2015 Oxford Hammer & Tongue Final, Tue 9th June 2015
Hammer and Tongue was created by Steve Larkin 12 years ago and has now become entrenched in Oxford’s cultural landscape. It’s poetry, but not as you know it, it’s raucous and democratic, with random audience members deciding which performers rise to the top. At its best, Hammer and Tongue gives you surprising or uproariously funny performances, at its worst, formulaic preaching-to-the-choir stuff, but its hit and miss quality is part of its charm. With sets lasting a maximum of three minutes, there’s no time to get bored either.
Last night’s final was typical, going from the sublime with Rehema Njambi, a performer whose raw honestly made the room stand still, to the awkward humour of Ken Rich (‘where do you put those beads / up there / I see / Indeed’). There was Lucy Ayrton’s gorgeous ode to her bike, which she loves ‘like festival goers love a yurt’, to Webster's grosser interpretation of love ‘when the apocalypse comes, may you graze on each other’. Tony Bicat gave a moving account of cancer, ‘an egg that may be hatching’. Paul Fitchett explained that in Oxford you can tell the weather by the tourists, before launching into a rousing anti-racism poem. The showstopper of the night for me, probably has to be Dan Holloway’s rant against professors believing dead poets are safe, listing all the ways in which they are perverse before ending: ‘Dead poets are pleasant… / You know fuck all about the past / just like you do about the present.’
The featured performer, Sally Jenkinson, hailed from Doncaster, and performed only a handful of poems, most of the time being taken up by (often funny) preambles. Her standout poem, titled ‘Not so bad’, about northern ways of expressing love and happiness, ‘mining love from the grey days’, was just the right side of adorable. She also performed a poem about two people in a relationship not being in love ‘this is not love that you can pack into tupperware’, which I liked until its overly predictable ending:
‘This is not love
This is not
After two rounds of poems, the top three performers were Rehema, Dan and Ken, who each had to perform a final piece. Dan chose Hungerford Bridge, a poem that captures the feeling of stillness that comes from being in love:
‘Like balletic bullets in a John Woo film
We toured the stillness.
Skateboards and blades played our private soundtrack
Scored from the clacketing
Backbeats of the Thamesside track.’
Rahema performed a poem about her church community, admitting ‘there are times I don’t feel forgiven’. Ken gave us a poem about hair in its various guises. When the total number of points added up, Ken emerged victorious.