Thursday, 13 November 2014

I Have A Confession . . .

by Catriona Ellis

Ok, so recently I’ve been watching a lot of slam poetry online because it’s an incredible medium that represents the use of language at its absolute best and I. Love. Words. Many people in society are very tentative about poetry because of the emotional connotations it has and because in general people seem to think a poem has to be raw and intense and that it will be awkward or frightening to try to write a poem, let alone perform one. I decided to write an article on slam poetry because I feel that as many people as possible should be aware of it and realise that poems are not something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. They don’t have to represent, connote or reference. They can simply be. “But what is slam poetry?” I hear some of you ask (if you already know, you can skip the next bit…)

Poetry slams are, as one slam poets says, “a way of tricking people into coming to poetry events by putting an exciting word like ‘slam’” in the title. The concept was thought up in America thirty years ago and it is as follows: every competitor gets three minutes to perform a poem on anything they like and afterwards, multiple random audience members hold up a score. This basically means it is possible to win a poetry slam and (as the same poet says) you can then “call yourself a slam champion and pretend you’re a wrestler. Or, if you lose a poetry slam you can just say “Ah, what, poetry’s a subjective art form, you can’t put numbers on such things…”” And I totally agree.

Poetry slams are actually, dare I say it, exciting events, working both to inspire audiences and to help break down the barriers between audience and performer. If you are interested, I would thoroughly recommend watching the TEDxExeter talk by Harry Baker, who is the Poetry Slam World Champion and who supplied the quotations above. My personal favourite poem of his tells a love story about prime numbers (mainly because I study both Maths and English, so it’s unashamedly a culmination of all of my favourite things…) and it actually happens to be the first poem he ever wrote.

However, back to me. What I am about to do next may be risky, may be controversial, may leave me open to public abuse, but I am willing to take that risk in the name of poetry: I have attempted to write a slam poem of sorts. No, I will probably never perform it in front of a live audience, and no, it will probably never win a World Championships, but such is life.

Dear Mr Fry

Dear Mr Fry,

Can I call you Stephen;

I feel like we’re on

First name basis considering

You read me a bedtime story every night.

I think

I could probably

Recite all of Chapter 1 of The Philosopher’s Stone

(The Boy Who Lived)

If I really tried.

Maybe I should:

Perhaps I’ll perform it some day,

Or maybe just tweet it at you.

Dear Doctor,

It doesn’t really feel right saying

“Dear Doctor Who”

As if I don’t know

That the ‘Who’ bit is the whole point.

Do YOU even know who you are?

Do you feel

That you’ve copied Sherlock just a little?

The big reveal at the end,

And the multi layered personality?


Maybe the original Holmes

Was just a bit more straight forward.

It’s only Benedict who’s made him so complex.

He’s another I think I know too well;

I feel like I’m personally aquainted

With Mr Cumberbatch,

Not through any particular meeting,

But more because of the number of hours I’ve spend looking at him on TV…

“Intelligent is the new sexy”

It most certainly is.

But why oh why

Did he have to go and get engaged?

He’s crushed a lot of dreams,


And Dear Leyla Josephine,

I hope you aren’t offended

By this feeble slam poem.

Yours are much better.

But why do you have to make your Facebook page so hard to find?

Obviously I’ve found it now,

But seriously?

I just want to hear more,

You’re quite the master.


And good point about Beyoncé.

Well, there you have it, my very first “slam” poem (in inverted commas because 1) I didn’t perform it, 2) it doesn’t last three minutes and 3) it’s doesn’t have a particularly deep message, although, as I said above, I suppose poetry doesn’t have to… but that’s a whole different debate.) 

However, the poet I mentioned, Leyla Josephine, is well worth a Google search because she is incredible, presenting feminist ideas in a less stereotypically aggressive style than most other outspoken feminists on YouTube (and she does present a very good argument regarding BeyoncĂ© and how actually she should not be our Queen and we should not “bow down”). I will leave you with Leyla Josephine performing one of her own poems, “I Think She Was A She”. Please give it a watch, it’s a serious message told through a beautiful medium, and, who knows, you might become as obsessed with slam poetry as I am or maybe, *shudder*, try writing your own…

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