The sixth annual Exeter Poetry Festival Slam took place in The Bike Shed Theatre on Sunday 4 October. Fourteen contestants gathered together to perform their poems for a chance to secure first prize and the title of slam champion.
It was a mixed crowd, as people across the city and surrounding areas came to the intimate space of the theatre to hear an array of poetry, from humorous to confessional to just bizarre. Most of the performers and audience knew each other as the group of local poets are closely knit. They laughed and joked with each other, setting up a lovely atmosphere with only an edge of nervousness.
The slam was judged by three talented poets; Mantie Lister (Bard of Exeter), Alasdair Paterson (published poet and host of The Uncut Poets), and Robert Garnham (2012 Exeter Slam Winner). The judging worked like this: the poets would be divided into three groups. They had a maximum of three minutes to perform their piece, with the winners from each group and the one in second place overall going through to the semi-final. Then, the top two would compete against each other. The poets would be judged on the quality of writing, quality of performance and the intensity of the audience’s reaction. The judges each had scoring cards with a maximum of twenty points for each category, and if the poet went over their time limit, points would be deducted. The points would be totalled up to a final score out of 180.
Hosted by Tim King and Morwenna Griffiths, they drew the first round: MC/MC (Megan Chapman), Julian Isaacs, Nick Kitto, Graham Chilcott and Mike the Greek (Mike Greek). MC/MC is a rapper and freestyler, and she talked about politics and capitalism over a pulsing beat which sadly didn’t carry her through to the next round. Chilcott delivered an unamplified love poem, stepping away to stand free of the microphones, which was raw, open and mesmerising. With a final score of 162, he made it through to the next round.
The second round featured Charlie Barnes, AP Staunton, Amani Saeed and Robert Ford. AP Staunton performed an immensely funny poem that had the audience laughing, sharing his belief that poetry and toilets are for all. With a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he told a story of rebelling against being told which bathroom he, as a lowly tradesman in a large house, could urinate in. When Saeed walked on, her stage presence drew the audience in instantly. She delivered a thunderstorm of poetry on politics, religion and war. It drew a long applause from the audience, and scoring 168, she won the round.
In the third, and perhaps toughest, round Nick Lovell, Dr Solomon Doornails (“not a real doctor”), Ian Royce-Chamberlain and Jez Prins and Tim Ledwitch came to the stage. Lovell gave a magnificent performance, spoken as a dying boy in a war field, full of anger and fear. Prins had the audience rocking in their seats with laughter with his poem about reincarnation and a previous life as a vulture. Ledwitch delivered a truly beautiful poem about his friend lost to cancer, but how she lived boldly, joking and laughing to the end. Prins had the highest score so far with 171, and he went through with the second highest; Ledwitch (169) and Staunton (167).
A break followed, with the judges proving their worth with their poetry. Garnham was immensely funny as usual, with his poem about a hated sparrow. The line “flying bollock” had Ledwitch and Chilcott losing it with laughter on stage behind him.
After the welcome break in tension, round two began. Staunton was up first, dedicating his poem to his father – the fierce pride and love for him and his memory was clear. When he went over the maximum time limit, he knew he would suffer a penalty to his score. Boldly, he went on, deciding it was more important to finish the poem to his father. Saeed also had a poem to her father, but a vastly different one. A visceral piece full of anger and emotion, she conquered the stage once more and was the clear winner. Prins and Chilcott were joint second, so they also advanced to the final round.
The last round of the night had an air of anticipation – the audience were waiting for the best pieces yet that would create Exeter’s next slam champion. Chilcott’s piece was about why he does poetry, dipping into his drug filled past. Prins was masterfully comic, defiantly protective about his mediocre rock band. Saeed finished the round with a piece about an abusive relationship, delivering a powerhouse of a performance which shook the room. She received a perfect score of 60 for intensity of audience’s response, giving her a score of 175 and making her the clear winner, with Chilcott in second place.
Saeed received the prize and title with shocked joy and grace. After the show, I asked her how she was feeling – amazed, she responded; “f-k!”
It was an inspiring night full of poets sharing their art, their stories and their hearts to the audience, a collection of friends and strangers. Everyone had gathered around the bare stage and spotlights to form a community of spoken word poetry. The Annual Exeter Poetry Slam is a must go to event every year.
Christy Ku, Editor