images // Matt Widgery

Hammer & Tongue is always a fantastic night of spoken word artistry, hosted by the amazing Fay Roberts and bookended by feature acts who promise to make an impression. This night however had to be the most anticipated hammer and tongue Cambridge has had this year.

In the guiding hands of regular hostess Fay Roberts we are welcomed and warmed up for the night with her lovely poem about Baba Yaga house and taught to throw off the shackles of our restrained Cambridge politeness and shown how to sway the judges with whoops and cheers that the poets all deserved.


Hollie Mcnish was up first and although I have seen her perform numerous of times she never fails to entertain and this night was no different- she smashed it. So it comes as no surprise that she is a UK slam champion, YouTube sensation, publisher of three critically acclaimed albums and written collection.

Her performance is easy to watch, truthful and often funny; you know that she means every word she speaks and I believe that this is what makes them so easy to listen to. The first two poems she opened up with were ‘Bungalows and Biscuits’ and ‘Bricks two touching poems about her Grandmothers. Followed by a funny and truthful poem that analyses Flo Rida’s ‘Blow my whistle’ video that can be watched online timed perfectly to the video. She closed the set with two personal poems about motherhood; the first a diary entry from the first day her daughter was born and the second her poem “embarrassed” which expresses frustration over the current issues surrounding breastfeeding. Hollie Mcnish is not only an exceptional poet but serves as a terrific role-model for anybody who is lucky enough to listen.


After a brief overview of the rules, we saw the return of last month’s joint winner – the wonderful Tim Knight. He started the night and raised the standard high as a sacrificial poet and taught the room some great facts about the Discovery Channel and shipping containers that showed a state of mind I think all single people have experienced. Mix some great poets, technical difficulties, great one liners from a frustrated hostess, and a tough one on the judges audience and you get an intense slam.

Lulu Agate, a first time slammer raised the bar high and scored herself a perfect ten with a heartfelt and brutally honest poem that showed a powerful journey to recovery. For someone who was nervous to perform she took the stage and is definitely one to watch.

Followed by the incredibly easy to watch Tess Gardner, she gave an equally raw and beautiful poem. Tess has amazed audiences before with her performance and her quietly powerful voice was underscored by the judges much to the audience’s disdain.

Emma Ormond’s charming stage-presence and whimsical rhymes took us through a darkly humorous tale of childhood toys that provided a light relief and went down well with all.


Rikki Livermore’s poem ‘Back Off’, a poem about education and averages was instantly relatable and full of witty lines and delivered with an easy style that made him a hit with the judges.

Another relatable poet, Steve Olderman took to the stage with two poems. The first poem was a touching tribute to well-loved comedian Tommy Cooper, and the second a clever homage to money. His poems were full of great references and funny one liners.

Russell J Turner got into the holiday spirit with a festive poem about being single and the annoyances of Christmas. Dry and humorous Russell is a great performer to watch as he easily engages the audience and gives us all great lines such as “god save us from monopoly.”

Kristen Lee gave a lovely poem about performance poetry and how much it means to stand on that stage and share the words. It was touching and humble and the judges scored well.


I had the privilege of performing alongside these incredible poets as the last slammer – which was not intimidating at all! I managed to remember my poem and perform despite the nerves and heart pounding in my chest. Performing in a slam is scary but throws you out of your comfort zone and allows you to feel the thrill of spoken word; and it’s definitely worth trying.

As the night draws to a close and the crowd wait in jittery anticipation for our headline act and final scores, we are gifted with a final poem from our hostess Fay Roberts and previews of some good looking events in the future. Congratulations to Rikki Livermore who took the title of slam champion and definitely deserved to get through to the finals in London. I can’t wait to see what he comes out with next and judging by the previous winners the finals are going to be immense. Talking about immense, to finish the night we welcomed Buddy Wakefield to the stage to much giddiness and applause.


Buddy Wakefield is the three-times individual world poetry slam champion, author of Gentleman Practice, live for a living and henhouse; and he has been featured on NPR, BBC, Def Poetry Jam and has been signed to Righteous Babe records. His performance was powerfully electric, funny and endearingly awkward; his delivery is heartfelt and honest that left the whole room stunned. His poetry was tender, jarring and deeply human; covering topics from Gandhi’s Autobiography, to God and faith and the human condition. He flowed effortlessly through the performance and even when he interrupted himself or paused it was incredibly hard to tell whether it was planned or not. Either way it worked. It’s incredibly hard to find the words to describe such a mind blowing performance and so this is a poet not to be taken lightly and one that everyone should listen to – check out his ted talk below.

With amazing poets such as Hollie Mcnish and Buddy Wakefield on the bill I think everyone will agree that this Hammer & Tongue was special and maybe to some soul-changing. Just saying – poetry can change your life.

Words by Nikki Marrone