I don’t like slam poetry. I like stand-up and I like poetry and I like hip-hop, but slam seems to exist in a curious nether-zone between the three. Like brunch or a lukewarm Greggs pasty or the weird bit between your willy and your bumhole, it stands in an odd limbo between the extremes of rigidly formal written poetry and raucous live performance. Content often seems to follow form, as poets write with the Buzzfeed clickbait taglines already in mind: “This Jamaican Drug Lord Gave The Room Goosebumps With His Sonnet About Potatoes”, “Racism Is An Epic Fail- Just Ask This Brave Young Girl”, “I Can’t Believe How Eloquently This Sock Puppet Showed Us That Gender Is A Social Construct”.
I therefore approached the Afro-Caribbean Society’s slam poetry night with trepidation. The last thing I wanted on a Tuesday night in the pissing rain was to be harangued by an over-confident substitute teacher with a jaunty beret and a depressingly bad goatee. The room was packed out, and the compere was greeted not with the whoops and hollers of a traditional slam but with a smattering of Oxonian applause.
My snobby fears were ill-founded. We were gently massaged in by a whimsical opening salvo of poems about delayed trains, aggressive vegetarians and a toddler’s passionate but regrettably short-lived marriage to a cat. This gentle patter lulled me into a false sense of security, chuckling wryly at the wry wordplay and wryly waggling my eyebrows to indicate my approval. It was all very wry.
The wryness suddenly vanished as the big hitters took to the stage. A man named Nima came out swinging with a hip-hop influenced style, transplanting Arthurian legend onto the streets of London amongst the dealers and the drizzle.
Nima’s poetry had the audience reacting like the crowd at the world’s most genteel boxing match, and he took the final by just a couple of votes. I like stand-up and I like poetry and I like hip-hop: and so I like slam poetry. Like a delicious brunch, a nourishing pasty or a crucial part of my nether regions, it exists in a fluid and fascinating nether zone between poetical extremes.