My first slam…

I entered my first poetry slam last night, in fact also I went to my first poetry slam last night.

The Farrago Poetry slam has been running for about 20 years, and was the first of its kind in Europe. John Paul O’Neill is the man behind Farrago and is as much of a mainstay of the slam scene as the night itself.

JP_Slam
Host with the most, John Paul O’Neill

I attended a workshop led by John Paul a few weeks ago, the art of slam, (run by Apples and Snakes) and I picked up some amazing tips on how to be a better performer, and I tried to implement some of them in the slam…maybe that’s why I thought I spotted John Paul weeping into his cranberry juice as I was performing?!

I am a competitive person, but I’ve got to admit I wasn’t prepared for the slam. Sure, I’d practised my poem again and again and while I hadn’t memorised it, I thought I had a grasp of how to present it. After the first slam poet, Oli Forsyth walked off the stage (the eventual well-deserved winner), I knew that I was dangerously underprepared.

The night as a whole was a total pleasure with my friend, and one of my favourite writers and performers, Sara Hirsch bringing her third in the world slam poetry back to the London stage. I also absolutely fell for the musical and lyrical genius of Idil Sukan who was an inspired feature.

For those who haven’t been to a slam, it’s a series of poets who go up, perform a poem and then are judged by members of the audience.

Of course it’s terrifying, but it’s a bucket load of fun and I recommend it wholeheartedly as an experience.

All of the competitors were friendly and supportive and the biggest cheers for all the poets came from their competitors, the other poets.

UK Slam Champion Sara Hirsch performing at Farrago
UK Slam Champion Sara Hirsch performing at Farrago

At Farrago, everyone wins a prize, and while I don’t really approval of universal prize giving as I think it can instil a weakness and a sense of inflated worth at times, it was lovely because no one feels excluded and to be fair I felt that everyone did deserve a prize. Maybe I’m just very competitive? Maybe I’m a Grinch?

But don’t worry it’s not as gentle hearted as it sounds and people are madly calculating their scores giving audible sighs when they realise they’ve been edged off top spot by 0.1.

I was awarded a respectable 25.5/30, which for a first time wasn’t bad.

The three things I take away from the experience are:

  1. Practice your work over and over. Even if you can’t remember it, going up with the rhythm in your head sets you apart.
  2. Don’t worry about the other competitors. They will support you and encourage you.
  3. Enjoy the experience. Drinking tap water and frantically reading through your work is not the way to enjoy anything, never mind a slam. They’re about being sociable, enjoying poetry and meeting new people.

I went down to perform because I knew if I didn’t, I’d only regret not trying. I knew that if I didn’t enjoy it, then I could just not go back. As someone who writes traditionally for the page, and tends to ‘read’ rather than ‘perform’ my work, I did fear it – but in the end I found it quite liberating even if I forgot the introduction I’d been working on all day.

I think I’ll be back.

If you’re a writer than somewhere like Farrago is a safe place to find out how you feel about slams. As someone who for such a long time lacked the confidence to perform, safe places with good poets who are encouraging and supportive are blessings. Don’t take them for granted and keep nights like this alive.

If you’re a listener, then they’re a great place to see a range of poetic styles coming together to make a great night.

Find out more about Farrago Poetry on their Facebook page.

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1 Comment

  1. Hey Dom – great story :). I love hearing about first slams, and 25.5/30 is awesome for a newcomer! Hopefully the experience was enlightening and will keep you coming back for more. I write about slam poetry as well, and my work is published online. This is a link to something I wrote about my first experience with slam poetry, hope you can relate: http://www.digitalpoet.net/what-is-a-poetry-slam

    Good luck with the next one!

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