Aiming to provide a platform for poetry, ‘Raise the Bar’ was held on Tuesday 24th February at the Students’ Union. It was the first Bristol University Poetry and Creative Writing Society poetry slam of the year, replacing the society’s monthly open mic night to showcase the work of eight talented poets. Correction: eight extremely talented poets with the guts to perform their work in the hope of becoming Slam Champion.
Depending on your experience of GCSE English literature, you either just jumped for joy or visibly winced. But what if there was a platform for the written word where, instead of analysis, you were asked to merely appreciate? And what if the people asking you to do just that were not middle-aged laureates with a fistful of awards to prove their skill, but simply fledgling writers hoping to give you a good night out?
Those unfamiliar with the format of a poetry slam may imagine overly-pretentious melodrama disguised as a cheap Carol Ann Duffy knock-off, but you’d be completely wrong. Walking into the room while not entirely sure what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised. The vibe was easy going and relaxed, although I’m certain the bar and party tunes were helping to ensure that. It was exciting to see so many people there; even more exciting that they were a diverse bunch from a whole range of departments and degrees, and were more than willing to mingle and chat.
Danny Pandolfi, our host for the night, casually took to the stage to introduce Tim Ledwitch, who warmed up the crowd with his comical rendition of ‘Dino Poet’ (a poem that requires him to “get into character” as a dinosaur, obviously) that earned big laughs.
On to the slammists: Claire Murgatroyd, Mo, Sam Grudgings, Stephen Watters, Corrine Altasse-Hye, Graham Chilcott, Tom Denbigh and Alexander Miller. Each had a 3 minute segment to fill with one of their own poems: the similarities ended there. The topics ranged from ‘I’ve given up sex for Lent’ to discussions about death, family and loss.
While some opted to (rightfully) let their poem do the talking, a couple decided to make the most of the opportunity to perform. One highlight was Stephen Watters, who had his rather awesome dragon puppet ‘recite’ his poem, while others such as Corrine Altasse-Hye and Alexander Miller used their incredible natural charisma to bring their already-vivid imagery to life.
The judges, comedic Tim Vosper, three-time Bristol slam champion Steven Duncan and former Spoken Word World Champion Harry Baker, decided that Tom Denbigh and Graham Chilcott should progress to the final. Tom’s ‘Gay People are Apparently a lot like X-Men’ spread an important LGBT message in a comical, sassy twist. Graham’s poem, addressed to his parents, expressed a very human message of accepting imperfections and thanking them. After much deliberation, Tom was announced the Slam Champion and he will return to headline at the Open Mic night next month.
Ending the event on a high note, headliners Matt Windle and current reigning UK Slam Champion Vanessa Kisuule took command of the stage to show us all how it’s done. Each demonstrated that they are capable of making us laugh one minute and then spark an introspective epiphany the next: as a poet should!
At the end of an unbelievably fun night, I would highly recommend that everyone come to the next Slam or Open Mic. Even if think you don’t like poetry. At the end of the day, the point of events like this is to encourage everyone to find the written word accessible and – fingers crossed! – love it. If Poetry Slams persuade even one sceptical person to open a poetry book or pick up a pen to write their own, then it is deserving of the hype.
The next Open Mic night is on the 24th March…maybe I’ll see you there?