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