Hammer & Tongue is a national network of poetry slams that always hosts an interesting and diverse range of spoken word; the night has two fantastic feature acts that introduce and round off the prestigious slam. The winners of the slam compete in the Regional Finals, where they vie for a spot at the National Finals in London – fame and glory await. So for those attracted to watching competitive word battles, or perhaps trying it out for themselves, The Fountain every second Wednesday of the month is the place to be.
In the hands of poet, singer and storyteller Fay Roberts you are welcomed and guided through the night with refreshing energy, engaging commentary and just general ease. Fay Roberts warms the crowd up with her own poem, ‘Addenda’ and passes the mic over to the first feature act.
Justina Kehinde is a previous Hammer & Tongue slam winner who blew judges away last time with her heartfelt and lyrical words. A student, jazz musician, writer, and co-producer of For Coloured Girls, Justina’s poetry covered a wide variety of topics from the value of identity and a name, to a heart-breakingly emotional poem ‘The Sandman’. Her poem ’30’ was a bittersweet piece full of vivid imagery that made the audience smile. Her poetry has a unique way of articulating concepts that aren’t often explored but are felt by everyone. I honestly fell a little bit in love with her words after that performance, but I’m pretty sure the rest of the audience were right there with me… So that’s ok.
After a brief overview of the rules from Fay Roberts, the slam was underway with sacrificial poet Dan Clark returning from last month’s victory. A sacrificial poets role is to introduce the audience and volunteer judges to the format – a practice run, if you will. His entry onto the stage was fast and frantic which was a good build up to the excitement and unpredictability of the competition. Dan’s performance then quietened to a serious simmer before boiling over once again with a burst of humour, showing anything can happen at these evenings. Unfortunately he would have been disqualified for using the box of Crunchy Nut cereal… but as a sacrificial poet, it doesn’t really matter and the audience seemed to like it.
Tonight’s slam was a full house with 8 poets all competing for the title of champion. You can’t guess what a Hammer & Tongue slam will look like until it’s underway, and this show was no different. All of the slammers were competent and the competition was strong; however two of the judges were seasoned poets and so the pressure was on…
Tim Knight started the night off strongly with a thoughtful and endearing poem chock full of Disney references which I think everyone of all ages appreciated. He even included a small rendition of ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen. Although Tim performs with a calm and almost musical style he had the audience laughing and was definitely a clear favourite of the judges.
Robin Lamboll followed after with ‘Thin’ – a witty poem about the beauty standards in society that trap us in a black hole, and how in space we’re all weightless. Robin’s dry humour and wonderful use of space imagery managed to make his poem both funny and poignant leaving the audience thoughtful.
Carla Keen returned to the stage with her poem that sees Carla as the narrator of what could easily be a real TV campaign for re-branding feminism. The poem is full of irony and great phrases like “turn away from feminazi and towards feminicey,” that had the audience giggling and nodding their heads. She performed with an engaging energy that is impossible not to pay attention to, the judges gave a commendable score but in full Hammer & Tongue spirit the audience tried hard to sway the scores higher.
Tink Radley also returned to the stage with an interesting piece about super human’s and how we can replace broken parts with new ones that really showed the strength of the dying. Tink performs with a strong voice that seems to be able to tell any story, her content was darker and more sombre than the previous performers but her score held her up well.
Meg Burrows took a risk and performed two poems within her slot. Short and sweet, her poems were full of imagery and rhymes that were pleasing to the ears. The audience seemed to appreciate the slower pace of Meg’s laid back delivery and easy-going voice.
Afrodita Nikolova delivered a quick and hard hitting poem based around the porn industry and the issues of consent. Her poem is littered with curses and is designed to be a shocking and powerful piece that really gets the point across. The judges didn’t seem too impressed but the audience strongly disagreed, and in true Cambridge fashion “humph’d” at the modest scores.
Steve Patmore also known as “SP” took a chance and performed two poems as well. The first beautifully summed up that feeling of inspiration being somewhat stunted by your inability to find a pen in a time of need… it’s always behind your ear. His second poem was a striking character piece that left the audience slightly stunned and thoughtful.
Joe Navarro closed the slam with a piece full of strong metaphors and rhymes with each one making a point. His delivery of the piece was somewhat hindered by his overall body language which may have cost him points. However there came a point in his performance where the phone went away, he stood tall, shoulders back, looked at the audience and really took the moment. It’s always interesting to watch an artist grow and gain confidence and I would be interested to see what his performance brings next.
Congratulations to Tim Knight and Robin Lamboll who came joint first and will both be going through to the next round. These two were definitely the strongest performers of the night and I look forward to seeing them in the final.
Vanessa Kisuule really took the night away as the second feature act, which should come as no surprise; she is a winner of many slams, a festival regular and a general all round favourite. It’s easy to see why when you see her perform with such a passionate, clever, thoughtful and often funny style. On stage she has a wonderful energy that left the audience almost speechless no matter what the topic. Her poem ‘Strawberries’ wove together the sweet naivety of young love and the funny nostalgia of a growing women looking back at that naivety. Another poem explored the powerful emotions that an idol can bring as she explored her relationship with Michael Jackson’s work while growing up. Her poem about half-brothers was one that a lot of the audience seemed to connect with and that seemed to be the case for most of her performance. Vanessa currently has a collection of poetry out at the moment called Joyriding The Storm, that I would highly recommend you read.
Hammer & Tongue always promises an enjoyable evening but November was one of the best I have been to so far. So if you missed this one then you really did miss out, but next month’s injection of rock’n’roll poetry is looking to be even better…
Words from Nikki Marrone