Monday, April 23, 2007

Scream of consciousness

the fashionista turns to beige
the S & M-er locks his cage
the herbalist consults her sage
the plagiarist insults his page

the atheist stands centre stage
the eagle swoops and screams in rage
the green can’t live without his gauge
and zeitgeist quickly comes of age

the seer sees but wants to suck it
the pessimist still needs his bucket
and every Nan must have her tucket
with the Union Gap and Gary Puckett

a million pound bonus in the city
three streets away kids plead for pity
the gangsta thinks he’s cool and witty
but the exit wounds are none too pretty

the pendolino leaves the track
while babies cry from crack and smack
the fascist flies his union jack
a death a minute in Iraq

Da Vinci stirs and checks his code
the warriors love their wars and woad
the rucksack hides its hideous load
when will the next red bus explode

another day of hows and whys
another big mac coke and fries
it’s gimmee gimmee oil and lies
and gods and lies and men and lies

the fashionista turns to grey
the S & M-er gasps all day
the herbalist drowns in the bay
the eagle seeks a different prey


Wallace’s hands are trembling as his loupe surveys the stone,
as the old man sits before him, all parchment-skinned and bone.
Wallace’s pulse is pounding, as the peach-pink jewel gleams.
Could it be a Padparadscha, the stuff of sultans’ dreams?

The old man says ‘The setting’s worn but I think the stone is fine;
it’s been in the same family since 1789.’
As Wallace checks the massive gem, his head is in state:
the Chelsea filter says it’s real, the growth lines run dead straight.

Now, even at the bottom price, he ought to pay the earth
but he wonders can this old man know what a Padparadscha’s worth?
‘I bet he hasn’t the foggiest,’ says Wallace to himself,
as he takes his pen and notebook from the hidden counter shelf.

‘Pink sapphire’s very nice’ he says ‘But there’s so little demand
and even at this size we’re only talking… twenty grand.’
The old man’s lip is trembling now, he looks down at the floor.
‘Are you quite sure? Is that price is right? I had hoped for much more’.

‘Take it or leave it,’ Wallace says ‘I can’t pay more than that.’
‘All right,’ concedes the old man, ‘But there’s just one caveat.
I don’t have faith in cheques or banks or stock markets that crash:
If I pop back in tomorrow can you pay me then in cash?’

‘Of course!’ says Wallace, rubbing his hands, and bids the old chap well.
That night he dreams of sultans, of the tales he’ll have to tell,
of how he made a killing, retired on one last deal:
a genuine Padparadscha, and at this price, a steal.

Next day the old man’s back at noon, and soon the deal is done
and Wallace shuts up early and strolls home in the sun.
His future couldn’t be rosier, the sapphire’s in the vault;
that night he reads his paper, breaks out the single malt.

But as he turns to the business page, he starts to fall apart.
The news he reads is like a dagger in his sultan heart:
Chatham in America and Seiko in Japan
Have synthesised new sapphires: Padparadschas made by man.

Monday, April 16, 2007


The Wigan Words 07 Slam involved some 14 slammers, 5 judges and an appreciative audience. Compere Julian Jordon spread his usual bonhomie over the proceedings.
First up was Hilary Walker with a very humorous and well recited piece about Reality TV and the cult of the C list celebrity. This deserved a higher score than it got, but that’s a problem at every slam – the early contestants get lower scores than they should. This was followed by Dan Robinson’s ‘Chalet Love’ a visceral piece on holiday bonking which seemed to be littered with swear words but these were all relevant to the subject matter rather than gratuitous (as so much slammers’ swearing is).
Dave Morgan read his ‘Farewell to the Jungle’ a narrative poem at once poignant, allegorical and humorous. This was followed by a piece by Degsy Jones about absolution. Not his best work, I felt. it seemed cliché-ridden and imageless to me. Martin Higgins’ poem about having the perfect home was competent: it had good rhythm and musicality and the killer last line: ‘Grief dulls this Ikea gloss.’ Gordon Zola recited a rappy work about classical composers that not only had excellent rhyme and rhythm but also involved the audience and went down really well.
Musician and student Shaun Fallows gave us ‘My Hands’. Some nice internal rhyme in this but I think it needs development. As it was it was too short for a slam. Scott Devon recited his ‘Three Nights’: rappy, staccato, with Ionescoan degeneration of language into mere sounds, judicious repetition and varied pace. Well liked by the audience and judges.
Then Peter Crompton took the place apart with his ‘Sex sells’. This had lovely rhymes, beautiful alliteration, humour, varied pace and machine gun, clinical delivery. It was good to hear a true poet at work. A wonderful performance that demonstrated no less than sonic mastery of language. Outstanding.
Baz followed with a poem about creatures that get eaten. Whilst it was witty (‘all you need to do is very quickly evolve’) the scansion and rhymes were not maybe as good as the humour. Lindsay Ashton’s piece again was humorous and had a fair rhythm but needed more work on scansion and some different rhymes. Louise Stoddart gave us ‘Kinky’ and ‘City’. The first was short and sweet, the second a bit listy for me though not without wit and charm.
John Cleys squeezed in ‘Turn Me On: A recipe for Love’,an epitaph, ‘Drive Me Like A Fire Engine’, and ‘Temptation in the garden’. His usual competent,witty verse and, I should add, for me a greatly improved delivery. Monologue Joe was last to perform with a song ‘Jesus has come to Wigan’, a thoroughly enjoyable, irreverent piece about the local delicacy (pies).

After the scores were added up, first was Peter Crompton, second Gordon Zola and third Scott Devon. Peter now has the opportunity to compete in the regional finals organised by Apples and Snakes.
It is worth noting that all contestants scored and performed well, especially the first-timers. Thanks to Gillian Forester for putting on this event. My apologies to anyone whose name is spelt wrongly. These are my own views and do not necessarily reflect what others felt about the performances.

Some of my own thoughts about slams are these: performance poetry is not the same as text-based poetry and often the transition from page to stage doesn’t work. I would like to see more recital and less reading, more poems written with performance in mind rather than a poet just picking something to read out of a sheaf of latest works. Speaking and listening (and performing) are active, immediate skills; reading and writing are reflective skills. What might be a great line when I’ve got time to chew it over by re-reading may not work at all when I can only hear it once.
Rhythm, musicality and aural fireworks sometimes but not always characterise the best slam poetry. Those whose slam poems use rhyme need to be just as good at metre and scansion as the best of the text-based rhymers. Too often, an otherwise good idea is ruined by lazy rhyme or clunkingly unmetrical phrasing and some slammers would do well to listen more actively to the likes of Tony Walsh or Peter Crompton. The non-rhymers have it easier in a way, though they need to work harder if anything on aural flow.
What to do about the early performers getting unjustly low scores? It might help if there was a longer open mic session (Julian and Paul did one brief warm-up where the judges scored) of brief acts where the judges scored at least six before the main event. In an ideal world, judges would agree on their criteria in advance and not judge text-based poems as highly as performed ones, if that makes sense.
Finally, I see no sense in having five judges and only using the three middle scores. It means that any judge who votes highest or lowest at any time might as well not be there. Maybe a mathematician can enlighten me.