Normally the reserve of heavy metal rockers, on Wednesday evening Bristol’s Hatchet pub opened its doors to a troupe of wordsmiths who had congregated to battle it out for the title of Hammer and Tongue’s ‘Regional Slam Poetry Champion’.
Having fought their way through several rounds already, six local poets took to the small stage hoping to impress the crowd and earn a coveted slot at the National Slam Championship in London. After a couple of introductory poems by Bristol favourites Anna Freeman and Sally Jenkinson, the marvellously eccentric Jonny Fluffy Punk took to the stage to explain the rules that would govern this most lexical of evenings. After picking five audience members to act as judges, each of the wordsmiths performed original material across two rounds with poems being scored out of ten by the chosen members of the crowd.
Each poet was given three minutes per round, although points were deducted if they ran over their allotted time frame. In order to eliminate any wayward results, the lowest and highest scores were removed after every performance leaving each poet with a score out of 60 across the night. The highest scoring competitors then went on to battle in a head to head finale to determine the slam champion.
With an incredibly eclectic line up, the sheer range of subject material was daunting although the time restrictions did focus the room and added a tangible air of excitement to the proceedings. Stephen Watters offered up amusing rhyming couplets which were delivered in a quaint Yorkshire accent and his light hearted material served to offset some of the more intense performances. Vanessa Kisuule’s powerful musings on reinventing religion and inverting feminist preconceptions were delivered with a clarity that was unrivalled during the two hour event. Steve Duncan on the other hand silenced the room on both occasions with an amazingly fluid style that used a natural rhythm to lace intricate verses together. Brenda Read-Brown wheeled onto the stage with a broken foot to recount affairs with a former toy boy while Tim Vosper entertained with brazen limerick-style poems that raised a fair share of laughs from the packed room. Finally, American born Jeremy Toombs employed his evocative “Mississippi metre” to great effect in a medley of poems that hillbilly-bopped across a keyboard of well worn keys. When all the scores were collated, Steve Duncan was pitted against Brenda Read-Brown and went on to win with an emphatic and mesmerising poem that conjured up the spirit behind Bob Marley’s timeless masterpiece, ‘Natural Mystic’.
Headlining the night, Hollie McNish took to the small stage and charmed the audience with her multi-lingual poetry that rolled around the room tackling everything from immigration with her fantastic ‘Mathematics’ to the electric ‘Opposite Man’. Balancing thought-provoking material with heart-warming personal revelations, McNish rounded off an impressive evening that burst to the seams with intelligent, entertaining wordplay.
Photography: George Dallimore