So, to further my training in the Force, I set myself some extra challenges.
First, at Hammer and Tongue Bristol, in October, I wondered if I could overcome the seemingly inherent ego-centrism of the solo performer i.e. me. I've seen others hold the stage with a transcendent grace. Wilf Merttens springs to mind. His whole stage presence and ease of being places him as the humble mediator between the audience and the poetic world of his genius. Could I do that? Could I present all these poems about me, and it not be about me?
The set was good. In my inter-poem banter I wanted more of a conversation, inviting audience stories on the poems' themes. But this turned out to be another form of ego-centrism, focussing on my re-learning how to communicate project rather than getting on with the business of delivering poems. I sat back to learn from the Master, Robert Auton.
At Oxford in December I tried again. Good poems. Good audience. Good welcome. Then my inner critic walked in, well, more, rushed in and stormed the stage, wrestled with me throughout my set until I yielded. I sat down to learn from the Master, Byron Vincent.
The next gig was the 10th Annual Poets v MCs in Brighton. This is my favourite gig of the year. It started in a packed-to-bursting Full Moon pub in Boyces Street early in the millennium, when Tom 'Hinesy' Hines, MC Brainiac and their Slip Jam B crew reckoned they could take on the might of Brighton's poets. That year the poets stormed it. A year later the poets thought they'd take on the MCs at their own game and eruditely attempted to 'diss' the MCs. The poets had underestimated the raw power, verbal aggression and quick wit of an irked MC. The battle has swung this way and that through the years, drawing bigger and brasher audiences, moving this year to the 600-punter venue, the Concorde II. Let me big this up again: Over 500 people to a local spoken word event! Come On!
In the first round poets and MCs get to show off what they do, to warm the audience to their cause. Then, after the MCs warm up their freestyling skills with a half-time cipher, the battle really begins. First attack came from cocky MC (and poetry slam champion) Adam 'the Rapper' Kammerling, with a lyrical dismissal of poetry events where all efforts, however feeble, expect applause, compared to a rap event where respect must be earned.
Skilfully diminishing the poets, Adam earned massive respect from everyone except the opponent who knows and loves him best, Rosy Carrick, to whom he had earlier let slip the nature of his attack, and who was therefore ready with a mighty parry. Unfortunate for the MCs, great for the show, this was not as great an own goal as a trio of freestylers, flapping without backing beats like fish out of rhythmical water, as they took what they knew about each individual poet and attempted to turn it into a rhyming insult:
'That Michael Parkerrrrr,
He looks like a geography teacherrrrr,
Well, guess what...
He is a geography teacher!'
And proud of it, gentlemen. Wrong emphasis on the insult, I think. And, while the team had done their utmost to steer away from comments that could be construed as lazy hate-speech,... as one of the crew grasped for a rhyme for Yvo Luna, out slipped an insult that came across as lame misogyny, the easiest way to alienate at least half of the audience. I was left to finish the battle, mop up the blood and broker peace terms with the survivors.
I have to say I stormed it, the poets stormed it, we all stormed it. This is what people thought:
I love this show. Knowing that the harshest critic is face-to-face with me, my inner one shuts up, my ego is unleashed and comes out roaring. And roaring, after all, is what I do best. I can do that without trying.