by Anna Lumsden
On Thursday, as part of the Birmingham Book Festival, Fazeley Studios hosted Dice Slam: A Hit the Ode Special, featuring poets from eight different nations. Tucked away in the depths of Digbeth, the stunning venue is a beautifully bright, open plan conversion, complete with large art prints and boutique furniture pieces lining the entrance hall. The performance room was light but intimate, allowing the captivating poets to completely own the space with their work.
This poetry slam was competitive spoken word with a twist: each performance was awarded a score based on the role of a dice. This score was then justified or contested by a panel of judges, often with hilarious results. Throughout the evening, we heard poems from the UK as well as Germany, Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands, sometimes in poets’ native language. Subtitles for these poems were provided on a screen projection, allowing us to follow the content more closely. However, even where no translation was provided, the performances were just as powerful, perhaps made even more gripping by the intense focus on the rhythm, sound and delivery of the poem. Lisbon-based rapper ‘B-Boy’ Biru’s poems were especially fascinating, the patterns of his language having an almost hypnotic effect on the audience. This made clear the sheer power of spoken word as an art form, even when presented in an unfamiliar language.
Following many a ridiculous justification of the purely random and often disgraceful dice scores awarded to these fantastic poets, the audience voted for the favourite critic, choosing between Canadian writer Kimberly Trusty, writer and literature promoter Jonathan Davidson and Birmingham University’s very own (by this point rather inebriated) Luke Kennard. Jonathan Davidson had a clear victory, shown by the sea of yellow (or ‘gold’) vote cards wafted by the audience, and probably a result of his quiet, ironic charm when explaining the low dice scores to such stunning spoken word artists. All in all, the concept of this scoring system was of course ludicrous and completely inaccurate. It certainly made for great entertainment though, creating a brilliantly pointless competitive element to a display of so many talented poets. A great evening was had by all and, in the end, performance poetry was the true winner.