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Review: The March Gulb Slam

An afternoon at the Gulbenkian café sees the cluttering of knives and forks accompanied by the warm whistle of the espresso machine, providing the soundtrack to conversations which can’t help but fall into banality.

The evening is when this place thrives. There’s wine.

Apart from wine, there is laughter and self-reflection prompted by stories ranging from Cal Harris’ nan to Calum Collin’s vampire girlfriend. The night of Wise Words’ monthly Gulb slam saw red, white and rosé dancing in the glasses of a crowd as they visited laughter, seconds after empathy took a hold and shock followed suit. A crowd tangled by emotion from the immensely diverse art that is performance poetry. A smaller crowd than usual, granted, but regular host Dan Simpson created an atmosphere which would fill you no-shows with envy.

Kicking off the night of poetry, Dan presented a hilariously relatable series of small-talk E-mails, beginning the slam in typical jovial fashion before handing the torch over to this month’s feature poet: Stefan Gambrell. Stefan’s Every voice added is another voice heard placed his personal experiences of bullying into poem form, taking us back to his schoolboy days as he considered some of the wrong choices he made. His delivery defined passion as he enunciated every word, allowing his story to seem as authentic as he intended. I couldn’t help but think back to my childhood, which is the highest praise I can offer. A poem that sparks introspection is an effective one.

From then the evening took a turn which truly highlights the variety of the Gulb Slam. We were greeted by a poet whose tongue was bitten off by his vampire girlfriend, followed by one who had experienced his nan’s fall into dementia, leading to a concise digression on the universality of God. Music by Phoebe Warden followed the break, an acoustic set which allowed me to consider the venue. A small, intimate café. Low lighting. Like-minded people looking for topics that will not only make them laugh, but think. Phoebe’s words did just that, they made me think.

On with the poetry as the second part of the slam started with family, touching on the interconnection of lives. Sitting there in the crowd you could really connect with the poem: a range of strangers with varying interests somehow ended up in this one room, laughing and considering the same issues as you. I felt like I was a part of something. What followed this was the poem that entertained me most on the night, a list of middle-class considerations: “Darling, when should we put the bunting up?”. A scathing analysis of India’s beauty industry preceded a thought-provoking comment on the sun, the earth and our place on it.

Headliner Adam Kammerling concluded the evening with a hilarious ‘ethical mugging’, complete with muggers providing him, the victim, a reclaim form in case he wishes to appeal the mugging. Brilliant. After addressing the memories left in London’s no-longer-used phone boxes and an ode to a squirrel, Adam changed form completely and acted out an excerpt from his own physical theatre piece. He scrutinised the conventional ‘hero’ present in the media and eradicated stereotypes associated with boys and men in a fashion which was not only captivating but engaging. The fourth wall was broken with great effect, as Adam brought up a chair from the audience and simply talked to us – inviting us into the world he had created.

Overall, The Gulb Slam achieved what it achieves month after month and questioned what poetry actually is. Newcomers always leave with a new found impression of poetry, so if you’re the kind of person who thinks rhyming couplets and flowery language when anyone mentions poetry to you, I highly recommend going next month. I’ll see you there.

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