As an English student who mostly reads poetry written by dead white men in musty libraries, the phrase 'poetry slam' has always been a daunting one; images of hoodie-wearing masses in basement car parks– like Pitch Perfect, but more intimidating – often came to mind. Speakeasy, however, with its intimate, tucked away venue in the ADC bar, is fun, engaging and is a fantastic showcase of the diversity of poetry.
The lights dim, the spotlight brightens, and the night begins. The poetry kicks off with the wonderful Charlotte Higgins, founder of Speakeasy and host, performing 'so that no one has to go first'. A clever, current piece called 'Autocomplete' delights the audience with a witty look at the human condition through the lens of the Google Search box. Up next, the first featured poet, Joshua Judson, creator of Poetry Is Dead Good, and a sigh of relief for anyone fearing pretentious poetry. Frank, funny and down-to-earth, the evening is off to a great start.
Now this is where it gets exciting: audience judges are appointed, whiteboards are handed out and the time for the Open Slam has arrived. Having signed up beforehand, eight brave poets have three minutes to showcase a poem in the hope of winning the grand prize: bragging rights, eternal glory and the opportunity to be a featured poet at the next Speakeasy event.
Nayim Patel is first to be picked out of the hat, leading with 'Home, A Message to my Father'. The poem starts off as dark and painful, but becomes ultimately empowering, a touching piece. Anna May Rowan, the next poet, similarly tugs at the audience's heartstrings, with 'Our Song'. Adjusting the mic a bit lower, she appears dainty on stage, but her poem, a heartbreakingly accurate piece on struggles of an unhealthy relationship, is strikingly moving.
The tone is then shifted by Quintin Langley-Coleman and Daisy Thurston-Gent with their witty performances. Quintin's poem, 'Quirks' is great fun – eccentric imagery and clever rhymes abound, the poem also highlights the boringness of being 'normal'. The quirkiness continues with Daisy's poem, '10 Things We Can Learn from Pasta to Become Better People', which is funny, endearing, and a perfect poem for pun-lovers.
After the interval, Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, the second featured poet of the night takes the stage. Hearing her often politically charged poetry, it is unsurprising that she earned her featured spot from winning the last Speakeasy open slam. Imogen Cassels follows up with a succinct, intense and vivid imagery in her poem that examines the power of the individual poet. A similarly vivid, but uniquely sensual performance is then given by Afrodita Nikolova, whose poem 'What We Can Talk About When We Talk About Fucking' is a fierce, empowered response to the sexism of catcalling.
However, the two final open slam poets, Freya Trevor-Harris and Tim Knight steal the show. Freya's breathless performance of 'Archipelago' is captivating, with beautifully crafted island metaphors that underpin the poem's harrowing content. Tim's poem, with his epiphany that the Discovery Channel is made for single people cleverly interweaves facts about Lego with the realities of being dumped and is thoroughly enjoyable. The evening is rounded off with the final featured poet, Deborah Stevenson, founder of the Mouthy Poets Collective. Funny and fabulous, Deborah owns the stage with her powerful London-rooted poetry. Next, the results are in: Daisy is third, and Tim and Freya are in joint first – worthy winners.
The event places poetry readings in an engaging and accessible space that excludes no one and can entertain even the least poetically-inclined. Tonight, Speakeasy celebrated its first birthday and I sincerely hope it celebrates many more.
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Speakeasy events run fortnightly on Sundays at 8pm in the ADC bar. The next event is on 8 February.