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Spoken Word

Patrick Neate

Anger management

18 June 2009

Hi, my name's Patrick Neate and welcome to the second of my monthly Spoken Word columns for BBC Poetry Season.

This month I praise new Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy for getting angry, preview BBC Blast's SLAMbassadors competition, pick some more poetic rising stars and look forward to the best live poetry events July has to offer.

Okay, who's read Politics, Carol Ann Duffy's first outing as Laureate? What a refreshingly angry piece of work, an avalanche of scorn poured upon our elected representatives that culminates in the word POLITICS repeated as a delicious expletive! I believe a writer ought to be a fighter - not all the time, of course, but you should have it in you. When beauty fails, when your eloquence is no persuasion, it's worth having a weapon to fall back on; whether blunt instrument or rapier. And why can't language be both?

Of course, spoken word is a medium that has a combative element more or less hard-wired into it. The other day I had a beer with poet and football writer (a rare combination) Musa Okwonga, who told me that the best piece of advice he'd received as a poet was this: "If you're scared to read a particular poem in front of a particular audience, that's precisely the poem you should read." Quite. Screw your courage to the sticking place, as the Bard himself Billy Shakes would have it.

A lot of spoken word artists hone such ability at slam competitions. Pitched somewhere between poetry and a rap battle, a slam sees writers go head to head with their work in a set time limit, competing for approbation from an audience or panel of judges. Slams can be a good starting point for would-be poets and rappers alike, forcing the performers to sharpen their writing. In fact, if you're under 19 years old and interested in slamming, you might want to check SLAMbassadors, a new competition run by BBC Blast in partnership with the Poetry Society. Enter online and you can win a two-day masterclass with some poetry pros and possibly a spot in the winners' showcase in London.

At their best, poetry slams are thrilling for audience and performers alike. That said, I fear my slam days are long past as I'm now both too long of tooth and yellow of belly. Besides, the last slam I attended fell a little too easy into the bragging territory normally associated with hip hop. I find such self-publicity incompatible with good writing, of course.

External Links:
The Guardian: Read Carol Ann Duffy's Politics
Musa Okwonga's MySpace page

Previous columns

Events for July 2009

Talking of poetry slams, Farrago in west London is the daddy of the British scene, organised with panache and no little passion by John Paul O'Neill.

'Inimitable' is arguably the most over-used of words. Nonetheless, there can be few harder performers to imitate than Salena Godden, front-woman of Saltpeter and prophetess of post punk pop and poetry. She's now started her own night called The Book Club Boutique in Soho, central London. It makes Mondays bearable.

External Links:
Farrago MySpace page
Saltpeter site
The Book Club Boutique on MySpace

New talent

Inua 'Phaze' Ellams weaves tapestries of complex imagery with warmth and charm. I believe his one-man show The 14th Tale will be touring again in the autumn. Well worth catching.

Jasmine Ann Cooray undercuts the sensitivity of her poetry with a dry wit and wry delivery. Smart, funny and engaging.

External Links:
Phaze's official site
Jasmine Ann Cooray on MySpace


The Nation's Favourite Poet

Ian McMillan


Watch Ian McMillan's tips on writing poems for special occasions

Basement Jaxx performing The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Radio 1 Animations

Watch Basement Jaxx's version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Related Links

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BBC Blast

Find out how to enter the SLAMbassadors competition.

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CBeebies: Poetry Pie

Pre-school fun in a magical world of poetry.

BBC The Speaker

Top tips for speaking in public.

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