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BooksApril 28, 2016

Poetry Idol’s organiser is shocked and saddened to learn that slam poetry is “dumb-ass and not good”


Yesterday we published a furious denunciation of slam poetry which felt like it demanded a counterweight. Comedian and performance poet Penny Ashton – the founder of Poetry Idol – offered her services, and we gladly accepted.

Today I happily pulled on my bohemian attire – including a T-Shirt that says “Feminist Buzz Killing It” – and sat down at my computer to complete a heartfelt iambic haiku about my cat’s vague epilepsy. I was getting really excited by this piece as I really felt it was a coming of age for me and I had been furiously practising it. That is to say looking in the mirror and furiously shrieking the first few lines before hunkering down on the ground and raggedly whispering the next few lines, practising my squint. I find my performance poetry is greatly enhanced if I pretend I’m defecating. Which, thanks to my breakfast of vegan quornflakes and sugar-free almond milk, I usually am.

As per usual I first took a happy skip through the gloriously positive world of the internet, but was stopped in my finger tracks by a piece on The Spinoff all about slam poetry. As I read though, my excitement quickly dissipated into dust and it was as if a light had been turned both on and off in my soul. Due to this excellently researched and clearly very knowledgeable piece I suddenly realised the event I founded and spent the next ten years of my life promoting and MCing – Poetry Idol – was ridiculous.

The sell out crowds that have come for the past decade, some to every single event, were equally ridiculous. That the great institution known as The Auckland Writers Festival, were actually idiots to include us for ten years. I mean, when I think about it, it shows in their other guests. This year they have Gloria Steinem and two years ago they had some other raving feminist called Eleanor someone with a book about menstruation.

I was gobsmacked. Andrew Paul Wood has showed us all the error of our lyrical ways – and in fact I was so overawed by his talent I immediately realised I must quit. I will never be able to match the majesty of a piece headlined “Slam poetry is despicable and dumb-ass and not good”. When writers like he exist, myself and my band of shouty ladies, old doddery men, geeky white boys crying over being called pussies, and my favourite, Captain Neckbeard the pirate rapper must all shuffle off into oblivion.

Here’s me thinking Poetry Idol is giving a voice to a varied array of NZ writers and talent such as Zane Scarborough, Grace Taylor, John Carr, Whaitiri Mikaere, Amanda Kennedy, Tim Heath, Miriam Barr and Jai McDonald, all previous Idol winners. Here’s me thinking judges such as Tourettes, Sonya Renee, Rives, Tusiata Avia, Natalie Haynes, Julia Deans, King Kapisi and Graham Brazier were all having a wonderful evening of top entertainment.

BUT clearly that was me thinking dumb-ass and not good.

SO as of 2017 Poetry Idol will be no more. I cannot argue in the face of his mansplaining. I mean sure, the festival and I planned to make 2016 the last one anyway. What with a ten year run having had 99 poets strut their stuff to thousands of deliriously happy people, we felt that was a good place to end. It has been one of the most fulfilling and wonderful things I have ever created due to the amazing writing of all those contestants and the many more who didn’t make it through the auditions. I have laughed and cried due to their talents, as poetry has the power to turn words into darts that shoot under your skin. The technicians, admin staff, production managers and festival directors too must all be finger snapped for the huge amount of work they have put into making the event what it is; a wonderful happy poetry drenched buffet of meaty/vegany wordy goodness.

Well at least that’s what I thought – but thanks to Andrew Paul Wood I now realise it was all just one big Poetry Sham. Sigh.

Find tickets to Penny’s show ‘Promise and Promiscuity’ here. And her husband Matthew Harvey’s performance poetry and stand up show here.

The Spinoff Review of Books is brought to you by Unity Books.

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