I love the fact that DorkyDad is a poet. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen him perform – in venues ranging from libraries to Jazz bars – and I always come away feeling proud and happy.
Except when he’s doing a slam. I hate watching him in slams. That competitive element takes all the joy out of it for me, and rather than being able to support and encourage him I turn into a jangling, fidgeting ball of nerves. Slams have always made me feel a bit sick.
Last week I think I finally overcame that because I watched a slam that he was involved with, but not as a competitor. DorkyDad was hosting the BBC Poetry Slam at the Edinburgh Fringe.
On the first four evenings that we were up in Edinburgh – Monday through to Thursday – he hosted the four heats in the wee pink tent at the BBC’s Potterrow Venue. I didn’t go to any of those, but by all accounts they went well. There was an incredible line-up of poets involved, enthusiastic audiences, and decent weather.
On the Friday evening, there was a Grand Final, featuring the winners of the four heats – Rachel McCrum, Graeme Hawley, Jenny Lindsay, and Ross Sutherland. I’d seen Graeme and Jenny perform several times before. Graeme comes across as a sweet and lovely guy, who has a very dry sense of humour, and deadpan delivery that always cracks me up. Jenny is wonderful; the very best kind of young Scottish woman, fiercely intelligent and very funny, combining the political and the personal to great effect. I really liked Ross Sutherland a few years back when I saw him perform as part of Aisle 16, and although I had never seen Rachel read before, I knew of her through her connections with the (now resurrected, hurrah!) Forest Café in Edinburgh.
One of the perks of being married to the host was that I was able to turn up to quite early to do some people-watching. It has been a long time since I’ve written or performed poetry myself, so I’m no expert, but from sitting in the audience at a lot of events I know that how good the poets are on paper has little bearing on the outcome of a slam. It all depends on the audience on the night, the energy levels, the tastes and preferences of the judges, picking the right poem at the right time…
It was interesting to see the ways that different poets dealt with their build-up. One disappeared into a corner of the venue with a fag and a pint to practice alone, one sat with friends and supporters, a couple of them showed up at the last minute, presumably to avoid having people like me sit and scrutinise them for signs of nerves. There was a lot of pacing up and down, and plenty of leg-jiggling from them all.
But I will also say that compared to every slam I’ve been to before, there was an incredibly supportive atmosphere. The four finalists all knew each other well – in terms of personality, performance and poetry – so there were lots of hugs and shoulder squeezes. Last year’s winner Catherine Brogan showed up to cheer them all on, as did a huge number of the other poets who had competed earlier in the week.
The demand for tickets for the final was so big that it got bumped up to the big blue tent, which had 350 seats. It was a lovely venue, intimate but impressive, with great lighting and a big stage for the poets to fill.
I am obviously biased, but I think DorkyDad did a brilliant job as the host. He is lucky enough and experienced enough that he always comes across as very comfortable on a stage – and that helped put the audience at ease right away, even though many of them had never been to a poetry slam before. But I was the only one who saw how much time and energy he had put into preparing for the events. It is a real skill to work hard on something and then make it look completely effortless.
The poets were all incredible, and the fact that it was a difference of just 0.2 points that eventually decided the winner is testament to how strong their performances were. I did not envy the judges their jobs at all.
I am super chuffed for the winner Jenny Lindsay, who is an excellent poet and has done so much to help others break into the scene in Scotland. I am thrilled that I was there to see Ross Sutherland do a wonderful, hilarious poem dedicated to a member of the audience called Sheila (and I really hope it makes the highlights video). I was stunned into silence by Rachel McCrum’s absolutely beautiful readings, and my heart broke a little bit to hear the rawness in Graeme Hawley’s voice as he read a poem about a cancer drug.
I am also chuffed to pieces that almost 300 people chose to come and listen to spoken word on the last Friday of the Edinburgh Festival, and I am proud beyond words at the part DorkyDad played in that.
I think my fear of slams may, finally, be cured.
The top photo of DorkyDad is from the BBC Edinburgh Fringe Tumblr site, and if you click on it you’ll see lots more photos from there.