From Southbank to a slam up north - the road to Wigan on poetry's big day
So, how was National Poetry Day for you? For the last three years I’ve enjoyed listening to an aray of leading poets at the Royal Festival Hall’s Clore Ballroom on London's Southbank, part of the NPD events organised by the Poetry Society. This year I decided to go the extra mile – or several - and so Thursday night found me in Wigan, for the final heat of the Commonword Superheroes of Slam contest (the final’s in Manchester on 23 October).
The Wigan heat, organised by Write Out Loud, almost provided a fairytale finish. Eighteen-year-old Eva Curless, a first-year student at Leeds University, stormed through to the final, to come out joint first with Trev Meaney. However, there has to be a winner – and in a run-off Eva was just pipped by Trev, pictured, who had a show at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, and who was another big hit with the audience and the judges.
Before that we had poems about the plight of migrants at sea, going grey at the age of 16, a young girl’s first sight of a young boy’s manhood – albeit one that was set in stone, life as a supermarket worker, the shower hell for chaps of a certain kind of shower gel, adolescent anxiety, a rap parody, and a tale of sex trafficking and rape.
The presence of a film crew added to the sense of occasion. The overall standard - the passion and the craft and the skill - was impressively high, as it was on the previous night in Huddersfield at Bar 1:22, at another Commonword heat also compered by Write Out Loud’s Julian Jordon, with Canadian Rose Condo narrowly beating Marina Poppa – an event run in collaboration with Huddersfield University’s creative writing department.
Mention must also be made of Write Out Loud’s assiduous gig guide editor, David Andrew, who put in sterling service at both events with scoring, timekeeping, correcting the compere, and applying the hooter to the occasional poet that overran their three-minute allotted span.
There have been other heats in Manchester, Leeds, Leicester, Sheffield and Liverpool, and the other poets that will be contesting the final at Manchester’s Three Minute theatre on 23 October are Paris Kaur, Rebecca Audra Smith, Alex Webb, Jenny Hibberd, John Compliant, Sarah Thomasin, and Raven Maguire.
Thursday night's Wigan event was introduced by a previous Superhero of Slam, Joy France, who told the audience at The Old Courts that winning the Commonword final in 2013 "changed my life". She recalled starting out five years ago at Write Out Loud Wigan's regular open mic event, and feeling "terrrified". Now, she said, "I do this all over the place, and lots of other things, too."
Paris Kaur won the overrall Superheroes of Slam title in the Manchester final a few days later. You can read more about the final here