Well, they weren’t kidding when they called it the Coupe du Monde — The World Cup of Slam Poetry. Now in it’s fifth year, there are competitors here from 16 countries, including Gabon, Brazil, Portugal, Russia and the Seychelles. We are indeed a Rainbow Nation of Slammers.
The whole event is being run by a wiry man with a styled afro named Pilote. He rides around on the narrow, hilly streets of the the 20th arrondissement on a banged-up scooter with a wrap-around roll cage, dashing from venue to venue, always smiling. This is a big cultural event for this part of Paris — there are banners everywhere and a local elected woman politician showed up to help officially get things kicked off in an opening ceremony last night at the Place Frehel. We drank Merlot and cheered.
Then the competition started, and the entire experience kicked into a much, much higher gear. It is clear that Slam is a global force –some of the people here have been performing pretty much week in and week out for over ten years. And our hosts have the presentation piece of this absolutely nailed. The venue last night was a civic auditorium with plush seats for the 200 or so who came along. There was a massive stage, several different colored spotlights and giant screen in the back of the stage where each performer’s poem was instantly translated into both French and English. Scoring is done by five judges sitting in random parts of the theatre — your basic one to ten, based on quality of poem, effectiveness of the performance and the audience reaction. The most frightening bit is that the score for each round — every poet does three pieces — is immediately put up on the screen. Nowhere to hide on this night.
France and Gabon made it through the first round, and I found myself wishing I had paid more attention to those French classes in school.
But my knock-out round is tonight, and even the the other poets are calling it The Round of Death. Brazil — she is beautiful, clever, an experienced competitor; Canada, a great guy named Chris Tse who is a journalist in Ghana and perhaps the most seasoned Slammer in the competition; the United States, a woman from Los Angeles who it seems has been to every festival in the world; and Scotland. That’s me.
I am nervous, but not nearly as nervous as I will be at 7 p.m. tonight. But then one of those small things happened that makes you think, this might just be okay. Just as the Festival was starting up, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there was Jim Ewing from Scotland, straight across from Glasgow’s Last Monday at the Rio Cafe to cheer me along.
“I am your one-man Tartan Army,” he said with a very large smile for such a wee man. So, whatever else happens tonight, I do not walk alone.
More to come. Much love from a very small hotel room on rue de L’Hermitage.