On a dark Saturday night in the cold of a Scottish winter I made my way to the Tron Theatre to enjoy a top quality night of spoken word poetry as I attended the 2017 Scottish poetry slam championship final.
This is always one of my favourite nights of the year as Scotland’s premier poetic talents battle it out for the prestige of being Scotland’s national slam champion and the honour of representing their country in the poetry slam world series in Paris later in the year
As expected the Tron was packed to capacity for such an important cultural occasion and all stars of the Scottish spoken word scene including this blogger were out in force to support those judged throughout the year to be the cream of this year’s crop. Amongst those I chatted to was Jane Overton who was one of the judges for the event. I also had a quick word with David Forrest who like myself was there to enjoy the evening, and other audience members Kevin Cadwallender, Anna Crow, Janet Crawford, Lesley Traynor , and Shannon McGregor. Amongst the contenders I had early chats with Katharine McFarlane, Lloyd Robinson, Matt MacDonald, Molly McLachlan and Victoria McNulty and wished them well for the night ahead.
As tradition dictates the event was compared by the maestro Mr Robin Cairns who brought the occasion to us as only he knows how. After revealing that there would be two abaebtees from the list Robin took nominations from poets in the audience for a wild card entry and though a few poets themselves forward such as Jade Mitchell, and Shannon McGregor it was Ben Rogers whose name was pulled out of the hat and in to the slam.
In the first round, the poets were drawn in to four groups of four competitors each with two from each group going through to the second round and three (well that was the plan )going through to the final where the eventual winner would be declared Scottish Poetry Slam Champion 2017
As the draw was made we were all hoping that our choice or choices would make the final. For the record this totally unbiased blogger was trying her best to remain as neutral as possible , but even I have favourites though I’m not going to say who they are. Well I get on well with all the poets in the final so I’m not going to name any names as to who I may or may not have been supporting.
In an excellent first heat we heard work of outstanding quality from Elise Hadgraft on Homelessness Aiden Rivet and his Wonderwall poem Daniel Piper and his cleverly crafted poem DJ Veg. This was followed by Max Sratchman whose poem on how a woman’s quest for love could have been filled by a Down’s syndrome baby she chose not to have tugged at more than a few heartstrings, and believe me this group set the standard for the other contestants to follow.
When we did get in to the second group there were yet more stunning performances. These came most notably from Katharine MacFarlane whose poem on her sister’s very traumatic rape and the ordeal which followed and now makes her fearful as a mother with a daughter of her own This poem was so powerful that it blew the Richter scale to bits, and Lay La Josephine whose poem I Think She Was A She gave a very powerful and passionate portrayal of the way women who have abortions are made to feel guilty by a society in which these issues are not talked about as openly as they should be. It should also be noted that Molly McLachlan was in this group as was wildcard entry Ben Rogers and I thought Molly who was the only contestant to get the hooter in the opening round performed well in this company. However , and I’m only saying because I love Molly to bits, it is my opinion she started her poem too slowly and in such a tight group the marks I’m sure it cost her illustrates how difficult competing at the top level really is especially when I believe there could be less than 10 points between those who qualified for the semi finals and those who missed out.
The third group was kicked off by Victoria McNulty whose poem Coffins From Derry is in my opinion a very strong piece in support of refugees in which McNulty draws on her own Irish heritage and the hostility towards the early Irish immigrants to demonstrate why as someone whose blood as she says ‘ is cut from refugees ‘ supports those she describes in the final line of poem as ‘ the displaced people residing in Scotland today ‘ Next up was the excellent Bibi June with her entertaining and thought provoking poem Simon Says . This poem was funny and disturbing in equal measure and demonstrates just how easily sheep can be led to whatever pen the establishment want to go to with alarming ease.
Hamish MacDonald’s poem Ma Bit focused strongly on tensions between rival communities both local and global and real and imagined as it explored the potential for conflict that territorial geographies can and do provide where borders are contested. Ellen Renton performed a thoughtful and considered poem on her love for both Glasgow and Edinburgh in which she produced the line of the night with the words ‘ I can still belong to Glasgow with my heart in Midlothian. This in my book was absolute genius and poetic imagery at its brilliant best. It was a wonderful way to conclude what I believe was the toughest group of all the first round qualifiers.
It was Matt MacDonald who will be February’s featured writer at Words and Music who kicked off the final qualifying group with his poem Fibonacci. Matt was followed by the pint sized pocket rocket that is the brilliant Hannah Raymond Cox. After Hannah it was time for the penultimate performer in the first round and Jack McMillan was climbing the ladder of spoken word success and finally Lloyd Robinson brought the first round to a close with his poetic take on those right wingers who voted for Brexit with I’m Ready To Stop Being English. This was a real crowd pleaser as the anti Brexit sentiment went down very well with the predominately West of Scotland audience.
As we headed for a well deserved bar break everyone had our own mental list of who we thought would qualify for semi finals but only the judges would make that decision and I for one didn’t envy Andy Jackson, George Miller, Jane Overton one little bit.
As we reconvened after the break Robin gave us the results of the judges deliberations and it’s fair to say that for some members of the audience there were a couple of surprises amongst the qualifiers. I have to say however that I called most of them right, well 7 out of 8 isn’t bad by anyone’s standards and yes I did see hurricane Hannah qualifying from the final group because I’ve performed with Hannah at Other Voices and know how good she actually is. Trust me Hannah, is one of the best performers you will ever see on a poetry stage and I’m not understating the case when I say that she a talent ten times the size of herself.
As the semi finalists were announced we managed to get what very few political cabinets ever do the perfect gender balance of four male and female qualifiers. As the draw was made, you would have been given more than decent odds on the two heats being exclusively single sex but that is exactly how it turned out with the first heat being all female and the second heat all male. Now I can’t prove it, but it is my educated guess that the minute the judges saw these single sex battles was also the minute they decided to up the number of finalists from three to four.
In the first heat it was the turn of the girls to spice up the night and believe me they did exactly that with some truly mesmerising poetry as all four poets were outstanding and produced the kind of work which made me proud to have heard it. As for calling it I thought Katharine was a certainty for the final with her poem Bonnie Scotland speaking to my rebel heart in the gentlest and most passionate of ways.
As for the others I changed my mind at least half a dozen times before giving the nod to Hannah Raymond Cox for her poem The Revolution Will Be Televised. This poem shows why I rate Hannah as highly as I do as it combined wit and warmth in such a newsy style I thought I was being patronised by the BBC.
As for the boys to me only Lloyd whose poem Jump written on the theme of suicide was met with the kind of silence a poet only gets when you know the audience have really listened to every word was a safe bet for the final. As for the others Ben , Daniel, and Hamish’s were all quality poems but I struggled to call second place though I did eventually decide for Hamish, but as I said I wasn’t in the judge’s seat and it was up those who were to give there decision and as we waited expectantly for their decision we were entertained superbly as Robin performed a poem from his extensive and varied catalogue
With tension building and the excitement palpable the judges handed their findings to our host who announced that it was going to be a final four and not a final three as originally planned. After making the announcement Robin named the finalists as Katharine MacFarlane , Elise Hadgraft, Lloyd Robinson, and Daniel Piper. On the night of all nights the audience were ready for our finalists to do battle one last time to decide who would be crowned Scottish Slam Champion 2017
And so as we started what was going to be a cracking final it was Daniel Piper who was first up with a poem on rave culture which used humour to explore a potentially challenging issue.
Daniel was followed by Katharine MacFarlane whose poem on her the use of language and its power to value or devalue people really spoke to my heart. I say this not only as a trans woman but also as a former equality trainer who used to have a section on language use in every course I ever delivered. I love this poem and the fact that it was written for her daughter adds to the power of a fantastic thought provoking poem which contained many examples of wonderful imagery which is the trademark of this gifted poet.
As Katharine left the stage our penultimate poet of this year’s slam to make her case for victory and believe me Elise Hadgraft delivered her best poem of the night right on cue and the brilliantly titled I Want To Wear Your Clothes showed that this is a poet with serious talent whose use of suggestion as intimacy was in my view an absolute masterstroke in a poem which spanned a range of emotions including love, lust, and a liberal sprinkling of humour and made her a genuine contender for the title.
So it fell to Lloyd Robinson to be the final contender in this year’s final and yet again Lloyd delivered an excellent poem on the theme of suicide which was well received by an appreciative audience who gave all competitors the respect they deserved on such an important occasion. Now having done all they could do the fate of our final four lay in the hands of the judges and finally the decision was reached. In my heart I had called it for Katharine but alas this night was not to be hers.
As Robin announced the result I held my breathe in expectation. As is the case in Strictly and other important events the verdict was given in reverse order. So at the end of great night for Scottish poetry 4th place went to Lloyd Robinson with Katharine MacFarlane in 3rd. Our runner up was Elise Hadgraft which meant our new Scottish Slam Champion was Daniel Piper and it is Daniel who will take with him the good wishes of everyone involved in the Scottish spoken word scene as he goes to Paris as our representative in the world series in May.
I make this point because if there is one thing the Scottish spoken word community is good at it is supporting each other when it really matters and trust me this matters. We want our champion to be the best in the world and I’m sure Daniel will do us proud.
As the end of the evening a number of us both audience members and performers including Anna Crow, Aiden Rivet, Hamish MacDonald, Heather Duffy, Lay La, and Molly McLachlan, and of course Daniel enjoyed a post event drink in the salubrious surroundings of the Tron Bar. As I chatted to our newly crowned champion, Daniel said he felt a wee bit guilty about winning the title since he only moved up to Scotland at the end of last year and won the very last slam before the cut off date.
On hearing this very honest opinion, I replied that he didn’t need to feel guilty about anything as the only people in the position to deliver a verdict were the judges and there decision was that his poetry suited Scotland just fine. In fact what they really decided was that on the night a Piper played to win Scotland found a champion.
Congratulations Daniel Piper Scottish Poetry Slam Champion 2017.
Love And Best Wishes