Confession time: I’m a 25-year-old bookworm and poetry reader… and until a couple weeks ago, I had never been to a poetry slam.
I’ve been to bookshop readings with well-known poets.
I’ve heard nervous students try and shout their poems over a noisy student union bar on open mic night.
I’ve curled up with a warm tea and one of the poetry books from my shelf to read quietly to myself.
But I had never been to a poetry slam.
When I saw ‘The Bookie Slam’ advertised as part of a local festival, I figured it was about time.
For anyone who is also a slam novice and doesn’t know what I’m on about: a poetry slam is a competition where poets get up on stage, perform their work and receive scores out of 10.
It was such a fun experience going to the Slam at Faversham Lit Fest, and here are five things I learnt that night.
1. Poetry is for everyone
Walking into the room, it was not what I expected. I was picturing a similar crowd to the mass of twenty-somethings that I found at cramped student open mic nights dressed in a uniform of ripped jeans. But it was in a massive old brewery storeroom and the place was FULL. There were people of all ages, families, friends. A huge amount of people, all different and all excited to hear some poetry.
2. Poetry should be seen
I love reading poetry. But seeing it performed and hearing the passion in the writers’ own voices brings the poetry to life in a way that I couldn’t do on my own as a reader. I think the spirit of competition meant the poets were bringing all their energy to the stage as well, which I loved. You could feel their emotion behind the words. Whether they were writing about the environment, the Grenfell fire or relationships, you could relate to their emotion. The audience really got swept up in the words and connected with the poet for that moment.
3. It’s all about the love
If you feel like the world is just too damn negative these days, go to a poetry slam. It might have been a competition, but I saw nothing but love in that room. There was so much respect between the performers, and it was really heart-warming seeing them support each other. They really rooted for one another to do well and commiserated when maybe they didn’t get such great scores. You could tell they were sincerely each other’s biggest fans. Even though they were technically competing against each other, there was a real community spirit. We need more positivity like that in this world!
4. I’m a huge softie
If poetry slam was a TV reality show, I’d be that “nice” judge on the panel who gives everyone top marks, while the serious, harsh judges rolled their eyes behind me. So, at the Slam, judges were randomly picked from the audience and scored each performance out of 10. I wasn’t picked – thankfully for the integrity of the competition – but I was playing along in my head and mentally giving everyone scores between 8-10. So I was really surprised when the actual judges were dishing out scores around the 6 mark. So yeah, maybe I’m a softie and probably over-mark. But I really thought everyone that got up on stage was talented and pulled off a good performance. And you know what, it’s so brave to not just write your own poetry, but to then get up on stage and be vulnerable like that in front of a crowd of strangers. That alone deserves a 10 in my book!
5. Moose are 10 feet tall
Who knew right!? Nothing to do with poetry this one, but the slam emcee was a big fan of moose and this fact blew me away. Turns out from hoof to shoulder, they’re 7 – 8 feet tall, then once you count the head and antlers, they can be as tall as 10 feet. That was crazy to me.
The emcee was great sharing fun facts like that or jokes between sets and it kept the energy going. Because it could get pretty heavy when some of the poetry tackled darker themes, but the emcee always pulled it back to a fun and entertaining night, and just tied the whole thing together.
I’m so glad I can tick poetry slam off my bookworm bucket list. I loved going to my first slam and I’m sure it won’t be my last!