[clockwise from bottom left: Simon & Marianne from Quebec, Niklas from Sweden, Simen from Norway, me, Ellen from Israel, RC Weslowski & friends from Canada, Juho from Finland, Dani from Spain, friend of Laura from Holland, Michael from Denmark, Jose from Portugal, Lews from Brazil, Laura from Holland + guy in hat]
“So are you happy with your journey?” a man asked me yesterday afternoon.
(he was apparently one of the people who had helped organize the slam, and was part of the slam scene in France for 12 years. Something about his doctor telling him to stop performing because of his heart)
“yes” I said.
Oh yes. Definitely. Hell yes. Fuck yes. .
- ARGH THIS LITERALLY JUST HAPPENED.
- 22 poets from 22 different countries, plus nearly a hundred slam poets from all over France, one café called Culure Rapide with a bar and half price everything for poets that became our home base, 5 straight days of performance poetry
- Discovering Monty Python & Game of Thrones are actually an international language
- Looking for the Shakespeare & Co bookshop but finding oysters instead
- Getting hopelessly lost in ‘that cemetery where Jim Morrison is buried’ with the Lews (Brazil), Juho (Finland) and Jose (Portugal) & a Brazilian filmmaker Douglas.
- Performing a poem with interpretive dancers dancing to the words.
- Poets Niklas and Ellen showing videos on their phones of the cats they had to leave at home, in Stokholm and Jerusalem
- Having Matt Cummins there as cheerleader/coach/agent /publicist/better able to chill and get into in-depth conversations about hip hop than me/provider of good vibes to everyone, in summary a living example of all that is awesome about the London poetry scene
- Getting lots of ideas for our night Forget What You Heard, pretty much inviting everyone we met to the UK to perform there (being able to say with Matt ‘THERE IS A STAGE WAITING FOR YOU IN LONDON’), and us getting called “the biggest poetry nerds I have ever met” by Simen (Norway)
- Drinking Leffe OUTSIDE and PAST 11PM every night with poets
- Getting to be part of a massive, 18-poet, 11-language cypher. Jazz8 (Romania)’s idea for a poetry cypher resulted in a small but brilliant video of me, Matt, Jazz8, Lews and Jose walking down a grafitti’d street performing poems in English and Portuguese. Later at midnight, we filmed another one with almost all the other international poets.
- Getting a mostly-French audience to laugh and like what I did. Yes, the translations were vital but it was also cool seeing how much performance mattered and could convey, and how much performance and rhythm superseded language some times.
- The projector fucking up completely halfway through the finals turning into the Blue Screen of Death, getting three poets up for halftime entertainment while they tried to figure out what was wrong, ending up in people dancing while fixing the computer as Michael (Denmark) shouted ‘ni!’ at them.
- Getting to make friends with and perform alongside 21 incredibly talented human beings.
In Junior College I was taught an important phrase
“WAH! We are so BIG!”
You have to think of it as being said with a mocking, sarcastic Singlish tone. It was taught to us by the PE teacher /outdoor activities coach IZ Lim while we were at the foot of a mountain (or bukit timah hill) and probably half-dead from climbing/running/pushups. It was basically a reminder that we are NOT FUCKING BIG AT ALL when compared to a mountain and a reminder whenever we feel self-important that we are not the centre of anything but in fact, very small. In any other language it would probably sound like hippy bullshit but in Singlish it made total sense.
Anyway, that’s kind of what this week felt like. Being in the same place as all the slam champions from around the world, being utterly humbled but also being shown how much further I could go. It was a fine balance between ‘wah we are so big’ and ‘well yes, we are kind of a big deal’. In the week leading up to the competition I was watching past years’ slam world cups videos, freaking myself out thinking ‘oh shit what am I even doing there I don’t have anything that deep or powerful to say’. Then I got there and realised that I could hold my own against other national champions, that people did enjoy what I did and what I had to say.
Because yes, at some point in the slam, the points do matter, they get you recognition and credibility, more opportunities, and here only one would get the title. But ultimately everyone had already won something, everyone was equally amazing to watch, it was just that we were good at different things, and all had our own strengths and weaknesses. Some people were good at movement, some had a really interesting things to say, some could make the audience scream by just speaking line after line of quiet brilliance. It just so happened that sometimes the randomly-selected judges enjoyed some combinations of the things more than others at certain times. Mostly, it was different things from what the poets enjoyed, and different things from what the audience enjoyed.
The best moment was when I realised I was not going to win the semifinals, stopped caring about the points and just decided to enjoy the hell out of my performance, knowing the audience already liked me.
Also, just watching an international slam meant being exposed to more different styles and stories in an hour than you would in, say, a week of poetry gigs in the UK. [but you can also see them here] Watching other people and thinking ‘ that’s something I could be doing that I don’t do’ rather than ‘OMG what am I doing here they are all better than me’ I will never be able to do that’, getting honest criticism (‘yeah we were discussing your performance and we thought you lost out on…’) and in the end, really just coming back with a burning desire to write more and more and differently, try thing in my performance I would have otherwise never have considered doing. Not to win more slams or prove anything but to see what was possible, to evolve. Exponentially I mean, a year ago my performances mostly involved me standing still reading things nervously off a torn notebook, not knowing what to . In short, if it was possible to overdose on inspiration I just might have.
I need to steal the quote from the title of Canadian poet RC Weslowski’s poem to sum up a lot of the week: ‘its so good to be here’. There was chaos, a lot of disorganization and some parts did resemble an example of how not to run an international slam and how to alienate friends and piss off poets from all over the world, but ultimately, we were there, and I was there. I made some great friends, shared the message of the awesomeness that is the UK poetry scene, learnt about other countries’ scene learnt a massive amount, and I am indeed very happy with this journey.
-Commie Faggots gig at The Others in Stoke Newington on Thursday, 14 June 7PM
-Paper Tiger Poetry Slam feature, along with Jason Pilley in Vauxhall, Friday 21st June 7PM
– probably should start thinking about will be studying for and passing doing excellently my last two exams next week.
-mega-huge Forget What You Heard Summer Edition! Ft. Dan Holloway, Ben Norris and Peter Hayhoe on June 22nd at 3PM-7PM Saturday
-The Glastonbury Poetry & Words Stage