Audience members at Bull Feeney’s “carol slam” had their work cut out for them Saturday afternoon in Portland.

They had to decide which original Christmas carol merited first prize at a gathering of about 70 people who showed up at the Fore Street pub’s Yeats Room – as in William Butler Yeats – for the fourth annual carol slam.

Modeled after poetry slams at which poets read or recite their original work, the carol slam featured a sextet singing original songs, either Christmas carols or other seasonal works, created by local choral composers.

The carol slam was the brainchild of Ben Heasly, a Portland native and longtime choral group singer. Heasly said he was tired of the same old holiday songs and wanted to offer area musicians a venue for their compositions to be heard.

“There are a lot of boring carols which get played way too much,” Heasly said.

Bull Feeney’s owner Doug Fuss, whose pub also holds poetry slams, jumped at the idea.

“We consider ourselves to be a public house, in the purist sense of the word, and we really enjoy hosting events like this all year round. People inventing their own carols, up on our stage overlooking the Old Port, I don’t think there could be a more festive setting,” Fuss said.

Composers had to submit their work by Thanksgiving. This year’s slam included three new compositions and several carols making return appearances.

David Clark of Portland, an uncle of Heasly and a longtime member of the choir at Woodfords Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, and of the The Grateful Dads barbershop quartet, entered two selections in this year’s slam, including “If Jesus had been Born in Maine,” which speculates about what that might have been like.

Clark said that based on what has won the slam in the past, he tried to write something with local appeal.

“If you write something people like, it feels good,” Clark said.

Another entry, “The Twelve Diets of Christmas,” by Ben Heasly’s mother, Carolyn Clark Heasly of Portland, was a humorous take on the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” in which a chef prepares low-calorie, low-sodium and other special-diet feasts. The lyrics include:

“A bunch of us gather’d for Christmas, All looking forward to dinner, But some of us had health problems, and some of us ought to be thinner.”

The audience appeared charmed by the slam, and voted “The Twelve Diets of Christmas” as the best carol, for which Carolyn Clark Heasly received a wreath.

Contance Glynn of South Portland, who read about the event on, brought two friends.

“I go to the other poetry slams on the other days and thought this would be fun,” said Glynn.


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