Interviewer: Welcome to our weekly programme on literature. Today we’re going to discuss a relatively recent development in literature, a poetry slam. A poetry slam is a competition arts event in which poets perform before a live audience and a panel of judges. Slams have become increasingly popular all around the world, with events welcoming a large number of attendees. My guest Anne is here with us today to tell us about her experience as a slammer.
Hi, Anne! Could you tell us about yourself? Would you define yourself as a poet?
Anne: What a nice question! I had never been asked that! The truth is that I have always loved writing. I’ve got my notebook with me all the time —whether it’s by the side of my bed or on trains, I always scribble things down, although I don’t type that often. In fact, there’s a suitcase full of poems beneath my bed. I don’t remember how most of them got there. Sometimes I’ll thumb through them and see my messy little-kid handwriting. There may be over a hundred pages stained with dirty hands and the remains of more than a few grilled cheese sandwiches.
Interviewer: When did performance jump in? Why did you start taking part in poetry slam competitions?
Anne: I first saw a live slam competition in 2018. I’d never heard of this kind of event, but I saw it was advertised in a magazine. After attending a few sessions, I got completely hooked on it and decided to give it a try from stage. I think what I liked about it was that emphasis on connection. Whether it’s a performer making you laugh or making you cry, there’s a certain live element to that. You know, I’ve got videos online and you can see me perform from any device, but it’s different when it’s live. In a live context you can immediately get what the performer’s trying to say and there’s an added level of accessibility, because the person who’s written the poem is in front of you, saying it, and it gives it so much more context.
Interviewer: You have a degree in Maths, if I’m not wrong. Has that helped you with your poetry?
Anne: Yeah! For ages I told myself that the two were just separate worlds, but then I realised that when I’m writing my poems or searching for a particular way of phrasing something or a rhyme, there is definitely a technicality to it. It’s not as rigid as a formula that I have to follow, but I think I’ve really embraced the idea of patterns and playfulness that I learnt through maths. I try to bring that to my poetry.
Interviewer: Tell us about slam poems. What are they like and how do you prepare for them?
Anne: There is a time limit in poem performances –we typically have a maximum of three minutes. I used to just write my poems as a hobby in my free time, so from start to finish it would be a couple of months, maybe, waiting for inspiration to come. Now I think that I do it full time, I’m a bit more disciplined with that, so it’s anything from a couple of weeks to much longer. It’ll often start with a playful bit of language, whether that’s a rhyme or a one-liner, and then it just comes out.
Interviewer: And you need to memorise the whole poem for live performances?
Anne: Yes, but that’s something I’ve always done. I was always good at remembering the lyrics to songs or specific jokes that I heard. As part of my writing process, I’ll speak poems out loud to feel their rhythm. The first time I perform, I’ll still have it in my book in front of me just in case, but I think once I’ve learnt a poem, I enjoy the performance aspect of it and I find that easier if I can do it without worrying about what the next line’s going to be.
Interviewer: And then in the event a panel of three to five judges gives each slammer a score, is that right? What is your secret to score high?
Anne: Yes, that’s right. Usually, the panel is selected randomly from the audience in the room. A good idea to score higher is to read the room to choose the poem you’re going to perform, because it’s a live thing, you know, so it’s dependent on who’s in the room. It’s also helpful to have enough poems so that you can pick and choose among them.
Interviewer: Are there any tips you’d like to give people who perhaps want to get into spoken word poetry?
Anne: Don’t get too nervous if you decide to try. The audience at these events is usually very supportive. Sometimes it can be difficult to feel confident, but it’s really worth it. Try open mic nights first if you think that could be helpful before getting into a competition. Watch videos online of some of the best slammers worldwide to prepare yourself, like Harry Baker’s, Dani Orviz’s, or Emi Mahmoud’s –they are a true source of inspiration!
Interviewer: Wow! I’m looking forward to watching those videos myself! Thank you, Anne, for your time and for letting us know about poetry slam. We hope to see you on stage very soon!
Anne: My pleasure.