Call it a sheltered upbringing but I'd never been to a performance poetry gig before. Those in the know describe Hammer & Tongue as 'the best' so it seemed a good place to pop my live poetry cherry.
Started in Oxford, Hammer and Tongue has spread to Bristol, London, Brighton and Cambridge. The format is a quick-fire poetry battle where performers get scored by members the audience. My thinking was Hammer and Tongue would be like rhyming stand-up comedy, and, as mentioned in a previous review, there are few things worse than bad stand-up. So I entered Oxford's Old Fire Station with both excitement and trepidation.
First on was Edinburgh Festival sell-out Rob Auton. There can be few people who can call themselves a 'professional poet' - Auton is one of them. His demeanour was endearingly unassuming but his banter was smart and funny and his poems were somehow both touching and absurd. Next came the 'slam' - following Rob was never going to be an easy task - luckily the masterful Stroud poet Jonny FluffyPunk was there to show the way. There was something unexpectedly and inexplicably soothing in his poem about giraffes and Hitler.
Seeing him and Auton I started to feel that live poetry might not be just for laughs - that it might address deeper issues in a way comedy rarely can. Clare Ferguson-Walker continued in this vein - 'The man who wanted to be a chaise longue' seemed pure comedy gold but contained an unexpected parting wisdom (I won't spoil it for you!)
The best of a varied but accomplished bunch of poets who followed were Peter Norris (not his real name) and his incongruously touching ode to being a horny but ageing gay man. My favourite however was the understated Dave Allen (not that one) whose poem married references to masturbating and pearl necklaces to the infinitesimally small probability of his own existence - inspired!
It seems Hammer and Tongue poetry slams reflect life - laughter is important but it's not all there is.