Anyone who’s ever cringed at their own teenage attempts at oh-so-meaningful poetry will find themselves in uncomfortably familiar territory at an Anti-Slam. This event, which was conceived in Berlin, and as Dan Simpson, one of our hosts for the evening, proudly told us, now takes place in “over four countries”, turns the poetry slam format on its head as performers compete for the lowest scores with the worst possible poems they can come up with.
From horribly strained metaphors – snooker as an analogy for western colonialism – to sage advice – ‘Grope a grouper, but don’t jack off a jaguar’ – to environmental angst – ‘Every time you dry your hair / You kill another polar bear’, the poets had us squirming and convulsing with laughter in equal measure. Endless repetition and painfully extended rhyme schemes were rife, as were character acts who entertained with their utter disdain for the audience. One poet stormed onto the stage, knocked over the microphone and performed a rage-filled poem in seven parts, ranting his way through objectification, censorship and the coalition government with such cringeworthy earnestness that I genuinely wept tears of laughter. Another read a (weirdly sweet) poem comparing his girlfriend to the pokémon Bulbasaur off the screen of his phone, stopping halfway through to read a text. One of the highlights of the evening was a young woman’s reading of her own teenage poetry, taken from her thirteen-year-old self’s diary, which was all the funnier for being unintentionally awful.
After everyone had performed, the three lowest-scoring performers went through to a final round, before which they were given ten minutes to write a new poem involving a place, object and person, crowdsourced from the audience, who offered up the moon, socks and Gary Barlow as the three topics. The deserving (anti-)champion was Sophia Brookner, whose first poem had contained such gems as “I love you like snowmen love snow, / like a super tampon loves a heavy flow” and “Roses are black, violets are white / When you’re looking at them in ultraviolet light”, and who delivered a stormer of an ode to Gary Barlow in the final, rhyming ‘Gary’ with ‘Carrie’ in yet another menstruation reference. However, her finest moment was surely coining the neologism “lovesludge”, which disgusted audience members and judges alike.
Despite some slight confusion over heckling – an important aspect of traditional poetry slams, in which poets can be shouted off the stage one they pass the two-minute mark, but which didn’t really work here as the deliberately terrible poems divided the audience between hecklers cutting the poets off before they could finish and those who wanted the fun to continue – this was overall a brilliant evening and a great chance to experience something outside the student bubble. I left with a smile on my face and the immortal opening line “I’m an environ…ist. BECAUSE I’M NOT MENTAL” engraved on my memory forever.