lay ahead. Well as compare for the evening he was introducing other people’s poetry.
The first competitor to be introduced was Lewis Brown. This was the first time I had seen Lewis and I have to say I was liked what I saw. His poem Walking Down The Street I Met A Problem was an interesting look at the many creative ways of attempting to tackle a problem and I really liked the idea behind it.
Next to the stage was someone I have not only seen before but have known for 10 years and am proud to call a friend. I need say no more than Jenny Lindsay. Her poem entitled truth was a break up poem about which she missed about a former relationship was sensitively written on a difficult topic on which to write well. However as a child of the Cool Britannia years maybe the Oasis classic song ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ was subliminally played in the nightclub of her memories when she wrote this very honest and thought provoking poem.
Stephen Ferguson the task of following Jenny and he did it in spectacular style. The current Glasgow Slam Champion he retained his title on Monday, Stephen had the audience in stitches with his stunning poem on erotic pleasures and yet he somehow still didn’t make the semi final. This I have to say really surprised me and reminded me of a Toyah Wilcox song. Anyone guessed which one yet, yes that’s right its a mystery.
Stephen was followed to the stage by the force of nature that is Kevin Gilday. Kevin was in brilliant form and had the audience in the palm of his hand as he delivered his poem on Jesus swapping his seat at God’s right hand for a flat in Possilpark in one of Glasgow’s most underprivileged areas.
In the poem Kevin tells the story of how the locals are slightly less than impressed at Jesus miracles. Yup even walking on the River Clyde didn’t cut it amongst the sceptics. However the my favourite passage in the poem comes in these lines ‘I even quoted the 23rd psalm to 14 year old pushing a pram to be met with the reply what the fuck’s a shepard’. The fact it also mentions Saracen Street also makes me smile as my dad was born in Allender Street which is less than a minute’s walk from Saracen Street. Well Ok it maybe more like five minutes, if like my dad’s family, you stayed at the top end of the street and had to walk down that hill.
The theme of values was also strong in the work of Alec Beattie whose poem Camel was a fantastic heartfelt tribute to his grandfather. Packed with emotion and excellent use of imagery this was a poet I really enjoyed listening to as he took the audience on a very personal journey but never at any stage did he make us feel uncomfortable.
After this I got a bit confused with the order of the poets but there was no confusion on the quality of their work. Harry Giles, Patrick Crotty, Katherine McMahon And Alex Howard delivered poems of serious quality covering topics from the UK borders agency to the music of Bob Dylan. However, it was Carly Brown who really sent crowd crazy with her wonderful poem Grown Up Poetry Should Go Away And Leave Me as she vented her rage against TS Elliot in what for me was one of the best poems of the first round.
As we approached the break Robin announced to the crowd that the top five poets would qualify for the semi final but the poets who didn’t make it through would be given a chance through the Limerick lifesaver. This meant some poets would be sweating through the break just in case they hadn’t gained an automatic qualifying place and needed the limerick to save their slam.
After the break It was Patrick Crotty who qualified through the Limerick lifeline. Well wouldn’t you know, that flattering the compare is far better way of winning than attacking sitting ducks like Donald Trump or Boris Johnston who are in reality a parody of themselves. What was it that journalist said about blood sports?.
As the semi finals started I was pleasantly surprised to see Lewis Brown take to the stage. I have to say he in my book was a shock qualifier if only because he read his poem from the sheet. However this young man is only 18 and a serious talent so its good too see substance winning over style every so often.
By now the competition was really beginning to hot up and at the end of it I can say with certainty that I knew at on my scorecard who would take two of the three available slots. It was my opinion that Jenny Lindsay with her angst ridden classic on twenty something life and Carly Brown with what I think was the best poem of the whole evening Texas I Love You But I Can’t Take You To Parties Anymore had definitely made it through. The third place however was much harder to decide though it was to me at least a straight fight between Kevin Gilday and Alec Beattie. I gave the nod to
Kevin in a very close run thing as I thought his poem Hitler’s moustache received a better audience reaction than Alex’s poem on drink and when the two poems are equally well crafted and well performed it really does come to down to the audience.
As the judges deliberated on a very tough contest I thanked God I wasn’t amongst their number. This I thought was going to be a seriously tough call. However the judges were clearly thinking along the same road I was and the three finalists were exactly as I had predicted Carly Jenny and Kevin.
It is my opinion that all three finalists had played their strongest cards earlier in the competition however the standard of poetry was still excellent. Kevin’s poem lamented the lack of pleasure in today’s world Jenny performed a love poem for her adopted home city of Edinburgh and Carly’s choice was a poem entitled Straight.
This despite the title, has nothing to do with someone’s sexual orientation but instead tackled a subject which many girls and maybe some boys could identify with as it raised the issue of having curly hair during her school years and the lengths she would to go to straighten it
In the end the judges decided that the new Scottish Slam Champion is St Andrew’s very own Carly Brown with Jenny finishing as runner up and Kevin in the third place. However the real winners were the audience who turned up to watch this spectacular event. Some of us are veterans who have attended many slams in the past and like myself may have competed a few of them. Therefore, as seasoned slammers we know what to expect and know that in poetry slams poets shoot from lip. However the audience wasn’t just confined to poets some people came to support their friends and others came for a good night out and they along with Carly Brown who will represent Scotland in the World Championships who were the real winners on Thursday night.
Love And Best Wishes