Poetry Idol

Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

29/06/2012 - 29/06/2012

Toto’s restaurant: Monte Cristo Room, Auckland

15/05/2009 - 15/05/2009

FUEL Festival 2012

Production Details


Poetry Idol, the wild child brat of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival is back, and she’s even more precocious than ever.

After audiences spilled out onto Queen St, punters were turned away and there was tears before bed-time, it was decided Poetry Idol had to move to a bigger venue.  So the delinquent spoken word battle of Auckland’s premier performance poets has been moved to a shiny new home in the Montecristo Room at Totos Restaurant.

Still, be prepared to queue out the door or camp overnight to get a seat. A night of feverish lyricism, hallucinatory language and astounding nouns and adjectives, and that’s just from the judges: American Poetry Slam Empress Sonya Renee, our own Glenn Colquhoun, and the irrepressible Iggy McGovern from Ireland.

MC: the inimitable Penny Ashton.

A Poetry Slam with a twist, Poetry Idol will pit the performers against each other under the watchful eye of the three celebrity judges. After each round the judges will offer advice to the budding bards as to how to improve for their next round BUT those who do not make the grade will be eliminated along the way.

In the end two poets will face off for a final and the audience will cast the deciding votes.

Hosted by one of New Zealand’s leading Performance Poets, Penny Ashton, Poetry Idol promises to be a sizzling night of live literature.  Joining Penny, a regular commentator on National Radio and Breakfast TV, at the judges’ table are international Poetry Slam Sensation Sonya Renee (Winner of 2004 North American Slam Champs) our very own Doctor of Verse Glenn Colquhoun and Ireland’s irrepresible Physicist cum poet Iggy McGovern from Trinity College.

Last year saw Grace Taylor, a youthline worker take first prize and Hip Hop Poet Tourettes take out second.  This year expect to see poets from all walks of society pitch their souls into the mix to see who you the audience votes the victor.

Date: 15 May
Time: 08:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Venue: Toto’s Montecristo Room – 53 Nelson Street


A POETRY SLAM WITH A TWIST, Poetry Idol will pit the performers against each other under the watchful eye of three celebrity judges. After each round the judges will offer advice to the budding bards as to how to improve for their next round BUT those who do not make the grade will be eliminated along the way.

In the end two poets will face off for a final and the audience will cast the deciding votes.

Hosted by one of New Zealand’s leading Performance Poets, Penny Ashton, Hamilton’s first ever Poetry Idol promises to be a sizzling night of live literature.

This year expect to see poets from all walks of society pitch their souls into the mix to see who you the audience votes the victor.

Poetry Idol – Can you Make the Cut?

Audition times will be allocated (five minutes each) on Saturday June 23rd from 12pm at the upstairs lounge in the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts up at The University of Waikato.

To register for an audition time, please email poetryidol@fuelfest.co.nz with POETRY IDOL in the subject line. Include your name and phone number, and MC Penny Ashton will contact you direct with an audition time.

We recommend you register your interest before Thurs June 21st  to be sure of an audition time. Only ten performers will qualify –  so get practising NOW!

1st Prize – $500

Event: June 29th, Meteor Foyer, 9pm

Advance Bookings: www.fuelfest.co.nz

“Poetry Idol is a blast, taking the love-it-or-hate-it artform to a new level” – Theatreview  

Performance Poetry ,

2 hours going on 3

Heart-felt passion wins the night

Review by Liza Kire 30th Jun 2012

After six successful years at the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival, the first Hamilton Poetry Idol took place last night at the Meteor Theatre, hosted by Penny Ashton as part of the Fuel Festival 2012.

The red-lit atmosphere in the Meteor theatre set the stage for new and old poets from Hamilton and Auckland to present their interpretations of performance poetry. There were three judges: MC Karmin (hip-hop MC and poet), Grace Taylor (Auckland’s second Poetry Idol winner) and the colourful character that is Graeme Cairns, more commonly known as his performance name, Laird McGillicuddy of Hamilton.

Penny Ashton was the first to take the stage as the sacrificial poet with an angry lady rant about being called fat by an audience member. The poem full of laughs and expletives promised a great night of spoken word and her delivery, although hindered by a sore throat, was still as explosive as Penny Ashton would have it be.

Each of the judges listened through round one, which saw ten contestants take the stage and perform a poem of their choosing. They wowed the audience by taking us to places, within our own minds that made us think, relate, laugh and even cry. The judges offered excited responses which were sometimes positive and sometimes more constructive advice.

No two performers were the same. There was a performer on crutches, one who took his shirt off, a Welsh woman with an awesome accent and even a dreamy Indian woman who seemed to put the room into a relaxed trance whenever she spoke. 

The judges were then required to deliberate and whittle the ten down to five. The second round had performers pulling out the big guns, some with politically inspired stanzas which once again left everyone in the Meteor with a lot to think about. In between rounds, during the ‘drinks break’, we got to witness performances from the judges and secretly critique them in turn.

After the second round two finalists were chosen: Mr Moody Hikmet and Miss Kashka Tunstall.

Moody was first in the head-to-head battle. Having recited a round one poem about Spiders and Genocide, then delivered a round two poem about how he would change things if he were God, he chose to leave the audience thinking about how we can sometimes to be so sheltered within ourselves that we can’t express to someone how much we truly love them, so we sit and love from afar.

Kashka captivated the audience and performed every poem she with a passion that showed hard work and dedication to an art she obviously loves. Kashka started the night with a poem about wanting a bike for her 21st birthday present. We were left considering possibilities and – along with Kashka – asking the why nots and the how comes. Her round two poem, about how she cosmically got her name, was full of culture and had such a delicious richness to every word that everyone in the room was left hoping their name had been created in a similar way. 

The night ended with Kashka performing a poem about the heartaches and heartbreaks that come with being a survivor of cancer. She threw her heart out onto the stage in every performance and the audience threw theirs back. Thus Kashka Tunstall was named Hamilton’s first ever Poetry Idol winner.  


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Pressure-cooker environment produces a blast

Review by Nik Smythe 17th May 2009

Compere and brainchild behind the Poetry Idol phenomenon Penny Ashton addresses the raging capacity crowd in the Monte Christo Room, introducing the judges and breaking the ice with her own distinct brand of scathingly humorous verse on the topics of prehistoric sex and love turning into hate, respectively.

It’s surprising, in a culturally heartening way, to see such solid support for the performance poetry form, often derided in the discourse of favoured artforms in the ultra-stimulated playground of humanity. 

Ten contestants in the first heat battle it out with 3 minutes each, to impress the three guest-of-honour judges:  Dublin Trinity College professor Iggy McGovern (not a joke – this is the writers’ festival not the comedy one), local ‘Verse Doctor’ Glenn Colquhoun and big, black and vocally libidinous Sonja Renee from Washington D.C. (am I imagining it or does Ashton take on a slight American accent when introducing her?)

There are two key differences between the formats of the celebratedly tacky ‘Idol’ shows and this incarnation.  The first is that, thankfully, there isn’t a singularly obnoxious devils-advocate critic on the end of the line of judges; in fact they alternate the order they respond in.  Second, an aspect that could possibly augment the already engaging proceedings, whereby the poets remain on stage to receive the critiques of their esteemed judges.

The order is randomly selected by hat-draw.  No-one wants kick off a gig like this, yet no-one else can go until someone’s gone first… thus, Sabrina Muck steps up and valiantly delivers a reasonably arresting piece lamenting the derision of strong women and kind men in modern culture.  The approving judges acknowledge her initial mild wavering as typical opening-act nerves.

Second on the block, Jai McDonald performs a wit-laden composition about his ‘tools of creation’.  Professor Iggy compliments the use of hands (i.e. the tools referred to in the title) adding a visual element to the poetry, but Sonja warns him that it’s cool to be cool, just don’t be too cool. 

The 3rd poet, ageing bearded Mr. John Carr, first forgets his words and has to pull them out of his pocket, explaining to mirthful applause that he gets it perfect when he’s driving through the Panmure roundabout.  His amusing poem is then cut short after running somewhat over, and although everyone enjoyed his little turn, no-one expects to see him back for another round.

Poet #4, last year’s winner Grace Taylor gives a hearty testimonial for smashing stereotypes in a proudly local vernacular.  The judges salute her passion, Iggy commenting how daring it can be to tackle serious subject matter in this entertainment-heavy arena.

Next Tim Heath offers up a very clever poem "for the parents of teenage children"; an exasperated parental rant disguised as earnest poetry.  Satirical, ironic, well-written and well played; Heath has every such parent in the room nodding in related agreement. 

Murray Lee then brings diagrammatic recital of a "dramatic tale of stabbing!"… His distinctive posture and expressive eyes lend appeal to the performance but he takes a bit long to get into his rhythm. 

Up at no. 7, Brad McCormick is probably the audience favourite.  Preppy tailored check shirt and glasses seem ideal as a costume for his heart-rending commentary on his first loves and pubescent struggles with acne.  Roundly approved by judges and crowd alike, there’s a satisfying completeness to McCormick’s package… By which I of course mean the combined elements of the piece – not comedy, remember!

Anaise Irvine presents probably the most serious poem of the evening: ‘Broken Little Girl’.  Vivid character depiction and a redemptive conclusion are considerably engaging but you can’t shake the feeling that, comedy or no, humour holds a great deal of sway in the judging of such contests.

Number nine, Georgina Monroe, has comparatively droll observations on the similarities between ostensibly different people.  Her writing is up there with the best, but the judges all want to see her get more into the delivery – as Sonja puts it: "Give yourself permission to own your poem."

Final first round contestant Courtenay Meredith explodes off the stage with ‘Rushing Doll’, examining the many facets of her identity with the passion and poise of the consummate performance poet.  The women, while by no means humourless have certainly provided more degrees of earnestness overall, suggesting perhaps more maturity and confidence as serious poets.

Each judge offers up some of their own verse between heats, providing distinct styles of exemplary performance poetry.  Professor McGovern begins with a couple of limericks and an extended introversion which rhymes together pretty much every word there is ending with ‘am’. 

After the semifinals Dr. Colquhoun expounds an altogether more dramatic piece wherein the great Irish warrior Cu Chulainn faces off against Tumatauenga, the Māori war god.  Finally, as the audience votes between the two finalists are counted, Sonja Renee regales us in a tribute to her Pentecostal roots, with a poem about playing tag and everything that tag is about.

Back to the semis, in summary:  Taylor, Meredith, McCormick and Heath are invited back to the stage accompanied by the biggest surprise choice, John Carr: ‘I was rung on my mobile driving through the Panmure roundabout on the way home!’ 

Also first up, Carr once again runs long but no-one’s unentertained.  Courtenay Meredith‘s ‘Auckland is Talking About Me’ sparks with the expressive lyricism we have quickly come to expect.  Grace Taylor follows with similar intensity in a piece about not being her past, enjoyed by all though the judges felt she isn’t owning her message as much as she could. 

Tim Heath then changes the mood in an amusingly touching ode to the untrained beauty of the nasturtium weed, leaving popular sensitive nerd Brad McCormick to bring our attention to the plight of ice-cream eaters in the face of global warming. 

And then there are two, finalists that is. Courtenay Meredith and McCormick are my picks but the latter is sadly passed over for… you guessed it, John Carr, proving that competence and professionalism aren’t necessarily your most important assets when you can work an audience like silly putty in your hands.

Their final pieces, voted for by the audience, are as different as each of their previous entries; Courtenay’s staunchly endearing, cross-cultural dramatic power vs. Carr’s cheeky satirical commentary on domestic affairs.  He has a tendency to slip into an American-sounding vernacular, but this doesn’t stop him taking away the grand prize. 

Perhaps the presence of the comedy festival is an influence on such ceremonies, or maybe it’s inevitable with such a large crowd – the largest and loudest I’ve personally witnessed at a poetry reading – that the zeitgeist will lean more towards humorous intent than dramatic flair. 

The whimsical, unmeasurable qualities of poetry combined with the variant personalities assessing the works in this pressure-cooker environment mean that anything could happen really, and the final result is a case in point.  

All triumphs and upsets aside, Poetry Idol is a blast, taking the love-it-or-hate-it artform to a new level; making it perhaps more accessible to previous detractors. 
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