Amok Mama: Poetry vs comedy

One of the most fun things you can do in this country is to go to a poetry slam. Poetry slams are great. They're the most fun you can have, ever, without breaking the law and/or spending lots of money.

One of the most fun things you can do in this country, or, perhaps, to be more accurate, the world is to go to a poetry slam. Poetry slams are brilliant. They’re great. They’re fantastic. They’re the most fun you can have, ever, without breaking the law and/or spending over a hundred euros.

What happens is about 10 or 11 sexy German kids read out texts that they’ve written themselves. The rules are like: you have to have written the text yourself, it’s got to be under five minutes, and you’re not allowed to use props or wear a silly costume. Oh, and you shouldn’t sing, either. Then the audience decides who the best one was, either by clapping, voting with chips, or through a random jury who hold up numbers on a bit of paper like in ice-skating at the Olympics.

It is BRILLIANT. You should totally do it. Just go and watch, I mean, though taking part is also great. The first slam I ever took part in was in 2008, in Prenzlauer Berg. They had an electronic device there which could scientifically measure the audience’s approval through the decibels caused by their applause. I got 14.1. The next lowest score was 14.8. After that everyone had 150, 180, stuff like that. It was a highly humiliating and soul-destroying experience, but I’ve got better since then, and also they don’t scientifically measure the applause anymore which is a bit of a relief.

The thing is, although it sounds like there should be loads of poems – you’d be forgiven, honestly, for turning up to a poetry slam and expecting to hear some poems – most of the texts, not all, but most, are prose and nearly all of them are funny. Not all. But almost. And, ever since I started, everyone has been whingeing about it. I mean, not whingeing enough to actually start writing poetry or anything, but just generally whingeing.

“There’s more and more comedy at poetry slams nowadays,” they say, sniffing disapprovingly.

“Yeah,” someone else will say, sighing forlornly. “Comedy is just totally taking over. I mean, it’s meant to be a poetry slam, not a comedy slam.”

“There’s a place for comedy,” somebody else will say, kind of scornfully. “But there shouldn’t be too many comedy texts. That’s not the point of poetry slam.”

“When I first started out,” another person will say, “there was much poetry, and not prose. Those were the good old days.”

The thing is, I hate it when people say stuff like this, first of all, because when German people say the word comedy they sound a bit gay, they go like “COMitty” and they sound like dickheads, and also because I come from Britain and I think comedy is a truly wonderful, beautiful, almost spiritual art form. I mean, when it’s done properly, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world, just about. So I get a bit depressed during this conversation, and it does make it a bit worse when it happens every single week.

Still. Maybe they do have a bit of a point. Maybe comedy is just totally taking over. The other week, a German friend of mine, one who doesn’t speak much English, asked me what the difference between the word ‘poetry’ and ‘comedy’ was. And last week, when I put my son to bed, I read him a poem instead of a story.

When I was finished, he wrinkled his little button nose up thoughtfully, and said, in a bemused tone: “It wasn’t that funny, Mum.”

“Oh,” I said. “Poems don’t have to be funny.”

“They don’t have to be funny?”

“No. I mean, they can be funny, and they can rhyme, but they don’t have to. They’re just kind of like songs without music.”

“Oh. I thought they were funny.”

I gave him a kiss good night and went to switch the bedroom light off.

“Oh, I know what I was thinking of,” he said cheerfully. “A joke. I got poem mixed up with a joke!”