I arrived at the town of Swindon in a manner perhaps unbecoming of a poet, by hanging out of the window of the Intercity train as we pulled into the station. The church bells were ringing, which was weird. I remember thinking, hmm, that’s got to be some sort of omen. I kept looking around to make sure that nobody could see me hanging out of the window. I took my glasses off in case they fell on to the track. Nothing bad happened. Indeed, it was Quite Fun.
I booked into the Travelodge.
The reason for my visit was the Swindon Poetry Slam. For some reason I had signed up for it the moment I heard about it. There’s always something slightly comical about Swindon – and this is from a man who used to live within miles of Staines and Slough.
I arrived at the venue and was immediately comforted to see a framed photograph of Pam Ayres on the wall. Or Pam Ayres MBE, as the plaque so proudly declared. Yes, I thought. I already know what the audience will be like. They will be Ayresites. I should have rehearsed a poem about a cat.
The slam, as ever, was incredibly well run by Sara-Jane Arbury and A Man Who Wasn’t Marcus Moore. Spoz was energetic and funny and infectious and I immediately took to his shenanigans as he danced to the 1970s disco classics which were played every now and then between the rounds.
The first person to be picked from the hat was Nick Lovell, a friend of mine and a poet who I really admire, so it was a little sad to see him have to go first. Sure enough, the judges, not yet warmed up perhaps, gave the first three performers low scores, which in the case of Nick, I think, was totally unwarranted. He performed excellently and the audience loved his poem, and afterwards someone told me that it had been their favourite of the night.
I got picked to go up in the third batch and I let loose with The Straight Poem (which goes by the title of ‘Poem’). The audience seemed to like it a lot and I was selected from my group to go through to the semi final. There was a local poet, whose name, I believe, was Miles who had a considerable contingent of local supporters. He got a very good score indeed in his round, performing a poem about doing DIY while het up on caffeine, which I thought was the funniest thing of the night. However, amazingly, he did not get the highest score of his group.
Other highlights were a young lady by the name of Tina, who did a poem about poets and poetry and the whole meaning of it all, and a lady of advanced years and eccentric dress, who eschewed the microphone and performed to dead, purposeful and rapt silence. She was amazing.
Round two, then. And I started to panic a little bit. The audience seemed a tad conservative, and worse still, there was a small child in the row in front of me. I’d hoped to do the poem about sex. You know the one. With lots of references to rumpy pumpy and foreplay and things. And there was a small child in the audience.
I then remembered the poem I’d written during the April Poem a Day challenge about Swindon, which I’d re-written just a couple of days before. While everyone else went to the interval, I sat in the auditorium and hastily rewrote it, and used Wikipedia to check up on a couple of facts. It was the most frantic moment of the night!
For the next round, I was called up to go on third, and I did the Fozzie poem, known also as ‘Poem’. Oh yes, that old chestnut. My signature piece. By now I felt more relaxed and the audience loved it. Miles went next, to rapturous applause from his fans, and he did a poem which I thought was amazing. Then the Quiet Lady. Then Tina. And when they added up the scores, it was me and Tina in the final.
This was the worst part of the evening. I had no strategy. I could have done Beard Envy, but I didn’t want people to think it was a derogatory comment about the Austrian entry to the Eurovision Song Contest. (Seriously! That’s why I didn’t do it). Then I thought about ‘Camp Cat’, but the audience did seem rather conservative. The sex poem was out because there was a child there. So I decided to do the Swindon poem, which I’d only just written and never once performed.
I performed it well, I think, seeing as though I had no practice. The audience loved it. I think Tina thought it was some sort of cheap trick to ensure victory by reciting a tongue in cheek poem about how much I love Swindon. But then, perhaps it was. I was pleased with the way it went.
It was an excellent evening and I was very pleased with the way I’d performed. The highlight, though, was when a lady told me that the Straight Poem was the best one she’d ever heard, and another was when a young man told me that he’d cried with laughter during Fozzie. Such things made the whole train journey and the night in a Travelodge worthwhile!
I met the festival organiser afterwards. And in my usual jumbled manner I could only garble some nonsense about how nice it was that Nathan Filer would be there the next day.
And then I was interviewed by Radio Swindon. ‘What brought you to Swindon?’, the interviewer asked. ‘The train’, I replied, in a kind of Chris-Lowe-from-the-Pet-Shop-Boys manner.
It was a fantastic day. I rushed back to the Travelodge to watch the end of Eurovision.