The Unexpected Magic of Competitive Poetry (free event)

Genesis cinema

The Genesis Cinema earned itself a faithful crowd with student discounts and the much missed Wacky Wednesdays, which consisted of super cheap tickets to apologise for the disturbance caused by ongoing renovation works. It paid off: the venue now looks shabby-chic, East London hipster-fancy. 

As well as relatively cheap films (with a good mix of big blockbusters, arthouse/indie films and old classics), the Genesis houses amazing pies by Pieminister and a regular slam poetry night. 

On the first Thursday of every month, the Genesis Poetry Slam takes over the bar area. The official start time is 7pm, but as it turns out, poets’ best feature is not punctuality. Who would have guessed. The evening is usually hosted by Sara Hirsch, a brilliant poet and performer herself, who was 2013 UK Slam Champion. 

Over the years, the Genesis stage has hosted a great number of poets. Some only appear once or twice, while others become regulars. Going regularly means at times hearing the same poems, and this is part of the appeal. As strange as it might seem to use these words to describe a poetry evening, it is an exciting and competitive event, that might leave you hoarse from screaming and clapping so much. But it is also a good space to be in, friendly and welcoming. The poetry can range from intimate and lyrical, to comedic – which always tend to go down very well with the audience. I remember a vegan poet versifying about his community’s obsession with beetroot to hoots of laughter, and then, in the following round, describing the agony of an old racehorse. 

Unsurprisingly, as I can be quite the Italian stereotype, one of my absolute favourite poems has been one detailing how we should all aim to be more like pasta.  

There are sweet poems, sweary poems – very cathartic in the wake of election results or traumatic events – personal, political o fantastic poems, as well as romantic, or narrative ones. Styles too can vary, from more sedate readings to rap-like slamming. There is definitely room for all tastes. 

And here we come to the interactive structure of the slam. It is, as they proudly announce, the only London three rounds slam poetry competition. Each poet has a three minutes slot, then the audience gets to vote, and the ones with highest scores proceed to the following round, where they will perform a new poem. 

The interesting thing here, is that the audience gets a vote. A few volunteers receive score boards with points from 0 to 10 to use during the competition. The rest of the audience is encouraged to react to the scores too, clapping or booing their (dis)agreement, or snapping fingers as if to quietly say “hear hear” during a performance. I personally like voting, not because I feel in any way qualified to judge poetry, but because I can give more points to poets I want to hear more of. As it is often repeated on these evenings, “the points are not the point, the point is the poetry” because, really, we can’t give numerical scores to art. 

The next event will be Genesisters, tomorrow, Saturday 18th November. It is part of the Genesis feminist series of events. This one is not free (but there will be free cupcakes!), but with £3 you will get Maria Ferguson, Jennifer Denito (Ex-Wimmin’s Institute/Ex-Linus), Fightmilk (Fierce Panda Recording Artistes), Fresh (Specialist Subject Recording Artistes) and a screening of the 2011 documentary on HOLE’s Patty Schemel – HIT SO HARD (IMDB). Plus guest DJs and zine stalls, and, of course, the poetry, with specially invited female and non-binary poets. 

After that, the very last slam of the year will be on the 7th December. It will be the grand final, with all the winners from all slams of the year. The winner will then get to the Hammer & Tongue national grand final at the Royal Albert Hall, which will be on the 6th and 7th of January. 


[Written by Alice di Mattia; edited by Alessandra Cenni]

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