18 October 2011
Posted in Books and Poetry
David Morgan (below, with fellow competitor Roberta Estrela D'Alva) explains how he came to be representing the UK at the slam poetry Coupe du Monde in Paris
Slam poetry and the performance poetry scene that it swims in is an extremely vibrant and popular branch of the poetry scene, arguably the most popular. When you consider its connections with hip hop and rap, it is definitely the branch of poetry that most connects with youth.
Some slam poetry can present as little more than comic verse or 'stand up poetry', but that is far from the whole story. As a popular art form that mixes speechifying with poetry, sentimentality and political sloganeering can also be weaknesses, but again, that is not the whole story. Within these weaknesses – and there are always weaknesses in any popular art form – are very many serious artists, quite a few of whom are starting to make their living as poets, teachers of poetry and hosts of poetry events.
All this has been going on for a while, but the scene in London has grown dramatically while I've been up in Newcastle - and the scene in Europe has exploded over the last ten years or so. Enter the Coupe du Monde...
The World Cup of Slam Poetry has been going for several years, getting stronger each year. It take place in Paris, organised by volunteers from the very active and widespread French slam scene. It has no funding from central government, but it does attract funding from a number of city governments. This is partly because it happens as a part of the French National Team Slam Competition, which includes 60 slammers from all over France (competing in teams of four, representing the best of various slam venues), and the Paris-wide School Slam, which has slam teams from both high schools and junior high schools from all over Paris competing.
We participants in the Coupe du Monde attended the final of the junior high slam as guests and it was amazing. The auditorium was full of kids who, between poems, waved their signs and pompoms and nearly shouted the house down; it could have been an American football game. Special mention should be made of the team from Mauritius. Yes, odd that they would be competing in a Paris slam, but they were. I talked to the guy who brought the team up and he told me that all 31 grade schools in Mauritius have slam teams and they all competed for the chance to represent Mauritius in the Paris slam, which they won, by the way.
The Coupe du Monde itself was 16 slam champions from countries around the world: Brazil, Gabon, Mauritius, Russia, Canada BC, Quebec, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Portugal, the Netherlands, Scotland, England, and of course, France. The US slam champion cancelled at the last minute and was represented by another poet. The Coupe du Monde flew us in, put us up in hostels or supporters' flats, fed us and in the course of the contest gave us one of the most inspirational poetry experiences of our lives. We performed the poems in our native languages and the poems, which had been translated ahead of time, where projected onto screens behind us as we spoke. The whole event got the kind of coverage in the French newspapers that an English poet could only dream of.
Roberta Estrela D'Alva
I work in a group Núcleo Bartolomeu de Depoimentos in Sao Paulo, a theatre hip hop company and a collective of artists of all kinds. We were developing work with the word, with rhythm and poetry. About ﬁve years ago, another group was doing work about racism and they wanted to put it into poetry and they asked me to do it. They wanted to use video, a DJ and for me to perform alongside. I was shown some videos about slam and the ﬁrst time I saw it I went crazy and thought: ‘This is amazing, I want to do this!’
I started to research the whole subject and stayed in New York where there are slams happening all the time. I ended up doing an 80-minute performance, the idea being to make people see without any video or pictures.
Slam is the sport of spoken word , you can’t do slam on your own, and I wanted to do some slam in Brazil. So we started Zap slam on a Friday night in December of 2008 and have carried it on once a month.
We have lots of cultural events in Brazal called sarau - itʼs a very verbal culture, this is done differently in different regions.
When I I found out about the Coupe du Monde I submitted my material and was accepted. It was an incredible experience - poetry 20 hours a day, crazy.
Different countries have different styles. South America has so much diversity and so much to do and struggle for. In Europe even if there is tension around immigration and race the basic conditions of medical care and education are there. In Europe I feel the weight of the years but at home we have this of foods and people and weather and space and the music and dance.
When I performed at the Coupe du Monde people said I was so expressive in my eyes and with my hands, like I was singing. But there is a secret – I am ﬁrst of all an actress (as well as a dancer and singer) and the type of theatre I do is very in-your- face and immediate. I look in peopleʼs eyes. And because in Paris my language was different I needed to use everything. I wanted them to understand what I was saying even if they didnʼt understand - not just the gestures by all the focus on the words and how I make them.
I have this poem called Voice To The Sea. It’s a trip, like the voice is walking, and she goes to the sea, the sea of the memory and someone said they came with me, they dived with me. I did nine poems over three different competition performances. But outside that we were performing all day.
In France the whole event is a big deal - 16 poets from all around the world, 60 poets from France and lots of the public come to watch. The energy was incredible.
Unfortunately I didn’t win! Itʼs very competitive and I was the favourite with the crowd and that makes it harder when you donʼt win. You also get very close as a community of poets, people who have no fear to share their feelings, putting their hearts out and it was hard when it ended. I cried for anight and a day when it was over.
I now have a lot of plans for work in Brazil, mainly to try and emulate stuff they do with children in France. They do these workshops with the children and got great poetry from them and they do the slam - itʼs something incredible and very cool.
What is beauitul about slam is that it grows in the middle of the city and it’s a place where you are quiet and take the time to listen to other people & you can go there and open your heart. It’s all about the community. People together.
Poetry is a way to organise your feelings and a way to change with others. Hearing is one of the most difﬁcult things to do. Not thinking what you will say next, not judging, just hearing.
David Morgan reached the semi-finals of the 2011 slam poetry Coupe du Monde, which was won by David Goudreault from Quebec. Roberta Estrela D'Alva finished third.