This week, performance poet, former Bard and Grand Bard of Exeter, and Chudleigh Writers’ Circle member, Jackie Juno tells us about her recent appearances on a very special stage.
“This year I returned to Glastonbury Festival as Poetry Slam Champion, to perform a 20 minute set preceding the 2019 slam. I was also asked to be a judge at the slam.
I won the Slam in 2017, but because they didn’t hold a festival in 2018 I was able to say I was champion for two years! And boy, did I milk that title! By winning the slam I was automatically entered into the National Poetry Slam finals at the Albert Hall 2018.
For those who are not familiar with the genre, a slam is basically a performance poetry competition. Entrants are judged for the quality of their performance, the quality of their writing, and the audience response. Judges can be made up of a panel of invited experts or experienced poets; or random members of the audience. Each poet must perform their own material without props, and if they exceed the three minute time limit they begin to lose points.
The Glastonbury Festival Slam is held in the Poetry & Words marquee which is in the Cabaret Field. Names on the bill at the venue this year included John Hegley, Vanessa Kisuule, Lemn Sissay and Tony Walsh, among many other highly talented wordsmiths. The accompanying poster features all the poets who performed there this year. The poster was created by Scott Tyrell, who is also a poet. You can see my likeness in the bottom right hand area.
The Poetry & Words tent was a wonderful place to hang out. I saw so many excellent performances there, I felt I hardly needed to go anywhere else in the festival! Us poets had designated camping backstage which was a secure area so only those with a pass could enter. We also had our own shower and toilet block, plenty of space – and lots of trees. The shade they provided was much appreciated this year because it was sweltering!
While there I also performed at a few other gigs, most notably at Tongue Fu which is hosted by Chris Redmond. Tongue Fu is a regular night in London and elsewhere. There is a resident band who will improvise the perfect music to back each poet. When you get up onstage, you tell the band the sort of mood or genre of music you would like and they manage to produce exactly that – some of their requests are pretty out there – eg. music for a tea-dance on the Titanic with a hip hop groove; grunge with a hint of salsa; the vibe of a thriller film as though you are walking down a lane at night and know something bad is going to happen…I was in awe of the band’s expertise with anything the poets requested of them. It was a great honour to appear at Tongue Fu. Highly recommended!
The Glastonbury Festival Slam is a prestigious title to win – the quality is high and there is a lot at stake (a paid return gig with free entry to the next festival and a unique handmade award which you get to keep! And of course the title.) There were 18 poets to begin with. From two heats, 6 poets went through to the next round, then the two highest scorers made it to the final head-to-head. It was a very close score but I just pipped the other poet at the post. My opponent was Lisa Goodwin, from Glastonbury. Lisa had won the title of Bard of Glastonbury a couple of years before, and I knew she was incredibly good because I was one of the judges at the Bardic Trials. I gave her top marks twice for her performances there as I could not fault her!
When all the entrants met backstage before the slam began, Lisa and I saw each other and said “Oh no, I will be up against you!” And lo, it came to pass!
Lisa entered the slam this year as well – and this time she won it. Her perseverance paid off!
I no longer enter slams as I feel I have peaked! But I still organise and host them, as they are such good fun and can be a great showcase for poets to get themselves seen. They can also be quite lucrative, as many have cash prizes or a good addition to one’s CV.
Entering slams can be exciting, nerve-wracking and disappointing if you don’t get anywhere – so be warned! They can also be addictive, especially if you manage to win! I have found that it is best not to take it too personally, whether you win or lose – as I have performed the same poems with hugely varying results, depending on the event, the audience, the other entrants, the judges, the wind direction and astrological configurations!
Good luck to all who dare…”