Monthly Archives: January 2015

Slam Ethics: Once Qualified, Should you Continue Competing?

Last week (Thurs., Jan. 22) I was delighted to win the Edinburgh University Literature Society January Slam, thus qualifying for the Scottish National Slam (which will be held Feb. 26 in Edinburgh). However, I faced a bit of a dilemma because I was also slotted to compete in the National Library of Scotland Burns Night Slam the following Monday (last night, Mon., Jan 26). Part of me felt that it would be unfair to compete in the Burns Night Slam considering that I had already qualified for Nationals and, in the chance that I were to win, I would be removing someone else’s opportunity to qualify (especially considering that the NLS slam was the last open qualifier for Nationals this year). However, I had been invited to compete in the slam and my name had been used in promotional material, so it also felt unfair to the host to remove myself from the slam with only a couple days’ notice. Currently there are no rules regulating whether poets who have already won a slam are permitted to continue competing, so this decision was entirely up to me. It sparked an interesting question that I’ve been discussing lately with other poets in the Scottish slam scene: should poets who have won a slam and thus already qualified for Nationals be permitted to continue competing at slams? Continue reading


Workshop Review: Francesca Beard

Two days ago (Sat. Jan. 24), I attended a master class in Edinburgh with the London-based spoken word artist Francesca Beard hosted by Rally & Broad. The workshop focused on how to establish a persona and a physical presence onstage when performing spoken word poetry. It was very well-attended and proved an excellent source of new ideas, discussion around performativity, storytelling, and poetry, as well as providing lots of new writing inspiration.

Francesca opened with one of her own poems, which flowed brilliantly and seemed rooted in the storytelling tradition. Beard has a wonderful way of performing her poems as if telling them for the first time, rather than as if reciting a memorised piece. She spoke about the importance of the element of improvisation in performance: how vital it is that the piece feel live and exciting onstage. Watching her, I was reminded that pauses and appearing sometimes to not know the next line for a moment (when fully in control of the performance) can actually be a good thing, as it increases the suspense and puts the audience on the edge of their seats, making them interested not only in the poem but also in the act of telling the poem. Continue reading

Open Mic 3 February with Katie Ailes

Inky Fingers : Words and Performance

Open Mic Katie Inky Fingers Open Mic

Tuesday 3rd February December, 8pm
Forest Café, Lauriston Place

The Inky Fingers Open Mic is back for 2015! On the first Tuesday of the month between 8-11 pm, it’s free to come and free for anyone to perform, regardless of style, experience, or identity.

We want to hear from YOU. We want your poems, your rants, your ballads, your short stories, your diaries, your experimental texts, your heart, your mind, your body. We want the essay on your summer holidays you wrote when you were four, your adolescent haiku, and extracts from your eventually-to-be-completed epic fantasy quadrilogy. We want to hear your best new work as well. And we want people to care about the way words are performed.

We are very excited to announce that this month’s feature is spoken word poet, Katie Ailes.

Katie Ailes is a poet and researcher from the…

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Accessibility in Slam: the Debatable Fairness of Exclusive-Entry Qualifiers

Last week, a discussion was initiated on the Facebook event page for the Scottish National Slam regarding the fairness of the Glasgow Student Slam, which I am co-organising with students at universities across Scotland. The debate involved many prominent members of the Scottish spoken word scene, and became quite animated as many people weighed in. As it can be difficult to convey the nuances of one’s position through a Facebook thread, I’m posting here on the nature of the discussion and explaining my perspective within it. I’d like to emphasise that I respect the opinions of all involved and I appreciate that this debate is occurring. Discussions such as this one are healthy and necessary to determine the values of the Scottish slam community on how to ensure fairness within the slam competitions in Scotland. By expanding on my opinion here I seek only to fully explain the thinking behind my position and open the discussion to a wider audience, not to beat a dead cat. Continue reading

Breaking the Authenticity of the Performing Body

The U.S National Poetry Slam rules require poets to perform pieces they have written: one cannot perform another person’s work at the competition. Slam as a genre is linked to the performance of one’s own identity since the poet is physically there onstage with an accent, a skin colour, an apparent sex, etc. These cues affect how the audience perceives the poet even before he/she opens his/her mouth: they identify the poet before he/she has had the opportunity to claim an identity for him/herself, and they generally expect the voice of the poem to match the identity that they have perceived.

As Susan B. A. Somers-Willett observes in The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity, and the Performance of Popular Verse in America, the performance of the authentic self is hugely important in slam poetry; indeed “it might be the primary criterion slam poets have in mind when they write their poems: to impart some truth about their subjective experiences that artfully reveals an authentic self” (73). This is a major factor in judging: does the physical body onstage match the identity-declaration from the voice onstage? Of course, this “authenticity” is itself false: by writing, rewriting, rehearsing, and performing a poem, poets are conducting an act. They are performing one identity while enacting another identity (even if these two identities appear identical). But poets tend to be judged on the level of “realness” of their performances, how “true” they feel to the audience. Some of the most interesting pieces happen when the perceived identity of the poet and the identity that the poet professes through his/her work seem to clash and the audience realises that their preconceived notions are flawed: this is where the power of performance poetry to challenge stereotypes lies. Continue reading