When A Woman Wants To Be The Change She’ll Do It By Dancing With Words ( A Review Of Blue Chair Poetry Slam 2016)

Hey Readers. Those of you who are familiar with this blog will no doubt be aware I have both attended and competed in a number of spoken word poetry slams over the years and on occasion I have even been called upon to take my place at the judges table. However, I have never experienced atmosphere quite like I did on Sunday at the Blue Chair I qualify this by saying that slams are usually tense , nervous affairs where you can feel the heat almost as soon as you arrive.

This is not because the poets concerned don’t like each other, quite the reverse actually, most of us on the spoken word scene get on well and some of us have not only made friendships through our common bond but found friends who have become like extended family, and as we all know there is nothing you like better than putting one over on friends and family. So yes there is a sometimes a bit of poetic sibling rivalry. This however was different and as poets mixed with each other sharing chat and wishing each other well you could sense that there was a real spirit of comradeship in the air.  

As I said, there have been some times in the past when I’ve been called to the judges table though this has usually taken place at Words and Music for our annual championship or at mini slams at the Edinburgh Fringe. So when the event organiser Kirsty Nicolson asked me as a member of the Blue Chair family if I would like to judge at this slam it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.  As I took my seat alongside  my fellow members of the judging panel Kieron Murphy and Paul Wardrope we set about our task with fairness, honesty, and integrity and were ready to see what the day and poets had in store for us. With two three minute rounds of poetry where the contestants all got the chance to share their work I was certain that there would be plenty on offer from poets who would perform in reverse order in the second round than they did when the originally graced the stage for their opening poem and that deciding what three poets would qualify for the finals would be no easy task.

Of the original 15 entrants a field of 11 brave and talented poets took the stage to share their words and thoughts with the assembled gathering which it has to be said was excellently compared by the lovely Kirsty. Of this 6 of the poets were women and this makes it one of only a few occasions outside the two all female slams both of which I have competed in where the female contestants actually outnumbered the men. This at least from my point of view was a refreshing change and I think good for both women’s voices and Scottish poetry. Indeed it was three female performers who first to take to the stage as the first ever Blue Chair Poetry Slam got under way.

First up was a poet who was a new voice to me but Eleanor Susan Lim who opened the slam with a poem on Glasgow which I have to say I really enjoyed. As fate would have it Eleanor would bring the qualifying rounds to an end as being first up in the opening round meant being last to the stage in the second round. However this new voice kicked off the Blue Chair with a good quality poem and left me wanting to hear more

Next up was Carla Woodburn who performed a quirky poem on the disasters that await a woman when she inadvertently swallows a spider. It has to be said that this one got quite a few giggles particularly from those who hadn’t seen Carla before. I however had seen her before in fact I saw her very first performance which was at the Words and Music Championship at Sammy Dow’s where I was one of the judges at the event I usually compere As fate would have it she read the same poem that night so I was in a good position to judge just how far she’d come since last May and let’s just say she will I think be pleased to know that she got a higher mark on my score card on this occasion against a much higher quality of opponents. In her second round Carla to me at least made a mistake which as she becomes a more experienced slam poet she will learn from. Her mistake was to read two poems in the allotted time. I say this despite the fact she finished well within the time frame as many years ago I also thought I would do this and was given advice from one of the judges who has since become s friend that though it is possible to fit two, three, or a number of poems in to the time allotted the judges usually prefer you to perform only one as it makes their job just a wee bit easier. Now as I view things from a judges seat I understand why I was given this advice which needless to say I heeded.

When that weel kent Blue Chair favourite Anna Crow took the stage, I knew I was going to be both informed and entertained in equal measure . Speaking personally I always find Anna’s poetry to be both thought provoking and challenging. Anna is serious poet who isn’t afraid to write on serious issues and this slam was in many ways the perfect stage to illustrate this. Needless to say that is exactly what she did and both her poems Politics Ruined My Life which she read in the first round and I Got Stirred And I Liked It which she read in the second round both received good marks from this judge. Now I don’t know why, but I don’t think Anna will be too surprised at this.

David Forrest, like Anna is a poet whose star is very much on the rise. On this occasion David’s poems showed the diverse range of his work his first round effort was Lock Up The Racists the poem helped to a podium place at the 2014 Words and Music Championship. This poem showed a young man who is a passionate campaigner for a better world. In contrast, his second poem on a visit to Seville Cathedral showed not only a tourist but a man of faith whose clever use of imagery made the listener feel that we were there with him.

Aidan Rivet’s The Bartender was an excellent poem which contained brilliant rhyming couplets and excellent use of illiteration. In his second round poem The Revolution
Will Be Televised Aiden gave what I thought was a thoughtful intelligent polemic on the influence of both mainstream and social media on our everyday lives.

Lesley Traynor qualifying rounds featured two poems which as a friend of hers I had heard on many previous occasions. My fellow judges were however were new to Lesley’s work and hearing it with fresher ears than mine were impressed by quality of both Threads and Be The Change both of which were were delivered excellently by a poet who struggles to believe how good others believe her to be.

In Matthew Blanchett I found a new poet I hadn’t heard before and enjoyed his poems on science and mountains and it was nice to hear a poet who like myself believes that geography matters.

Like Matthew, Michelle Fisher was another new voice to me and though I liked her first round poem on Scarlet O’Hara I absolutely loved her second round entry I Was Never A Fan Of The Circus and l will state here and now it was one of my favourite poems on an afternoon filled with top class poetry.

Matt MacDonald on the other hand is a poet I know well and a poet who can always be relied upon to produce the goods. I particularly enjoyed his second round poem 11235 and this was powerfully written, beautifully crafted, and delivered with the sincerity which is the mark of the man.

Stepan Gsus Zatkulak who hails from The Czech Republic provided some international flavour to our event as did Bibi June Schwithal and Bibi’s poem I Don’t See Colour was a particularly powerful and passionate piece on the issue of race. VThough neither of these ports made the final they can both be proud of their contributions to the day in which the only winner was poetry.

Selecting the finalists from a very talented line up was not an easy decision to make but as we handed our score sheets to Kirsty she counted up the points and announced that our finalists in the order in which they would be performing were Matt MacDonald, Aidan Rivet, and Lesley Traynor As was the case in the qualifying rounds all three contestants read top quality poems and on my score sheet there was only 0,.2 separating first from third. As we handed out score sheets to Kirsty we knew it was going to be close but eventually the announcement was made that third place had gone to Matt MacDonald runner up was Aidan Rivet and that the winner of the Blue Chair Poetry Slam was Lesley Traynor.

This I have to say was a shock result and believe me when I say that no-one was more shocked than Lesley who for the first time I can ever recall was almost rendered speechless. As she paid a generous tribute her fellow poets. she claimed that she never expected to win and to be honest I believed her because as I said earlier in this post Lesley has trouble believing how good she is and how highly other poets rate her work. Hopefully now that will change as this golden oldie (her words not mine) begins to realise how well thought of she actually is.

So as I look back on the events of this the first ever Blue Chair slam I think that it can be said like a good wine Lesley matures with age and is living proof that when a woman wants to be the change and weave threads in our hearts then she’ll do it by dancing with words and leave the stage wearing the garland of a champion.

Love And Best Wishes
Gayle X

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