Last night I took the train (yes! there and back! and only slight delays!) to Hastings to Slam Dunk, a regular poetry night at the Printworks, where Hastings Stanza rep Antony Mair was doing a set.
Although it’s not far away, Hastings is still a bit of an unknown quantity for me, but it has an unmistakeably youthful and creative vibe that’s irresistible. There’s an edge to it too – and my first challenge was to find the way in, which turned out to be down a dark alley and without any external signs…a cross between a speakeasy and some sort of squatters’ den – ha! (The experience reminded me of a ‘foreigners only’ bar in Rome about 30 years ago where you had to know the correct (unmarked) door to knock on, and someone slid open the hatch to check you were a) not Italian and b) not male. Men were allowed but only in the company of a woman, and in the proportion one-man-one-woman. I don’t think Rome was ready for any other relationship possibilities in those days. It sounds bizarre but for me as an eighteen-year-old alone in a foreign country it was a ‘safe place’ away from the pests that followed a girl everywhere.)
Anyway, I was rescued by Judith who appeared at what I took for the emergency exit. The room turned out to be one of those cavernous industrial spaces taken over by artists and the hipster crowd – girders/concrete/crittal windows/bar made of chipboard/Edison lightbulbs etc – and buzzing with energy. The Hastings Stanza poets were there in force to support Antony – a few of us for the first time – and in fact the intrepid Roz Balp took part in the open mic with a high degree of panache (that’s her in the featured pic -trust me!)
The format was that open-mic-ers each read one poem, and there was a time limit (two or three minutes – I missed the introduction so not sure) – and after each reader the audience got to give them marks out of ten, with deductions if they went over time. Somebody then did a quick calculation and came up with a number – I couldn’t work out the formula, but there was much cheering as ’24!’ or ’26!’ were announced. Another knockout round followed, with an eventual winner, then a generous break, then the first headliner poet (the previous month’s slam winner – in this case, Antony), then ANOTHER headliner…. and all over by 10pm.
I’m not a huge fan of open mics, but I thought the format worked well, discouraging the bores who only want to go on and on, and keeping the audience engaged with a bit of friendly competition and banter. People paid attention but there wasn’t the reverential hush of your typical poetry reading – the bar was busy and we were kept entertained with blasts from the Dyson hand dryer in the loos behind our table.
The audience was mostly young, creative types, but all ages seemed to be represented – quite a few people even older than me! Several of the readers were young men with beards, fabulously long hair, or both, most of them reminding Steph of her first husband. We had plenty of anti-Trump rhetoric, relationship angst and a surreal poem from Brian Docherty which appeared to be about aliens taking hostage a bloke who tells them Winston Churchill is dead, all taking place on the set of The Only Way is Essex. I may have got that completely wrong, but entertaining as always is Brian. The average age of the poets was significantly lowered by the presence of 15-year-old Ruby, who made it to the read-off with her excellently angry and witty poems. Such confidence! She would have known how to handle those groping Italians back in the 80s.
Antony presented another fine set, although at one point he had to call for the ‘live open fire’ projection to be turned off, in case he had an epileptic fit. It was a teensy bit of a shame though, as the room seemed decidedly chilly once we were no longer looking at the flickering flames.
Final poet of the night was headliner Sally Jenkinson, who was a new name to me – as she said herself it’s great to visit a part of the country you don’t know and to come across new people. In Sally’s case she’s from Doncaster, but has been living in Brighton a couple of years. She gave a strong reading and I liked her style. It’s not easy to go last and she kept us listening to the end.
Then I only had to wait ten minutes for The Train, which actually took me home, and my dear husband surprised me by meeting me at the station. Top night out!