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Monday, 14 February 2011

The 4th Bilston Love Slam

I guess somebody has to be first.
I just wish that on my first proper slam, it hadn't been me!
Yes, the random draw for the running order put me on as contestant one of heat one of round one. At least it means that I get the awkwardness of reviewing myself out of the way quickly. So what about this Bob Hale fellow? Any good? Well I think my poems were pretty good and they were certainly well rehearsed but  I'm coming to the opinion that they are fundamentally unsuited to slams. It was noticeable, as it often is, that the few people who, like myself, did serious pieces (i.e. not funny) consistently scored lower than the people who made the audience laugh.
The other poets in my heat were Heather Wastie and Steve Rooney. Heather, who I have seen quite often, did a longish piece about eating her partner's bread pudding in her usual accomplished style. Steve's piece, about a girlfriend being unimpressed with his new shirt was also very funny but suffered slightly from being a little too slight for its length. Unsurprisingly, Heather got through and I came last.
The second heat also went as it should. Tom Jenkins seemed a little less confident in his material than usual, though his very clever piece constructing a love poem from terms used in chemistry  was very well received. Simon Lee followed with a poem about being in love with his dentist, which he assured us was OK as his dentist is also his wife. And Peter Wyton who concluded, and won, the round gave us a poem that started slowly but built very well into a lively and animated performance, an unlikely outcome for something that was about updating the messages printed on Love Hearts.
Heat three had Hazel Malcolm, an old friend of mine Donna Scott and Roy McFarlane: not a good draw for Hazel or Donna given that Roy is the Birmingham Poet Laureate. Hazel's poem comparing love to molasses was the first properly romantic poem of the evening, though perhaps a little gloomy in tone. As one of the more serious pieces it again suffered from the audience predilection for humour. Donna's poem fell nicely half way between the serious and humorous camps and was a good piece about love in the 1990's, filled with popular culture references and performed well. It inevitably suffered from being followed by Roy who did the two love poems that he had practised last week at City Voices. His greatest asset is his rich, deep voice and combined with his passionate performance it saw him through to round two.
Marion Cockin, Louise Stokes and Theo Theobald were up next. Marion, a seasoned performer but taking part in her first slam, gave the best introduction of the night - describing her poem with the words "there can be no greater love than a woman who puts her husband's severed head on the mantlepiece". And that's what she delivered, a poem called Sir Walter Raleigh's Head. Louise, like Roy, gave a poem which she had performed earlier this week, this time at Hit The Ode. I liked it better this time round but, clever and accomplished though it was, it seemed to be more suited to a shorter work and was a little stretched at three minutes. Still, she is the first to admit that her normal poetry runs to the pessimistic rather than the romantic. Theo followed and though the three minute format limits him - he is much funnier when he has the space to meander around his poetry with long and often hilarious introductions - his "I'm In Love With The Girl from H&M" is an old favourite and went down very well, sending him through in fine style.
The final round one heat saw Yvette Rose give a couple of slight poems - one similar in content to Tom's Chemistry, used mathematical terms as love metaphors and the other was a very traditional romantic poem. Once again more serious and once again suffering in the marking because of it. She was followed by Jo Bell who began by announcing that she didn't do romance and would we mind if she did filth instead. And that's what she gave us, two hilarious and very dirty poems about former boyfriends and how men make love. Eileen Ward-Birch, accompanied by a pillow and a bad case of nerves, completed the first round, explaining in verse about losing sleep trying to write a love poem. It was a good poem but her nervous performance let her down slightly. Jo ran out the worthy winner of that heat.

After that we broke for the highlight of any night at the Imperial, the curry: - and very nice it was too. Reflecting on the first half I felt that in every heat the correct result had come from the judges. All the performances had been good but the right people had, ultimately, gone through.

The format for round two saw all six performers - the five winners and the highest scoring loser, Peter Wyton, compete in one big round.
Their poems reflected their first round performances. Jo gave us an alphabetical list of words from her phone's custom dictionary which sounds as if it couldn't possibly be any good when described like that but which was in fact very cleverly done and really rather good. Theo followed with a poem listing the possible illnesses and symptoms to claim to have when "throwing a sickie". It got a good audience reaction though, as with his first round, I felt that the three-minute slot doesn't really do his kind of performance the justice it deserves. Peter's poem, like the Love Hearts poem from round one, started slowly and built well as he compared the people on holiday in modern Greece to the ancient Greek Gods.  For me it seemed to lack a proper climax though which may have let him down. Heather, in multiple voices, became the various icons and symbols that we see on our computer screens talking to a frustrated user. First the spinning symbol when something is loading, and then, by turns, the hour glass, the hand and the arrow. It was clever though maybe a little repetitive, though that was probably the point. Roy followed with a poem about his wife's lack of sympathy with him when he is sitting writing and waiting for inspiration. Though his performance was as powerful as ever he badly misjudged the time and became the only person of the night to actually be "whistled" off before completing his recital. Simon, the highest scoring runner up concluded the round with a better piece than his previous one, an elegy to the late Richard Whitely, of Countdown fame.

When everything was counted and the dust had settled our two finalists, and it must have been a tough decision, were Jo and Theo.

Jo opened with a nicely observed poem comparing real life to facebook and real relationships and interactions to computer ones. Her description of someone having only eight friends, but one's she'd actually met, echoed my own sentiments on the subject.
Theo put on a fisherman's hat and proceeded to give us a cleverly constructed poem based around the names of the places in the Radio Four shipping forecast. It played to his strengths of humorous one-liner gags building a very funny and very well written piece from what was essentially a series of jokes. (Though, of course, the Rockall joke is an old one!)

And so to the result. It was a close run thing but overall Jo's material had been funnier and better received and she ran out a worthy winner with Theo only a whisker behind in the scoring a very worthy second place.

A truly excellent night's entertainment with one of the finest collections of poets I have seen in one place. Of course I also need to mention the excellent organisation and splendid MC duties of Marcus Moore and Sara-Jane Arbury who made everything go so smoothly and led us through a perfect evening, perfectly.

And me? Well just as somebody has to go first, somebody has to come last. C'est la vie.

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