The Christchurch Poetry Slam finals at WORD Christchurch Festival 2021

I can’t tell you how delighted I am that WORD Christchurch Festival is finally here, thanks to a monumental amount of hard mahi by the organisers to reschedule the event in what must have been incredibly difficult circumstances. We owe them an enormous debt of thanks, and I for one am extremely grateful!

My WORD Festival kicked off last night at the Christchurch Final of the Poetry Slam in Foundation Café. I’d been at a virtual conference all day, so it was nice to get out into the real world for a live event, and I was not disappointed. The Slam finals have become an eagerly anticipated regular event at WORD, and this year the standard of poetry and performance seemed higher than ever.

For those who haven’t been to a Slam before, there are three rounds, with poets being judged from 1 to 10 on their performance by several randomly selected judges from the audience. The rest of the audience are encouraged to cajole and influence the judges with whoops and hollers of delight for their favourite poets, and the highest and lowest marks are removed before averaging the rest, which gives a fairly accurate indication of how the poem was received. Poets have a limited time (points are deducted for going over, but no one did). They aren’t allowed props, but they did use movement, gesticulation, and costume to augment their performances. I think I noticed a bit more rhyme than usual this year, although a range of different poetic styles was on display.

The poets were hugely varied in their approaches, but all were trying to win the audience over in some way, often with humour. There must have been at least three generations and several decades, between oldest and youngest, but all were clearly united by a love of the spoken word. They were preceded by the customary ‘sacrificial poet’, who this year was Liz Breslin, fresh from the screening of their documentary film Rail:Lines, which follows three poets on a ‘spoke’n’word tour’ of the Otago Rail Trail. Liz set the bar very high, with a 10 from one of the judges.

It was a high scoring contest. By the third round just three poets remained. It was a hard fought contest with powerful performances from all of them, but in the end the top spot was narrowly taken by Nathan Joe (not for the first time) with Ray Shipley and RikTheMost very close behind. Nathan took home a wonderful trophy made by local poet Melanie McKerchar (who has had some success of her own this year with the publication of her book ‘Nova With Toes Dangling in Super’), but all three of them qualify to go on and compete at the national finals, which will be held in Christchurch in February. They will be worthy representatives for our city. The best of luck to all of them!

There are lots more great poetry events to come at WORD Christchurch Festival 2021. If you can, I highly recommend trying to catch some of them...

You can see Ray and Nathan again at From Paycheck to Poetry: Living Wage Open Mic, along with Jess Fiebig and Erik Kennedy, at Little Andromeda on Sunday at 7.00 pm – 9.00 pm.

There will be lots of poetry (including Nathan again!) at the Foundation Pop-Up Festival (aka ‘The Not-Quite-New Regent Street Pop-Up Festival’) at Foundation Café this Saturday between 5.00 pm and 10.00 pm.

Lastly, a huge shoutout to Ciarán Fox and Doc Drumheller from Catalyst, who ran the competition so expertly, as they do every year. Doc will be ‘chopping the mop’ to raise money for the North Canterbury Cancer Society at the Victoria Park Band Rotunda in Rangiora this evening at 6.30 pm – 8.00 pm, with guest readings by several distinguished poets.

More poetry

More WORD Christchurch 2021