Hysteria is an art collective and performance night featuring women, non-binary and trans creatives in Aberdeen, which held their first ever competitive poetry slam on Thursday 13 August over Zoom. Founded by Hanna Louise and Mae Diansangu, Hysteria prides itself on elevating marginalised voices. Since Hysteria hadn’t been charging their regular fee for events over lockdown, there was a fundraiser on GoFundMe in order to compensate the four judges and the slam winner, who would also go on to compete at nationals.
The quality of the work showcased at Hysteria has always blown me away, and I was sure that it would be even better with the competitive element. Fifteen people signed up for the first round – which would then become eight, three, and the final winner. Katharine McFarlane, the reigning champion of the Scottish National Poetry Slam, performed before the start of the first round and during intervals.
The crackly virtual medium, prone to freezing in the middle of sentences, could never defeat such talented performers, whose poems spanned topics from gay shirts to cup ramen to the fetishisation of black women. The imagery used was unlike anything I’d seen at Hysteria before. Aleks Ka’s line, “Everything I say is featherweight and kindly disregarded,” had a power that only Rudy Punchard’s, “I created an armour of Marvel pictures and Dr Who stickers,” could match. Rudy’s theme of armour protecting them from unwanted attention culminated in, “My armour had to grow legs, I wore trousers the rest of the year.” The first round also featured Elizabeth McGeown’s univocal poem. The only vowel she used was ‘I’, in whichever way it allowed, for example, “My clinic is crying, is shy, sinking ship splits. Brightness will limit this clinic.”
The second round predictably started late as the judges had a tough time eliminating people. It was full of heavy topics and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Noon Salah Eldin’s poem about immigration ended with, “My birth home doesn’t call me daughter anymore. This land doesn’t call me daughter either. I am only daughter to the Nile.” Courtney Stoddart spoke about patriarchy and charisma, which was summed up brilliantly in the line, “Your words are so fine but in your mouth are blooded teeth.” The theme of patriarchy was carried into the next poem by Angela Joss, about a buddleia tree. Although the tree was cut down, Angela was, “rejoicing always that she lived there, my friend.” This was a really interesting change from Angela’s equally brilliant poem about discovering that her partner was sending dick pics to other people.
Before the final round, Katharine McFarlane performed her poem “Spacey,” which began with a line appropriate to how the finalists must be feeling; “I have climbed a mountain that started as a path amongst trees.” Noon went first, and her poem was as full of agency as her last one, as she said, “I am no man’s colony, filling my sweet cells with gold for your gloved white hands.” The theme of the Nile was brought back here, as she asked, “What do you see when you look at me? […] The Nile in my veins? The rainbow in my dress? A black warrior goddess?”
Ellie’s poem was about navigating gender dysphoria in their relationship, using the metaphor of a puzzle piece to represent the disconnect they felt. One of the last lines that hit me hard was, “Scrape at the bottom of your eyes for a glance of your past doting.” I think Elizabeth’s poem was about getting a ticket to a kink event, but I couldn’t be sure. That was probably the point of the poem, since kink is so stigmatised. I just know the phrase “cable ties” was in the poem.
Katharine performed one last poem about being worried for her daughter’s safety in the final interval. The judges deliberated over the winner for so long that the audience asked for a coin flip when they revealed that they’d narrowed it down to two people. Shortly after, they announced Noon as the winner. I wish her the best of luck at nationals and I hope to see her again at Hysteria once we’re allowed back to a world with no freezing screens.
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