Poetry slamming, Jantelov and aquavit

We’re served an aquavit, or snaps as we say, 13.41 in the afternoon on a Wednesday.. takes me back to Christmas traditions in Denmark, with the annual Christmas parties. Not entirely positive memories, since we tend to drink excessively and eat till we burst! But yeah, there we are. My classmate Mie and I have gone to see our classmate Jesper competing in a poetry slam competion that’s supposed to serve as the entertainment for the launching of the new Christmas Aquavit (which is a big deal here in Denmark, some aquavit lovers would argue).



The opening speech

     The CEO of Aalborg Akvavit, who produces the thing, gets up on stage and starts talking about the tradition of aquavit and why we were all gathered this day. Never mind that we didn’t know it was a launch off for this aquavit, we had just come to see our friend Jesper!

      In the 1800s, when snaps was first made, we weren’t very good at making aquavit. And it was serious stuff – up to 47,4%! They tried masking the flavor by adding a lot of Caraway, which is what today is the trademark of Danish Aquavit – loved and hated.
It strikes me as odd. Why not then remove that caraway, it takes horrible, and make a proper snaps in the first place! Oh well, they have replicated this original recipe and, it apparently won the “International Spirits Challenge 2016.”

     His spirits company was a great advocate for promoting danish culture, he underlined several time. High praise indeed! Spoken by the man about his own stuff. Not much modesty in the speech, definitely a speaker unfamiliar with how we dont like to boast up here in Northern Jutland. We have the (in)famous “Jantelov”, and oh the horrible things to befall a man who defies it and thinks he can speak highly of himself and drive a nice car for others to see. Obviously it’s a horrible cultural legacy that burdens us Danes.

     But it transitioned well into the final statement of the speech, about the poem on the back of the bottle written by local (culture award winning) rapper Johnny Hefty. And about how words in general have great power, to capture a mood and bring people together. Just like their aquavit was also excellent at making people talk, he added, as drinks were passed on trays to all. Whew! now it got even hotter in the small, dark room with approximately 10 tables, each with about 3-4 people at them.

     Introductions out of the way. All this they wanted to celebrate with something as fitting as poetry slam. It would consist of 2 rounds with 4 slammers (poets). They were not allowed to use any props or costumes – being naked was considered a “meat costume”, so was naturally also banned. I have been to one of these things before, and there are regularly 200-300 people, so it was a relatively small gathering.


The host warms us up

     The host warmed up the audience, instructing them and checking if they could clap on a point scale of 1-10. Boards were handed out for judges among the audience, I felt like I was at the aquavit Olympics. 9,4! Russia! Oh well, back to the matter at hand. The first poetry slam was about bullying and set the theme, as he himself put it:
“the spoken word is all that matters – not the kindergarten teacher’s counting to ten.”

     The resident rapper who had made the poem on the back of the aquavit bottle opened the “real” slam competing, with a poem on how much of a henpecked husband he was. “your wife will make you fat, take your things and throw them out! She has the final say in everything – she bites!”
A bit over the top, but the audience’s laughter is followed by a graceful bow by the rapper.

     This is where our class mate Jesper comes into the picture, as the pocket poet he is. Standing applause for Jesper as he was introduced as the “newcomer.” His hands were shaking and his tempo was slightly higher than when he had rehearsed it in front of the class earlier that day. It was a very heartfelt poem about overcoming schizophrenia, “times that once were, but are now nothing but these pages I hold in my hands…” and the scores reflected that, netting him the highest points so far.

     The 3rd poet was the only girl competing. Another “newcomer.” Her poem was about her working a coffee shop, when a guy from Copenhagen comes in. Let it be said, from yours truly, that people from the capital aren’t that well liked here in North Jutland, Aalborg. Or so the prejudice goes. It’s all tied into the whole Jantelov I mentioned earlier – and they’re just not that affected by it in the capital. I guess we northerners envy them for that: being able to tell people how proud you are about something, without it sounding like you’re boasting and condescending.
The applause was diverse throughout the room, one table cheering wildly – while others clapped without much interest.


Sparkling water and aquavit. I had to drive, so seemed like the smart move!

     30 min break.

     At the pissoir it smells just like the kindergarten I went to. We had guinea pigs. This kind of realisation hits quite hard – a mix of the smell of those vitamin rocks attached to the cage, straw, saw dust and pee. After this many years.. that was how I remembered my childhood?

     Back to the sweat lodge. It was turned down to 6, thankfully, as opposed to before the break where the temperature was at 11.


Johnny Hefty, the Poet

     Johnny Hefty’s round 2 was a phrasebook for all the people from Copenhagen that were present. It would help them understand his city of Aalborg, he assured. For it was nothing like what they had ever seen, he promised. And well, neither was his poem. Even for me as a “native” born Jutland guy, there were a lot of slang phrases that went over my head. They were met with wild cheer, however, by the table with his closest friends and family.

     Jesper’s final round was up! If he could just keep up the cadence from his first round! His trembling had subsided slightly, but his tempo was still higher than normal readings – don’t screw it up!

     He didn’t. He nailed it, as he lay flat on the ground and moaned:
“I.. aam.. soo.. tiired! There is a donkey on television. Carrying another guy so that he can rest. Why.. does.. it.. bother? I.. aam.. soo.. tiired!”

     The table behind me was flat with laughter. I turned to see the enthusiastic fans. There sat 4 elderly people, faces red with laughter and smiles. No doubt this was as close to something they could relate to all evening. Again, top scores from all the judges. Surely, Jesper was in the running for top 2.


Jesper with his final poem

     Skipping a few poems in my summary, it was now time to add up the points and find a winner. For the short intermission, Johnny Hefty came back on stage and read aloud his poem on the bottle that the event was meant to celebrate.
“Aquavit is a drink for the God’s, and with divine powers come great responsibility… drink responsible! Peace in the universe!”
He cheered before he was pulled off stage. It was now time.

     Jesper had won! And the food that followed was a-mazing. Danish open sandwiches, rye bread with herring, pork roast and other delicious foods. In no way does that meagre description do justice to those divine sandwiches. Mhhm mhm, what a great way to end a fine 2 hour afternoon.


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