INTERVIEW: Great Northern Slam | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Poetry slams have been all the rage in Chicago, ever since the renaissance of jazz clubs there in the early ’80s. It’s only in the past few years that they’ve actually hit big here. Similar to scratch nights, which exhibit in-development theatre, slams allow new-comers to make their mark – although experimenting with new material is probably not recommended…

Slams add a competitive spin to performance poetry and Northern Stage will play host to the first ever Great Northern Slam on Wednesday 8th April. “It’s sort of like X Factor meets poetry,” surmises organiser Jeff Price. “The format is straightforward. You have 10 poets; each gets up and has three minutes to do their thing. After each person’s done, judges from the audiences hold up score cards. We take two out, then the eight go back up, then we take two out, then the six go back up…until we have a winner.” The winner is rewarded with the glory of becoming Great Northern Slam Champion (and a BIG MONEY prize of £50).

“The time restriction really hones the performer’s act,” Jeff adds. “At poetry events, you get people coming in with these big rambling contributions. With a slam, you’ve got a specific time and you’ve got to win that audience over and really get people on your side straight away.”

The night is presented by local spoken word group Radikal Words, who previously hosted a bi-monthly slam night at the Tyneside Cinema, and continue to coordinate workshops and poetry events across the region.

“you’ve got to win that audience over and really get people on your side straight away”

“Sometimes slams are open for people to just turn up and take part, but I wanted to give this a good balance of different styles, so participation’s by invitation only. There are quite a few people I personally wanted to see, so it’s been a good excuse to get them up. We could have had 30 or 40 acts but I wanted to keep a reasonable number!”

Jeff set about to whittling down ten of the best and brightest Northern wordsmiths. “We’ve got Jenni Pascoe [who runs Jibba Jabba, a spoken word night at the Cumberland Arms, Ouseburn] and local poet Rowan McCabe, who did his one-man show here at Northern Stage – and what a fantastic show that was. He’s definitely one of the rising stars.

“We’ve got a really strong scene up here but it’s always good to allow audiences to see artists they might not usually see perform, which is why we’re also having a guest poet, Spoz. He’s headlined at Glastonbury, Shambala, Cheltenham Literature Festival and Ledbury Poetry Festival. He was also Birmingham’s Poet Laureate a few years back.”

Northern Stage are keen to develop Stage 3, where the slam is taking place, into a fringe stage and multi-purpose performance space. “It’s always nice to see a bit of home-grown talent perform,” says Jeff. “Add to that the competitive element and we’re going to be in for a really special night.”

Great Northern Slam takes place at Northern Stage, Newcastle on Wednesday 8th April.

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