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REVIEW: The Real Slam Shady! The Cheltenham Poetry Festival Slam


Venue: The Cheltenham Playhouse


Advertised as “the bardic battle of the year”, 'The Real Slam Shady' pitted 15 spoken-word stars against each other in a slam-dunk performance at the lovely Cheltenham Playhouse.



Poetry often conjures up images of professors in tweed jackets, reciting Byron and Keats in a dry monotone. However, The Cheltenham Poetry Festival pleasantly surprised us on Friday night with 'The Real Slam Shady', the 'X Factor' of the spoken word scene.


Hosted by Nick Lovell and Clive Oseman, best known for their monthly poetry open mic night, 'Oooh Behive', the Slam welcomed audience members with years of rhyming experience and with no poetry knowledge whatsoever. Each poet came out on stage one at a time, the order of poets chosen by drawing names out of a hat in the shape of a squid (with flashing eyes!). Each poet got 3 minutes to recite a poem of their choice and were scored by judges in the audience.



The poems ranged from angry rants about a man in his van to beautifully poignant metaphors about LGBTQA+ and neurodivergent experiences. My personal favourite poems were a satire of an article about "how to prepare your flat for a visit from a man" (pro tip: nine cats is one too many), a story about how arduous taking the bins out can truly be, and a bittersweet emotional poem about transgender identity and being loved for who you truly are.


Poetry can be an extremely stirring tool for social change but can also be subjective, which can be off-putting to some. However, the best poems showcased real peoples' experiences in life, inviting the audience into their brains and seeing how they tick. The range of poetry styles showcased each performer’s talents as well as how the spoken word can be shaped and formed into something new in every artist’s hands, from super emotional pleas for human decency, to hilarious observations of holiday-goers and married life.

It was fantastic being in the audience for the Slam, as half the audience was made up of the contestants' friends and families, cheering them on and supporting each poet. Congratulations to the winners, but I think we can all agree that every poet deserved a huge round of applause.

I highly recommend visiting the Cheltenham Poetry Festival, even if you’re not a poetry person, as there truly is something for everyone.

Leah Clarke


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