Journal : SoapBox Poetry Competition

Finding new talent at Rhyme Scene spoken word open mic, held in Pump & Grind (Ipswich)

If we are friends online, then you probably already know I have dislike for competitions in the arts. It started off as a grumble a few years ago and has continued to grow into a definite dislike. Why? Most are terrible. Badly run. Barely disguised money-making schemes (pay to enter, sell tickets to your mates). Mostly they are actually marketing and promotional campaigns for Festivals disguised as a search for new talent. Search for new talent? Go to a gig. Often it’s like judging a spoon against a hat. There is no comparison between the two. How do you judge a live electronic artist against a folk singer? And of course there is the inherent judge’s bias, their knowledge, skills and experience. Inevitably they will come with their own likes and dislikes. It’s even more frustrating when they won’t tell you who the judges are! Why are they qualified to judge? Tell me.

Yesterday I ran my first poetry competition. You hypocrite I hear you cry! Yes. I am human. One of humanities greatest (and most underused) skills is the ability to change our minds. I changed my mind. I took all of my complaints against competitions and tried to run one that didn’t do any of them. It was an experiment to see if it was possible. The competition was run in conjunction with a brilliant (free entry) spoken word open mic called ‘Rhyme Scene’ run by Em Bea, on the second Wednesday of the month at the wonderful Pump & Grind (Ipswich). Do go and get involved if you are nearby. Its worth your time and effort. This is how the first ever SoapBox competition worked.

All of the participants in the open mic could cast one vote for their favourite performer of the night. They could not vote for themselves. Every vote was free. By getting on stage and taking part you earned a vote. Simple. Friends, family, punters: none of these were allowed to cast a vote. This was not going to be another popularity contest. I like this idea. It became a peer-judged event about who did best on the night. No one was made to enter or vote,, and performers could say they didn’t want to participate and that would be absolutely brilliant too. Open mics are most importantly of all, about getting involved, learning your craft, trying out new material, meeting other passionate performers and participating in a friendly community of artists. Rhyme Scene is one such example of an excellent open mic that cherishes their participants and celebrates live literature in all its forms. Poets, rappers, storytellers and ranters, all are welcome. 

The reason I feel that this competition was very much needed in Suffolk was to create paid performance opportunities for emerging poets and spoken words artists. There just aren’t many paid slots for poets in this region, at all, let alone for new performers entering the craft. The winner of the competition got a paid slot at the SoapBox Poetry Club, on the last Wednesday of the month at the incredible John Peel Centre, supporting one of the UK’s best spoken word poets.

It was magnificent. It was tons of fun. It was pressure free, silly, entertaining, heart-warming and soul lifting. By way of thanks, everyone who performed got a free SoapBox tote bag and a hug. Everyone who took the stage was a winner in my book and that’s part of the reason I didn’t vote. The other reason is that I forgot. I was just having so much fun and was completely absorbed in everyone’s words. There were so many damn great words spoken my brain was fully occupied with their awesomeness. Thanks again.

(Drum Roll) Congratulations to Keith Sadler, the winner of the first ever SoapBox Poetry Competition. Keith is a new spoken word performer and this was his fourth ever gig.  He totally blew everyone away at Rhyme Scene last night. His short story was truly brilliant and had everyone in the room engaged, even the rowdy lot at the bar. And you know something special is happening when the whole room pays attention. Just after he started my poet friend Dan Clark tapped on the arm and said ‘this is a moment’ and he weren’t half right. It felt like a poet had been born in front of our eyes.  Keith is well known and loved in the community as a singer songwriter. I have no doubt his years of experience performing to people would have served him well, even in this context, but spoken word is very different and presents its own challenges. I’m not going to tell you anymore about the story he told because its very new and I don’t want to ruin it for you. My advice? Go see him live. He will be performing at the SoapBox Poetry Club on Wednesday 28th September at the John Peel Centre, where he will be supporting the incredible Jess Green. Congratulations Keith. Congratulations to everyone who took part, supported, compered, organised, smiled, laughed and clapped. A great night that I am proud to have been a little part of. 

See you at the next SoapBox Poetry Club on Wednesday 29th June with Salena Godden, at the John Peel Centre (Stowmarket), and at the next Rhyme Scene on Wednesday July 13th at Pump & Grind (Ipswich).

Thank you to DrayZera for the photograph.