Poetry: Slamming verse in the face of the pub crowd

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The UK Poetry Slam Championships

Bristol Watershed

Over the last ten years, publicists have laboured to imbue poetry with "relevance". Mostly, this makeover treatment involved perky day-glo invitations - "Give yourself a kick up the trochees!' - to listen to dungareed doggerel in remote community centres. Nevertheless, the 1990s finds more poetry out in the hurly burly of clubs and pubs. Moreover, one concept looks to have struck a chord with poetry fans and newcomers alike: the slam.

Originating in Chicago in the mid-Eighties, the slam takes the form of competitive performance poetry and seeks to debunk the elitist image of the traditional recital. This democratic attitude is most apparent in the judging process, which is left to the audience: the louder the cheer, the better the performance. "The idea behind the slam is that it's entertaining," says Bristol Slam organiser Claire Williamson. "Since we started in 1994, though, there's been more and more emphasis on presentation - an average poem can be performed brilliantly and vice versa."

This weekend, top performance poets in teams from cities all over the UK will descend on Bristol to settle the title of UK Poetry Slam Champions. A panel of literati judges - including performance pioneer John Cooper Clarke, rap poet Patience Agbabi and Alison B, editor of strangefish, the performane poetry monthly - will judge the evening final, but the fate of the afternoon heats will rest with the audience.

"Both audience and poets will be a really mixed crowd," explains Williamson, "but it's always really positive."

Though audiences will get to see the very best in British performance poetry at the Bristol Slam (described as the best in Europe at this year's Cheltenham Literary Festival), Williamson points out that most cities in the UK are "slamming" and there are big plans afoot: "People find slamming infectious. In London, Manchester, Sheffield, you name it - poets are finding they've got a platform. The future? A national network of poetry slams."

Watershed Media Centre, 1 Canon's Road, Bristol BS11. 2.30 - 6.30pm. Afternoon Qualifiers pounds 5 (concs pounds 3.50) 7.30 - 10.30pm. Evening Final pounds 8 (concs pounds 5). All day ticket pounds 10(concs pounds 7). 0117-925 3845.

Mike Higgins

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