Hammer & Tongue Interview

Fancy yourself as a budding poetry slammer? Best get yourself down to a Hammer & Tongue night where would-be poets are invited up on stage to “slam” their finest words. We sat down with Hammer & Tongue promoter, Michelle Madsen, to find out exactly what the night entails…


Land of Kings: What sparked the idea to set up a poetry slam competition?

Michelle: I went to a Hammer & Tongue Four Nations slam in Oxford and was blown away. I couldn’t believe poetry could be exciting. So I started up Hammer & Tongue in London when I moved back here from the Middle East in 2007. Poetry slam started off in Chicago in 1984 when Marc Smith hosted the first slam at the Get Me High Lounge. There are slam organisations all over the world now but it’s still biggest in the US.


LOK: Talk us through briefly how the slam works

M: 8 poets, 5 randomly selected judges from the audience, 1 or 2 hosts, lots of energy. Each poet has 3.5 minutes to wow the crowd with their words, which have to be original and unassisted by props. The judges give each slammer a score out of 10, to 1 decimal place (think Olympic ice skating) and poets get docked one point for every 10 seconds they go over time. A scorekeeper then adds up the middle three scores (we removed the top and the bottom score to knock out any unfair bias) and the poet gets a score out of 20. The poet with the most points wins.


LOK: What’s the poetry scene like in East London – are there many budding poets desperate to get slamming?

M: Loads that we know of but even more that we don’t! The poetry scene is more developed in South London at the moment, and in Camden and central London but more and more nights are starting all the time.


LOK:Is there anyone who’s making a particular name for themselves in East London as a one to watch?

M: Adam Kammerling, he won the Hammer & Tongue Hackney championship in January and just took the national crown. He’s brilliant.


LOK: The slams cover a pretty diverse range of subjects – what’s the strangest/funniest poem anyone’s ever done? What was the response like?

M: A guy performing a poem in dolphin. He won.


LOK: How competitive does it get? Are people properly spittin’ rhymes like in 8 Mile?

M: Slams attract lots of rappers and ex-MCs… when you’ve got Chester P on stage it’ll get competitive. Brighton slams are famously competitive… we even host a night called Poets vs Mcs… not to be missed.


LOK: What’s your favourite Dalston hotspot and why?

M: The Old Boys Club, because they let me cook in their kitchen and you never know quite what to expect.


Hammer & Tongue takes place at Land of Kings on Saturday 5th May