There have been winners of Scottish Slam since misty days of yore and many fine and upstanding names amongst them. This site lists those who have won the Scottish Slam Finals since they emerged in their current form, in 2008.
- 2015 – Bram E. Gieben
- 2014 – Miko Berry
- 2013 – Carly Brown
- 2012 – Kevin Cadwallender
- 2011 – Young Dawkins
“My place in the 2011 Scottish Poetry Slam Championships happened by accident and circumstance. Nearing the end of that summer, I had competed in exactly one slam in my entire life, downstairs at the Jazz Bar on Chambers Street in Edinburgh. I didn’t make it past the second round. One of the judges, Kevin Cadwallender, kindly explained to me at the end of the evening what went wrong
“You weren’t very good,” he said.
I was done with Slams. But I loved the energy around the Scottish poetry scene, and especially the brilliant anarchy of the Fringe Spoken Word showcased so brilliantly at the Festival. I came along to friends’ shows, listened, learned things. Some of them asked me to do guest spots. Richard Tyrone Jones was Capo dei Capi of the spoken word universe that August, and he was especially kind to me. The very last performance of his “Utter” series promised the winner a spot in the Scottish Championships. Another friend, Bram Gieben, asked me to come along and give him support on the night.
So I did. One of the scheduled poets didn’t show up. Richard asked me if I would fill in. I did.
I won. First prize was a tube of breakfast sausage.
The night of the Scottish Finals at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow will always be a soft and lovely blur. To be in the company of such brilliant performers and poets – Jenny Lindsay and Jim Monaghan, to name two – was intimidating and cool. I had no expectations.
I won. I went to Paris for the Coupe du Monde de Slam, and had one of the most amazing weeks of my life. Later that year, I qualified again for the 2012 Scottish Slam Championships.
I didn’t win. Kevin Cadwallender did.
These days I live in Tasmania. In just a few weeks, I am the speaker of words in a first ever for this part of the world spoken word/jazz fusion performance along with six of the best musicians in Australia. I am listening to a lot of Gil Scott-Heron, early Kerouac, the music of David Amram.
Scotland comes with me.“
Letters From Paris:
June 2, 2011
I did not make it through the knock-out round. I lost by one-tenth of a point in the Round of Death. Someone asked if I felt bad. And I just don’t. Actually, I feel pretty good. I am in Paris. I have just competed, and competed well, against the best Slam Poets in the World. I have made new friends, and am going to take a few days to slow down, sit and drink wine at some sidewalk cafe. It was a long winter in so many ways, and for the first time in months, I can feel the sun.
June 4, 2011
Paris has a way of swallowing time. It seems like just hours ago that I arrived here, and now the final round of competition is on for tonight. I expect the Slammers to bring the stars down from the endless night sky, for them to steal the lights from the Eiffel Tower. Because this is the Coupe du Monde de Slam, and this is the real deal.
Tell Dorky Son that his father will be home soon. Tell him I have stories to share about beautiful people who know magic words, that angels and wizards really do exist. I know, because I have seen and heard them.
June 5, 2011
The champion is David Goudreault from Quebec. He was simply perfect, hit all three of his poems with calm, beautiful intensity. He is a good and true winner.
It was raining a soft June rain when I walked home to my hotel at 3 a.m. this morning, Paris cooling off after an unusually warm week. I like to think the poets from all over the world brought some of that heat with them, and that the rain was a graceful recognition that our competition has come to an end.
I am coming home now, back to Scotland. It will be good to be quiet and snug and safe, and to smile and remember this time, written with eloquence and passion forever in my heart.
- 2010 – Milton Balgoni
- 2009 – Mike Dillon
- 2008 – Graeme Hawley
“I released my first collection in 2004, Reclamation Marks, which set me up as a “page poet” (although I had no idea of any sub-categories of poetry at the time, and still feel unsure about these distinctions. I’ve seen far too many excellent folk that make a nonsense of the “divide” for it to make sense any more). To try and sell copies of the book, I got a performing slot outside St Giles Cathedral, and performed from the page. Jem Rolls passed, flyering for a performance night during the festival. “You should come along” he said. I went along and saw some great acts. I hadn’t seen this kind of thing before. Then, about a year later I saw a slam, and thought “I wonder if I should try that”.
I entered my first slam, the Big Word Slam in Edinburgh, in March 2006, and won it. I couldn’t believe it. Because I had won it I was included in the Scottish Team for the Three Nations Poetry Slam at the Bristol Old Vic in the September of 2006. I was on the team with Milton Balgoni, Jenny Lindsay, and Bram Gieben. We won it, beating England and Wales, although I mainly remember the trip for a minor security incident at Edinburgh airport owing to an amount of protein powder I was carrying.
Then, in March 2008 the first ever Scottish Poetry Slam Championships were held at the Mitchell Library, as part of the Aye Write Festival. There was a sense that poetry slams and performance poetry generally was becoming noticeable to a wider audience. It was an exciting time. An artist, Jenny Soep was live sketching. I performed three pieces, Ablution (firm toothbrush), Stick (pop videos), and Transport (Carly Simon), and won. It was a genuine surprise – there was so much good stuff that night. I remember that Stephen Barnaby came second, but can’t recall who came third. I mostly remember that I received £200, represented on the night by a giant comedy sized cardboard cheque. The real money didn’t arrive in my account for months. I was in my car, which was fortunate because it was pissing down and the cardboard cheque would have been papier mache by the time I got home. I gave Stephen Barnaby a lift home (I think he had a stupid sized cheque too) and we talked about bike riding ability as I recall.
I took part in the 2009 Championships the next year, by which time it had moved to the Mitchell Theatre and had an even bigger feel to it. I was very impressed by Robin’s organising of it. I can’t remember what I performed in the first round, but in the second round I did a silent typed piece onto a projector screen (Mute). I got a great score, but a reviewer for the event was disgusted that I had even been allowed to do such a thing at a spoken word contest. He might have had a point, but I mainly remember being fascinated at the growing passion with which people were engaging with poetry slams. Anyway, it got the highest single score of the entire night, and I came third over all, so… there?
I took a break from slams and began working on my next collection of poetry, simultaneously released as sleevenotes to an accompanying soundtrack of sympathetic sounds, called Sleevenotes with the band I formed with my partner. I returned in August 2012 to take part in the BBC Edinburgh Fringe Slam, won my heat and got through to the final with Rachel McCrum, Ross Sutherland, and Jenny Lindsay. Young Dawkins put on a superb slam. Jenny won, to everyone’s agreement and delight. I did a poem about a chemotherapy drug.
In October 2013 I won the Luminate Slam, which got me a place in the Scottish Slam Championships 2014. I came third, which I felt very fortunate to have done, because I thought the talent was incredible. Every poem from every competitor was worthy of winning. I remember Freddie Alexander’s Poppy poem having an atomic power in the room, and he didn’t even get through to the next round. This could have made me question the entire point of slams, but for the fact that the eventual winner was Miko Berry, with a truly wonderful sequence.
I think that might be my last slam, unless I have a batch of new material that I think might go down well. I am still trying to find the perfect way to present Sleevenotes, and despite having enjoyed slams, and been successful in them, they can restrict the kind of poetry you deliver. Building a set over 15 to 20 minutes is more useful I think. That said, if not taken too seriously, they are a brilliant way for poets to test out their stuff (in a pretty brutal fashion – slams are a pretty blunt feedback cauldron) and for audiences to hear new stuff. The big secret that the audiences are perhaps oblivious to, is the camaraderie amongst the “competitors”. You want everyone to do well, and the most important thing is to hear good stuff delivered well. And I feel really grateful to have heard the poems that I have heard in slams and felt those audience responses and shared them.
The cardboard cheque was about the size of a door and remained intact in the loft until autumn 2012 when we had to kitten proof the spare room by blocking areas off. We cut it up into bits and pieces. It was perfect.”
Check out more about Graeme, and Sleevenotes at www.colonpress.com