Letter from Paris

Dear DorkyMum,

Paris has a way of swallowing time.  It seems like just hours ago that I arrived here on Tuesday morning, and now it is Saturday and the final round of competition in the World Cup of Slam is on for tonight.

And what a final it will be!  Roberta Estrela D’Alva from Brazil, 33 years old, six feet tall, a beautiful confident woman who shines with kindness; David Goudreault from Quebec, always smiling, sure of himself and his poetry; Chris Tse from Canada, 21, self-aware and cool in an engaging, friendly way; and Younes Mernissi from Belgium, possibly the strongest poet among us, who puts together words in the way great artists paint pictures — you see what he wants you to see.  Who will win?  Who will hold their nerve and capture the fire for three rounds? It will be very, very close.  But the quiet consensus among the rest of us is that Roberta will be difficult to beat.  She is an Amazon warrior with a heart of sunshine.

But truth is, all 16 poets in this competition deserve to be here.  64 poems have now been performed in front of eager and enthusiastic audiences, and not one has been bad.  The youngest person in the competition, 20-year old Mathias Bungaard, is the only poet to receive a perfect score of ten twice in the same round.  The oldest, 63-year old David Morgan from England, an unreconstructed anarchist from the Old School, spins stories out of the ether and leaves people breathless.  The talent is so rich, and the people are so nice — we have become a community.

Daan Doesborgh from Holland is a young hippie with shoulder length hair and an amazing sense of humor.  He is here with his father — also a hippie — who drove to the competition with his girlfriend in an old German Army Mercedes Benz Ambulance which they have converted into a Rolling Love Bus. Gabrielle Tuloup from Paris writes poems about the touch of lovers, but has no time for a boyfriend. Arthur Matveev from Russia smiles at everyone and carries a shoulder bag that produces endless cans of lager.  We all sat together last evening until well past midnight, drinking beer and wine and laughing. Everyone is exchanging e-mail addresses, promising to stay in touch.  There is something wonderful happening here, something we are all aware of but can’t quite name.

And tonight I expect the Slammers to bring the stars down from the endless night sky, for them to steal the lights from the Eiffel Tower. Because this is the Coupe du Monde de Slam, and this is the real deal.

Tell DorkySon that his father will be home tomorrow. Tell him I have stories to share about beautiful people who know magic words. Tell him that angels and wizards really do exist.  I know, because I have seen them.

Je t’aime,



The Knock-Out Round.

Dear DorkyMum,

0.1. One-tenth. It takes ten of them just to make a single one. A very small number, 0.1.

Five judges. Three rounds. 15 different scores. My highest was 9.8 out of 10. I had three 9.7s.

One-tenth of a point. And that is the difference. I did not make it through the Round of Death. My new friend, Chris Tse from Canada, scored 79.8. I scored 79.7. And Roberta from Brazil — more on her in a bit — came in at 81.2. They are both in the semi-finals tonight. And I will be watching from the audience.

People were hugely kind and supportive. Roberta, who it turns out is a lovely person from a large family, gave me a long hug and cried on my shoulder. Chris actually apologized. At least a dozen onlookers and about half the poets came up and said I deserved to go on. A woman who has helped organize the World Slam every year took me aside and said, in her opinion, I was the strongest poet/performer in the entire competition.

“But, Young,” she said, with real sadness in her eyes, “the truth about slams is the best poets almost never win.”

I wasn’t the best poet/performer, actually. I predict the finals will come down to Roberta from Brazil, David from Quebec and Gabrielle from France. They are all dynamic and intelligent. Their words arrive with sudden impact. They bring light and passion and anger and joy. They are really, really good.

Someone asked if I felt bad. And I just don’t. One-tenth of a point is far too small a number to define a person or a time in their lives. Actually, I feel pretty good. I am in Paris, our favorite city (after Edinburgh, of course.) I have just competed, and competed well, against the best Slam Poets in the world. I have made new friends, and am now going to take the next few days to slow down, sit at some sidewalk cafes and watch this part of the world roll by. It was a long winter in many ways, and for the first time in months, I can feel the sun.

What I do feel is grateful, especially to some people back in Scotland. Jenny Lindsay and Anita Govan were two of the first people to invite me to read in public when I came to Edinburgh six years ago. Bram Gieben spent time with me explaining the mysteries of Slam. And Robin Cairns in Glasgow brought me to the Rio Cafe, and then pushed for me to have a spot here at the World Slams after the Aye Write Festival. And of course special thanks to Jim Ewing, who not only came all this way to cheer me on, but also made me laugh out loud at the Open Mic after last night’s competition by reading his poem about why he hates the France in general and people from Paris in particular!

One-tenth, DorkyMum. So close. But it’s okay. I need all the other nine-tenths to send my biggest love to you and DorkySon. Your Slam DorkyDad will be home soon.

A bientot,


Lots of Merlot and a man from Glasgow…

Dear DorkyMum,

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.