Watch the poetry commotion

14th March 2008 at 00:00
Words turn into an edgy spectator sport at Glasgow's annual poetry slam. Deedee Cuddihy reports

It is an afternoon of contrasts at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow on the first day of the Aye Write! book festival's schools programme.

In the Mitchell Theatre, almost 300 S1s from five Glasgow schools are assembled to take part in the festival's annual inter-schools poetry slam. "Slamming" is the competitive art of performance poetry, where there is a dual emphasis on writing and performing, and audience participation is a must.

School teams perform their own poems on stage, cheered on by their peers in the audience, and judged by a panel of experts who, at last Friday's Aye Write! competition, included River City actress Lisa Gardner (cue screaming and whooping from the kids).

The compere for the 2008 slam, Drew Taylor (a poet himself), looks suitably "cool" in cap, T-shirt, baggy trousers and stubble. He tells the audience there is a "no booing" rule, pointing out that it's very hard to stand on stage and perform.

Then it's on with the slam, the competitors performing in groups and solo, using movement and sound - feet stamping and hand clapping - to accompany poems about football, friendship, global warming ("Fancy limos and 4 by 4s; That's what's causing all our woes"), and the glories of fast food.

Meanwhile, in the awe-inspiring main hall of the library, hundreds of primary school kids sit quietly, waiting for a talk by Alex Nye, author of Chill, winner of a 2007 Royal Mail Children's Book Award. As she steps up to the lectern, Ms Nye's slight resemblance to Harry Potter's creator prompts one pupil to whisper: "Is that J.K. Rowling?"

After a reading from her supernatural thriller, set in an old mansion on a Scottish moor during a blizzard, the author reveals it was based on her own experience of living in a remote cottage near Dunblane during the winter of 1995. There the worst blizzard in almost 50 years left her and her young family without electricity or a telephone connection. She tells the pupils that, although she has been writing for 20 years, Chill is her first published book and it has taken seven years to get it into print.

Half the hall rises when she asks "anyone who enjoys writing at all" to stand up. "If you have the spark," she says, "buy a notebook and write down your thoughts and feelings. Or keep a diary. And if you're having a bad time, use your imagination to write a different ending."

Asked about her favourite books, the author mentions The Borrowers by Mary Norton, Midnight is a Place by Joan Aitken, anything by Enid Blyton and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, a book that made such an impression on her at 13, that at least one adult reader of Chill told her they had noticed the influence.

More hands shoot up, with kids wanting to know all, from whether she is writing another book (yes, the sequel is almost finished) to how much money she has made.

Back inside, the judges have made their decision and Lourdes Secondary are declared - to thunderous cheering - winners of the 2008 slam, thanks to Erin Green's Global Warming Wake Up poem.

Now in its third year, the Aye Write! festival is organised by Glasgow Libraries. The 2008 programme of events for schools is expected to top last year's audience figures of 10,000 plus.


Look inside your imagination

See what is destroying our nation.

Global warming like a disease

It starts from things like PS3s.

The cars are going to kill us all.

It's what will make our race fall:

Fancy limos and 4 by 4s.

They're what's causing all our woes.

The electronic generation

Might not live to see the 4th PlayStation.

The polar caps are melting quickly

But all we care about is playing skilfully.

WAKE UP and savour the sunshine

Because it might not be here for a long time.

Use your feet and feel the beat

And we can give our world a treat.

Our earth is not appreciated.

That's why our generation is slated.

Turn off the TVs when they're not used;

We can still stop the earth from being abused.

Erin Green, S1, Lourdes Secondary.

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