English Teachers conference

Yesterday I presented a session at the English Teachers Association NSW annual conference. With the theme #LetsCreate, the conference offered a perfect opportunity to share Spoken Word poetry as a tool to inspire creativity, self-expression and alternative writing methods.

The resources below were provided at the session, and teachers are welcome to use and share with credit given.

Glossary-Techniques used in SWP

CreativeSpoken-WordPoetry-Resource

SleepingBeautyhandout

Spoken-word poetry in education: Best practice guide

I’ve been interested in using spoken-word poetry in high-schools since I was a student-teacher. There are so many benefits for students. The NSW syllabus has caught up somewhat by offering two ‘performance poets’, Kate Tempest and Luka Lesson, for HSC study to inspire students’ own writing. However, Australia is a long way behind the USA and UK, where youth spoken-word programs in education have been operating on a large scale for over a decade, and making a big impact on student learning outcomes.

I was curious to know what we can do at a school level to bring the benefits of spoken-word into our classrooms. I briefly reviewed the available research on spoken-word poetry in education, youth spoken-word programs, and poet-educators from the USA, UK and Australia.

The following advice appears frequently:

  • Teachers should participate on equal basis with students in writing activities:

“whenever I’ve been in a class where…the teacher has shared what they’ve written… something vulnerable or personal, the respect between teacher and students becomes so equal and solid. Vulnerability is a tool that is sometimes undervalued by teachers.” (Luka Lesson cited in Xerri 2016)

  • Collaborate with professional poets to benefit both students and teachers:

“Writers often address the very same aspects of writing on which teachers may be working, and yet the effects can be radically different… their very living relies on their craft, and this clearly makes some important connection with pupils.” (Owen and Munden)

  • Cultivate a writing community beyond the classroom and extend opportunities to publish and perform into that wider community:

“the objective… is to make young people realize that their voice is important and that it has as great a value as any president’s, prime minister’s or anybody… once they’ve grasped that, you find that even the most nervous children often will get up and perform.” (Chelley McLear cited in Xerri 2017)

  • When students encounter a poem, ask “What do you notice?” rather than “What is it about?”

“the teacher’s role is… to find entry points into poems that echo students’ personal stories.” (Jon Sands cited by Nozica)

  • Have students engage in a regular practice of writing before introducing techniques, and wherever possible, show them the techniques present in their own writing:

“The skills of comprehension and analysis of form and language choice will develop over time, through the process of repeated composition and through exposure to a variety of texts.” (Nozica)

Outdoor Reading-Storyfest Workshop (1).jpg
A teacher shares her poem with students at a writing workshop, Sydney 2018.

To sum up, there seems to be a lot of valuable teaching strategies here; but it might require a bit of a re-think of our usual practice. I know personally how difficult it is as a classroom teacher to invite vulnerability into our practice; when in the same role we are expected to convey authority and firm boundaries. It’s also difficult for many schools to invite professional poets in to work with students, due to tight budgets and schedules. However, I think there’s a shining opportunity to partner up with spoken-word and poetry groups in your community. Live poetry events bring together semi-professional and emerging poets, many of them young and interesting. What better way to  get your students inspired than by bringing them in touch with a real poetry scene?

 

You can read more on teaching spoken-word poetry at my page for teachers. I will also be presenting at the ETA conference soon. Please contact me if you’d like more resources.


References:

Nozica, Narcisa. “Spotlight on poetry.” Metaphor 2 (2017): 24-29.

Xerri, Daniel. “‘Poetry does really educate’: An interview with spoken word poet Luka Lesson.” English in Australia 51.1 (2016): 18-24.

Xerri, Daniel. “Inspiring young people to be creative: Northern Ireland’s poetry in motion for schools.” New Writing 14.1 (2017): 127-137.

Touring to Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong soon

Poet is a verb, not a noun! So I’m packing my words, hitting the road and doing poetry at some of your favourite spots around Sydney. Come join me!
Please click ‘Going’ on these event pages for up-to-date info:

25 Nov: Women of Words 2018 at Hudson Street Hum Newcastle, 4pm
26 Nov: Loose Leaf Literature at LazyBones Lounge Restaurant & Bar Marrickville, 7:30pm
28 Nov: Word Salad Christmas Drinks with Poet Sarah Temporal at Philanthropy Tribe Wollongong, 6pm
1 Dec: Heart Open Xmas party at The Press Book House Newcastle, 7:30pm
3 Dec: Poetica at Speakeasy Bar Bondi

I’m also hoping to squeeze in some workshops so you can be part of the action.

You may recall that I posted a list of live poetry and spoken-word events around Australia. Well, through that list I’ve been able to organise my first poetry tour completely independently, with no funding or management. What an exciting world we live in!

Please spread the word and support poets doing what they love.

Yours in poetry,

Sarah.
✍️😊🎙️

Why orality matters to me

From the moment I first experienced it, I have been in love with live poetry. Live poetry lives in the human voice, it’s an intimate exchange. It’s the realm of orality, rather than literature: the voice rather than the page. The spoken word is ephemeral, temporal, evanescent – it’s there then it’s gone, it is a passing moment. Every live poem becomes a unique, unrepeatable act, that binds together the audience and poet in a shared moment in time.

I think there are many reasons I’m in love with orality. To begin with, when I first encountered poets gathered in a pub on a Tuesday night when I was 19, it just felt like a welcome relief from studying literature by reading. It was dynamic and unpredictable. Then, when I started performing myself, it was the instant positive feedback from the audience that got me hooked. It was impossible to feel like you hadn’t made an impact. But the longer I have stayed with it, the more I have come to see orality as a radically inclusive cultural forum.

In most societies, oral transmission included everyone in the dissemination of history, myths, and cultural knowledge; while literacy for most of that time was reserved to the elite[1]. But being beyond the gatekeepers of knowledge, orality also harboured secrets; it was a safe-house of unseen, unacknowledged histories. Like the older dependent women who had exceeded their useful roles in society by no longer being able to work or bear children; they re-created themselves as ‘Mother Goose’, as fairy godmothers, as fireside story-keepers, and thus reclaimed a position of power in the face of complete marginalisation[2]. When I read fairytales and I notice the ways women have passed on their experience subversively through tales that were thought to be only fit for children, I admire the power of orality.

An old woman is telling some children a story which they appear to be disturbed by.
An old woman is telling some children a story which they appear to be disturbed by. Engraving by H.C. Shenton after T. Stothard. Source: Wikimedia. CC BY 4.0

When I look back through my own ancestry of dirt-poor Scottish and Irish migrants, in whose working-class value system education was seen as a luxury not worth wasting on women (wives, childbearers, housekeepers), I start to feel how vulnerable we all are to the circumstances that shape our lives. And I start to feel how valuable those oral traditions are. I’m a long way removed from those illiterate women who told their tales to the Brothers Grimm, whose culture and power and literature all lived in their memories and in their voices. But generationally, I don’t feel far enough removed from it to be entirely safe. I feel a responsibility to treasure oral traditions and keep those secrets alive.

Want more? Check out my re-tellings of ‘Rapunzel‘, ‘Sleeping Beauty‘, and reviving Rapunzel for women of our time.

You can hear more in my SlamCraft talk this weekend at Storyfest, Sydney. Tickets here.


[1] In 1820, only 12% of the people in the world could read and write; today that’s more or less reversed. Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2018), “Literacy”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/literacy [Online Resource]

[2] Marina Warner. From the beast to the blonde: On fairy tales and their tellers. Random House, 1995.

SLAMCRAFT: Flow

Have you ever found yourself completely immersed in some activity, so deeply absorbed that time seemed to disappear? You might have described that experience as being ‘in the flow’. Have you thought a poem ‘flowed beautifully’, or heard about a rapper with excellent ‘flow’?

The concept of flow is important to spoken-word poetry, but it is difficult to define. Flow is based on the sound of a poem passing in time (one of the conditions of spoken word). Many ‘traditional’ poets and poetry academics would dismiss ‘flow’, although it bears a strong resemblance to other familiar poetry terms, such as meter. The reason I think ‘flow’ is the right term, and worthy of discussion, is that it is more than just a technical device: it also encompasses a desired effect on writer and listener, and intertwines poetry with creativity in our daily lives.

In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on three aspects of flow:

  1. The act of writing as a flow state
  2. The act of listening as a flow state
  3. Flow as a poetic technique.

Writing as a flow state

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the pioneers of the scientific study of happiness, coined the term ‘flow’ to describe an optimal experience. Flow is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”[1]

concentration
Concentration‘ by heydere CC BY-NC 2.0

It’s a state that’s familiar to writers, athletes, chess players – in fact, anyone who becomes deeply immersed in some task. As a teacher, I see it most frequently in the visual arts classroom, where a rare atmosphere of  quiet sometimes reigns while students are absorbed in their work. Opportunities to ‘get in the flow’ are increasingly valuable, given our modern environments are increasingly characterised by disruption, multi-tasking and instant gratification.

For obvious reasons, a flow state is ideal for writing. Neuroscientists have linked it to a process called transient hypofrontality, which triggers a loss of the ‘inner-critic’ which can impede our creative processes. We don’t need to wait for inspiration to strike in order to access a flow state; we can encourage it at any time using a few simple strategies. A focus on quantity, not quality can trigger it: set yourself a time limit (10 minutes) or a page limit (3 pages) and simply write anything that comes to you, without stopping, until you reach your target. You should also remove any rules or expectations that hinder your creativity – spelling and grammar, for example. Some people like to write to music or with a sensory stimulation they can return to, like a scented candle or a set of rosary beads.

While writing as a flow state is by no means unique to spoken-word poets, I do believe that flow is uniquely embodied when poets perform their work. Because every performance is a deliberate remembering of the writing process, spoken-word poets engage their listeners in their own sense of urgency, determination or excitement as the words emerge. It might be the hundredth time for the poet and the first time for the audience, but both are intimately connected through the experience of flow.

Listening as a flow state

The experience of listening to a spoken-word poem can also be described as a flow state. As listeners, we surrender to the flow of words in the moment. A page poem is made to happen by the reader, but a spoken poem happens to the listener. This condition has been described as “getting lost in language that surges forward, allowing the mind to wander in the presence of words”[2]. There’s a beautiful interplay as the mind falls open and receives the words, while paradoxically becoming more aware of its own thoughts and movements in response.

listening
‘Listening‘ by scottgunn modified CC BY-NC 2.0

The moment of intense engagement with a live poet is one that many people, in my experience, find moving and transformative when they first encounter it. It’s described perfectly by Luka Lesson in his poem “Moment to Moment”:

And I’ve realized that I’m not longer writing poetry I’m setting up good silences

I’m leaving space for you to fill in the gaps

There are many ways that the audience-poet connection of live performance shapes the craft of spoken-word. As well as helping us tell the truth, a live audience also reminds us of the intense pleasures of the act of listening.

Flow as a poetic technique

Finally, flow can also be seen as a technical device used in spoken-word poetry. There’s a strong connection between the history of spoken-word poetry and hip-hop music, which share many of the same roots. In hip-hop, ‘flow’ describes the way words are constructed over a beat using patterns of stressed syllables. Because hip-hop uses the voice to create rhythm, which is usually left to percussive instruments in other music genres, a rapper with strong rhythmic cadence is said to have good flow. While the beat is absent in spoken-word poetry, many poets create flow in their use of rhythm and careful construction of cadence, which engages the listener expressively and aesthetically, as well as aiding in memorisation and performance.

You can see how a background in hip-hop helps poets develop a mastery of flow, in this example from Luka Lesson’s “May Your Pen Grace the Page”. He personifies the ‘pen’ as a ‘she’, while shifting into a continuous rapid flow:

Lesson-MayYourPenGracethePage-Meter analysis

All I’ve done here is marked out the stressed and unstressed syllables using a traditional analysis of poetic meter: U = unstressed and / = stressed. You can see that a continuous pattern emerges, made of a repeating 4-syllable motif: / U U U. Perhaps most impressive, this whole section spins off the natural rhythm of the word “potentially”.  Although they break across the lines on the page, these motifs form a compelling rhythm when we hear the poem. The flow is emphasised by the repeated “o” sound of “coffee”, “rocking”, “rolling” and “uncontrollably”. As a poetic technique, this particular flow is a great choice for Lesson’s comparison of the act of writing with the act of lovemaking; which is also best when we’re in the flow! Here’s the full poem live:

This example illustrates an extended, continuous flow. Spoken-word poets also break, alter, and complicate the flow for effect. Unlike hip-hop emcees, poets are relieved of the expectation to keep the beat going, so there is room for flexibility in the choice to follow or depart from any established flow.

Now I’ll show you how I’ve used flow in one of my pieces:

In my poem, “Sleeping Beauty“, I used short, sharp phrasing with a driving beat to convey the  message concisely. Sometimes it’s useful to think of poetry as music. If you listen closely, you can hear a 4/4 beat created by the pattern of stressed syllables, even though the meter changes:

Sleeping Beauty beat1

The 4/4 beat helps to drive the poem forward with greater urgency than I could create with, say, the more traditional iambic pentameter. But at certain moments, I wanted to arrest this movement so that the words would hit home more forcefully. In the chorus, I built up a semi-regular motif of  3 unstressed syllables after a stressed: / UUU. Because it’s still following a beat, the extra syllables crammed in also increase the pace and heighten tension:

Sleeping Beauty meter shift

When I break the pattern by landing awkwardly on “she wasn’t” U / U, it almost feels like a stumble, and stops the flow. It’s followed by a pause of a full beat to allow that revelation to skin in. Flow establishes expectations in the listener. When we hear a pattern we expect it to continue, so breaking that pattern can cause a powerful shift which enhances meaning.

How have you used flow in your writing? What’s your favourite poetry or music for listening in flow? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. You can always contact me with your ideas too.

Like it? Read more in the SlamCraft series or buy the book


Exercises

3 pens on a composition book
Leslie Richards, 3 pens on a composition book.
  1. If you want to delve more deeply into flow, print some lyrics from your favourite poets, listen along, and mark up the text with beats or stressed and unstressed syllables. You might find some interesting patterns.
  2. Practice freewriting to music. Make sure it’s flowing enough to be in the background and there are no lyrics.
  3. Take one of your own poems and mark the meter. Are there patterns, suggestions of rhythms or beats?
  4. Note places where you want the poem to ‘flow’, and where you might want it to ‘break’ in order to create impact. Play around with different flow at these points.
  5. Reflect: how does your own personal poetic language emerge? Do you start with rhythm or words?
Like it? Read more in the SlamCraft series or buy the book

 

References:

[1] Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

[2] Charles Bernstein, introduction to Close Listening, p7.

 

*Featured image: ‘woman : motion’ by craig Cloutier licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

SLAMCRAFT: Tell the truth

This post addresses an aspect of SlamCraft I noticed quite early on in my attempts at live poetry. I had become hooked on the instant positive feedback for my first few poems, and I now started to write specifically in anticipation of that live moment, the meeting of minds between poet and audience. I started to notice that some of my lines didn’t ‘feel right’. But despite having written and rehearsed carefully, I didn’t know the lines weren’t right until I spoke the poem to an audience.

That moment of realising something doesn’t feel right became one of my most reliable tools.

Words aren’t just words; they are actions. Some of my favourite poets acknowledge that words spoken publicly and witnessed by others have real power to effect change. Our words state our intentions and compel us to follow through.

Why else do we make our vows of marriage, national allegiance and public office out loud instead of writing them down?

It seems that the bonds of human connection and reciprocity treat the spoken word as inherently more trustworthy and binding than the written.

What I had noticed in those early poems was my physical responses telling me when something I had written was untrue. As soon as I hit upon the ‘right’ thing to say, it felt different – my body relaxed, my chin lifted, my voice opened up and projected out. In fact, it was physically easier to read something aloud once I had found the right words.

There’s nothing unusual in this. The physiological responses we have to truth-telling and lying are well-known. If asked to deliberately tell a falsehood, most people will notice that their breathing and heart rate increase, they start to fidget, and find it harder to speak or maintain eye contact. The body processes lies in a completely different way than it does the truth.

But telling the ‘truth’ really isn’t easy. Most poets either slave toward this goal or suspend the idea of ‘truth’ entirely, accepting that all we can hope for is a fractured, subjective approximation. Shane Koyczan gives the highest possible praise in his endorsement of Luka Lesson’s ‘The Future Ancients’: “Luka Lesson is the kind of poet other poets want to be. Other poets want to be honest.”

I would suggest that spoken-word has a different relationship to truth-telling than other forms of poetry. By sharing our work with a live audience, we become attuned to the resonance in our own bodies, as well as the responses of others, which will indicate whether the poem is hitting its mark on a deep level. We know that we can’t cover up for bad poetry with good performance. I’ve always argued that performing poetry is definitely NOT acting; being such a poor actor is probably what allowed me to enter into poetry in the first place. But UK poet Joelle Taylor said it best on her recent Australian tour:

Performance is not acting. It is remembering why you wrote it.

This also means that our fear of speaking in front of others can be turned to our benefit. Instead of asking, “what will they think of me?” we can ask, “how do I feel saying this out loud?” Do you feel the special kind of butterflies-in-the-tummy we all get from sharing something deeply personal, real or true? Or are they the kind of sticky-squirmy moths that suggest this isn’t really what you wanted to say after all?

It’s interesting that what feels right to say often takes us far beyond the notion of ‘truth’ and ‘honesty’. As soon as we speak publicly, we find ourselves inhabiting a complex socio-political landscape, in which our positions of relative power and marginalisation strongly play into the perceived validity of our utterances. We should always recognise our privilege in that space. As an example, I’ve seen young men speak at poetry open mics about difficult break-ups; but instead of being honest about their feelings, they are honest about how much they despise their ex-partner, using the stage to attack her personal habits or appearance. Such rants bear traces of misogyny they probably weren’t aware of until they aired it in a public space in front of women, and often they are gently re-directed by the experience.

When we become aware of our responses in front of others, we can use them to direct us toward more significant and generous forms of truth-telling. For me, this has meant moving away from the kind of honesty you’d find in a teenager’s diary, and into the honesty of universal experiences that are not always acknowledged. My poems addressing women’s empowerment and mental health feel so much stronger for being shaped among a community of listeners, who are also the bearers of the same story, spoken or unspoken. On the other hand, I have written poems that I wouldn’t choose to perform because they don’t enact the kind of truth I want to put out into the world. While they may be true for me, I also want the poems for performance to have purpose; just like making a vow.

There’s the truth you want to tell, and the truth that wants to be told. Can you tell the difference?

Read or listen to my poem about truth-telling here.

Like it? Read more in the SlamCraft series or buy the book


Exercises

3 pens on a composition book

Leslie Richards, 3 pens on a composition book.

Telling the truth in your writing is a deeply personal and individual journey, so I’m not going to be too prescriptive here. You will find your own signals to guide you in your process. You might like to try these reflective questions as a starting point:

  1. When you have a complete draft, find someone you trust and ask them to be a listener. They don’t have to give feedback, just receive your words. Read slowly and pay attention to the sensations in your body. Where did it feel right? Where did it feel ‘sticky’ or awkward? Did you notice different feelings to when you wrote it? Did your voice seem to flow more easily around certain ideas? Did your intention become clearer?
  2. Consider the purpose of your piece. Are you writing it to remember, to inspire, to heal, to investigate, to confront, to articulate, to dream? Be careful of subconsciously seeking approval – it’s addictive, but unfulfilling for both poet and audience.
  3. How do you hope the audience will react? Do you want them to join you in a journey, remember their own joys or pain, feel motivated or moved? Have you allowed them to feel these things through your words? Is there room for others in your piece?
  4. Consider others who have a similar experience to the one you’re expressing in the piece. Do you feel your voice opening up in their presence? If not, what’s the sticking point?
  5. If your piece mentions other people, whether as individuals or types, consider how you would feel about them hearing it. It’s probably ok to criticise the wealthy and powerful in the tradition of ‘speaking truth to power’, but it might not be ok to criticise your parents or your ex-lover. If you’re talking about anyone you’re not – like other genders and gender identities, races, cultures, sexualities, ages, and abilities – ask yourself why you feel the need to speak on their behalf. Can you turn that story around and show what it reveals about you?
  6. Have you been as honest as you can about the difficulties and limitations of trying to write this idea? How can you invite us further into the process?
  7. When you share your work at live events, develop a habit of reflective practice. If you can jot down what worked and what didn’t within a couple of days of your performance, you will already be improving for next time.

All of these questions are best considered once you have re-written and thought carefully about what you are writing. They shouldn’t be applied to a first draft. No matter what answers you get, you should never take it as a sign to abandon a piece or stop writing. Instead, use your learning to guide a change of direction or try out new ways of expressing the idea. The best pieces have many layers of thinking and re-thinking behind them, so this process is all part of becoming a better poet – and possibly, a better person.

Like it? Read more in the SlamCraft series or buy the book

*Featured image: Xpicta_aNight by SeRGioSVoX licensed CC BY 2.0

Live poetry and spoken-word

For anyone who’s writing, wants to write, or just wants to soak up some poetry, I can’t encourage you enough to get out and see one of your local poetry events. Click the titles for more info on each event. This list was compiled in September 2018 and updated August 2019. While information was current to the best of my knowledge, please check details with organisers / venues before you go.

REGULAR NIGHTS

NSW Northern Rivers and Gold Coast

Follow North Coast Poetry and Spoken Word for updates.

POETS OUT LOUD!! Murwillumbah’s new open mic, with feature poets and the occasional slam. Run by Sarah Temporal. Third Thursday of the month at Bacaro Cafe in M-Arts Precinct, 6:30-9pm, $10 donation.

Alternator Poetry: Last Thursday of the month at Dust Temple, Currumbin QLD. Fifth Thursdays are slams, others open mic. One of my faves.

Lismore Live Poets: Second Wednesday of the month at the Rous Hotel, Lismore. A long-standing event of 27 years run by master poet David Hallett.

Writers at the Rails: First Sunday of the season (spring, summer, autumn, winter) from 2pm at the Rails hotel, Byron Bay. Plus a gala event during Byron Writers Festival. Open mic and slam.

Nimbin Poets: First Thursdays at 7pm, Nimbin Bowlo. Check FB for venue confirmation. Open mic. Run by the beautiful crew who independently bring us the Performance Poetry World Cup.

Poly Poetry: Second Thursdays, 7pm start, $10 with food specials. Themed open mic. Marie Anita’s Gluten Free Bakery and Cafe, Mermaid Beach, QLD.

Unplugged: New weekly night of poetry, comedy and music. Wednesdays at 6pm, 7-21/23 Tasman Way, Byron Bay.

Temple of Words: Open mic. 3rd Fridays, Corner Palms, 1/16 Brigantine St, Byron Bay. $10.

Mullum’s poetry night: 4th friday of the month, 6pm to 8.30 pm, Studio F, 28 mill street Mullumbimby. $10.

Word Play: First Wednesday of every month, 7pm, ‘Dusty Attic Music Lounge’ 149 Woodlark St, Lismore. Free.

Pluckers and poets: 2nd Sunday of every month, 4pm, Dunoon Sports Club. Music/poetry open mic. Free.

Empire Poets Society: Pop-up event Empire cafe, Mullumbimby. $5.

Dangerously Poetic: Pop-up events around Northern Rivers.

Brisbane

Ruckus Slam: Brisbane’s infamous open mic SLAM! Your original work – poem, song, rant, lyrics. Also runs a youth slam and cabaret slam.

Poetry Showetry: new night in West End

Kurilpa Poets: last Sunday of every month; at the Old Croquet Club on the corner of Musgrave Park, 91 Cordelia Street, West End. Also holds the Kurilpa Cup.

Sunshine Coast

Poet’s Corner: second Saturdays 2pm at Riba Kai Cafe, 1/14 Newspaper Pl, Maroochydore.

Sunshine Coast Spoken Word: Third Saturday 2pm at Homegrown cafe, Palmwoods. Hosted by Robyn Archbold (Archie). Open mic +feature poets, $10 entry.

The Bunker Spoken Word: quarterly open mic event and workshop series developing local talent and showcasing national and international poets and storytellers.

Sydney

Poetica: a night for wordsmithing. We want to hear your words. 3 minutes /open mic. Monthly. Bondi Bowling Club.

Sappho Poetry: second Tuesday of every month (except January), 7pm. 3-4 poets + limited open mic. Sappho bookshop, Glebe.

Caravan Slam: Caravan Slam is a loose collection of poets whose joy is to bring performance poetry to the world. We perform all over Sydney.

Bankstown Poetry Slam: the largest regular poetry slam in the country. We host monthly slams at the Bankstown Arts Centre. BPS on last Tuesday of the month, plus Flip the Script youth open mic/workshop last Monday of month.

Live poets at Don Bank: Live Poets meets on the 4th Wednesday of every month from February to November (inclusive). We feature special guests in poetry and unplugged music. We also welcome in our open section anyone who wants to recite, sing, tell a story, or play an instrument.

West Side Poetry Slam: Open mic night, 3rd Wednesday of every month, 91B Grose St North Parramatta

The Sydney Poetry Lounge is a poetry open-mic at The Friend in Hand, Glebe. First Tuesday of every month.

Spoken at Lentils: open mic night open to newbies and old timers alike. time limit is eight minutes. Lentil as Anything, Newtown

Word-In-Hand: Sydney’s premier and most diverse performance and storytelling gig, held on the first Tuesday of every second month at the Red Rattler in Marrickville. Re-launching in Feb 2019.

Poets @ Petersham Bowlo: monthly open mic soiree (3rd Thurs each month, from 6.30pm)

Loose Leaf literature: Lazybones Lounge, Marrickville. Tickets are $10 on the door or available online via Eventbrite. Good food and drinks available all night.

Poetry Sydney held by Brett Whiteley Studio: regular poetry readings, now held on the first Sunday of the month from March to November. Admission is free.

Narellan Poetry Slam: new event at Harry Hartog booksellers. Third Tuesday of the month, 6:30 for 7pm. Admission $5.

Sydney surrounds

Enough Said Poetry Slam: Poetry, poets, people who love poetry and poets, in Wollongong. Last Thursday of every month.

Girls on Key is a gig series featuring female and non-binary poets raising funds for a variety of charities. We have chapters in Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle, Castlemaine and Port Kembla.

Central Coast and Newcastle

Poetry at Pub 3rd & 5th Mondays of the Month at the Wickham Park Hotel, corner of Maitland Road and Albert St, Wickham, commencing at 7.30pm.

Word Hurl Antislam  a no rules, spoken word, open mic, poetry night. 1st Tuesday of the month at the Clarendon, Newcastle.

Heart Open A bi-monthly celebration of creativity, featuring women and non-binary artists of all kinds.

Outspoken bi-monthly event featuring feminist women in conversation

The Press Book House hosts occasional poetry readings

Cuplet A monthly night of top class touring and local poets at The Beaumont, Hamilton

Canberra

That Poetry Thing at Smith’s Alternative Bookshop every Monday, 7-9pm

BAD!SLAM!NO!BISCUIT! at Smiths Alternative, the 3RD WEDNESDAY of every month. Sign-up 7:30pm, SLAMMING starts at 8pm; it is all over by 11pm.

Canberra Slamboree: Slam last Friday of the month at Gang Gang Cafe.

Melbourne

See Melbourne Spoken Word, the online portal to all of the upcoming events in the live spoken word and poetry scene, as well as videos, interviews, reviews and opinions.

Adelaide / SA

Sticks and Stones: open mic, 2nd Sunday of each month at The Libertine by Louis. Hosted by Alison Paradoxx

Spoken Word at Captain Rehab: Spoken Word at Captain Rehab happens on the 1st Friday of every month at the wonderful Mixed Creative in Port Adelaide. $2 entry.

Spoken ‘n’ Slurred: open mic by Paroxysm Press, last Sunday of the month, Brick City Bar, Adelaide.

Perth / WA

Spoken Word Perth: open mic event every other Wednesday. Check page for venue and times.

Perth Slam: Last Saturday monthly, Bar 459 Rosemount Hotel, North Perth.

Dirty Mouth: Live music, high-caliber spoken word and anything-goes-open-mic. Check page for venue and times.

Perth Poetry Club: a spoken word show every week in central Perth. The Moon Cafe, William St, Cnr Newcastle Street, Northbridge.

Voicebox Fremantle: a monthly poetry event featuring three invited guests and 10 x five minute open-mic slot. Last Monday of the month, check page for venue.

Northern Territory

The Dirty Word: a poetic community in Alice Springs. There’s TDW every month, TDW presents series and the Red Dirt Poetry Festival! Last Tuesday of (almost) every month usually at Totem Theatre.

Wild Words Darwin: Last Sunday of every month at the Darwin Railway Club in Parap from 3pm to 5pm. Entry is $5, but FREE for performers.

COMPETITIONS

Australian Poetry Slam: Live poetry competition where the audience is the judge. With a nationwide round of 50 heats, the best slammers will compete to win the Australian Poetry Slam National Final at Sydney Opera House. See page for regional and city heats.

Nimbin Performance Poetry World Cup: Australia’s largest cash prize for performance poetry with over $5000 in prizes. The annual NPPWC is held on the first weekend of September and is sponsored by the community of Nimbin. Thanks to all the volunteer support the event is growing in size and reputation each season. After the Saturday heats and Sunday semi-finals, 8 finalists perform at the Nimbin Town Hall for the Grand Final Prize on Sunday night.

The Bunker Spoken Word competition: Annual competition based on Sunshine Coast as part of Horizon Festival. Includes workshop opportunities, competitive heats and guest performances all leading up to The Bunker Grand Final.

Poetry Slam at Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival: Prepare 3 poems of 3 minutes (maximum) for 3 possible rounds. Run by Elizabeth Routledge, renowned poet, playwright, actor and local legend.

Melbourne Spoken Word Prize: annual prize awarded for exceptional and innovative performance in the field of spoken word by an artist practising in Melbourne or Victoria.

XYZ Prize for innovation in spoken word: Australia’s only national arts award that recognises the growing field of spoken word and is named after the former 2010 Arts Queensland Poet in Residence, Emily XYZ.

FESTIVALS

Storyfest: A 5-day festival of spoken-word and performing writers, including workshops and international guests. Around October annually, The Rocks, Sydney.

Unspoken Words: September, Red Rattler, Sydney.

Queensland Poetry Festival: An annual event which brings poets from throughout Australia and overseas together for a three day festival in Brisbane. August.

Spoken Word at National Folk Festival: A program of poets, comedians, performers, talks, books, including the Poets’ Breakfast. Easter long weekend, Canberra.

Word at Woodford Folk Festival: A program of slam, bush and performance poetry, debates, storytelling, comedy and the tongue twister that is the strange beast: Word. One week over New Year, Woodford QLD.

Melbourne Spoken Word Festival launched July 2019 with more than 60 events over 18 days.

Red Dirt Poetry Festival in Alice Springs

 

 

A turning point for spoken-word poetry in schools

For the first time in NSW, ‘performance poetry’ is now part of the English syllabus. Two poets have been listed for study in the Higher School Certificate: Kate Tempest from the UK, and Australian Luka Lesson. When I’m not writing and performing, I teach secondary English on the north coast of NSW, and I’ve been watching the developments of spoken-word in education closely in recent times.

Here’s my PMI analysis of the current turning point for spoken-word poetry in schools, at least in NSW Australia:

PLUS:

  • Spoken-word poetry is a form which shows high levels of engagement among young people. With its connection to hip-hop, inclusive demographic and often direct language choices, it appeals to the ‘reality’ and relevance students may feel is missing in other curriculum.
  • Spoken-word uses an entire suite of alternative writing methods and poetic devices, providing opportunities for students’ creative development in new and substantial ways.
  • Having spoken-word poetry on the new HSC syllabus instantly signals its value, not just as engaging texts but as respected literature. This may eventually facilitate greater awareness of this new form among teachers, parents, and the broader community.
  • Spoken-word poetry events, like slams and open mics, have already been shown to increase young people’s engagement with poetry beyond the classroom. In the USA, young poets are credited with initiating the highest percentage of poetry readership in more than 15 years. This is good news if our aim in teaching is to inspire a lifelong love of language and literature.
  • With the digital communication revolution, poetry has become far more accessible and available, and spoken-word poets have been at the forefront of the change. Youtube has become an abundant public library of live poetry, giving teachers instant access to a huge range of texts and playlists to suit their students.
  • While there are many more possibilities that teachers may not yet be aware of, the poets featured on the new syllabus are very well-chosen. I myself would have picked those two names, after 15 years immersed in spoken-word. Kate Tempest’s hypnotic vision re-animates the art of oral storytelling, with an uncompromisingly youthful twenty-first-century perspective. Luka Lesson has established a successful career on the back of many years teaching and mentoring young people to write, and as such his genuine understanding of the school-age audience is unparalleled.

MINUS:

  • Although you could argue that oral poetry has been around for a long time, spoken-word poetry is still fairly new. Teachers may not have had the chance to study it themselves at tertiary level and certainly not in their own schooling. In order to teach it effectively, they will need access to strong resources, ideally covering the history of spoken-word, its cultural impact, various forms, and literary devices.
  • Because spoken-word has always embraced those aspects of performance that don’t easily translate to the page, scholars and teachers have previously found it difficult to study. There is a very limited scholarly discourse around this form, compounded by entrenched views of what ‘proper poetry’ should be. I started investigating the technical devices used in spoken-word poetry for my Honours thesis in 2005; I was amazed that academics hadn’t covered it yet. More than ten years down the track, there’s still a fairly large gap in the literature.
  • There’s always potential for a great move in curriculum to backfire; in this case, my inner pessimist worries that a new generation of young people might grow up hating spoken-word poetry because they ‘had to do it in school’. Thankfully, teachers tend to be tenacious, passionate and ever-curious bunch, so that probably won’t come to pass.

INTERESTING:

  • While many poets have grown weary of the ‘page vs. stage’ debate, in the classroom this could spark some real insight for students. Spoken-word is not in competition with ‘page’ poetry, but some may find one or the other more appealing for interesting reasons.
  • Spoken-word gives us lots of opportunities to teach language as play. Just look at the concept of rhyme – younger children do it spontaneously, and hip-hop artists use it as elaborate improvisation through freestyling. Rhyme can open up new ways into writing for those students who dread putting pen to paper.
  • Performed poetry requires more than just performers. Staging a poetry event also allows students to learn to be active audience members, judges, timekeepers, organisers, and team members. Better yet, let them take ownership and direct the event they want.
  • Poets who work with schools have often commented that in order to really inspire students’ writing, teachers also need to be willing to take part and make themselves vulnerable as beginner writers. Candy Royalle and Luka Lesson in their roles with Red Room Poetry both felt that students gained more respect for teachers who took this risk.
  • The new syllabus includes performance poetry in a new module called ‘Craft of Writing’. Students study exemplary short pieces of writing and then develop their own craft by imitating, experimenting, editing and polishing. How will examiners assess skills a student has learnt through spoken word, such as flow, dynamics and vocal delivery, in a written exam?

It’s certainly an interesting time for education as well as for spoken-word. You can hear more by signing up for updates from this blog, or following me on Facebook.

For teachers, you can also hear me present on this topic at the ETA Annual Conference. Are you planning to use performance poetry with your classes? Please share your thoughts below or contact me – I’d love to hear what you’re up to.

 

*Featured image source Youtube: Outloud Australia channel

SLAMCRAFT: Memorization

When people ask me, “How should I memorize my poems?” there are a few tips I have to offer.

  1. Write a memorable poem. Not all poetry is ideal for live reading. The good news is, if it works for performance, it will probably work for your memory too. Before you finalize your lines, experiment with your voice and gestures. If the words flow better in a different order, then let them flow.
  2. Get up. The body is a learning tool. In order to get the poem stuck in your brain, you are going to learn it with your whole body. So pick a private space and get up, move around, sway or stomp or wildly gesture your way through the words until they come to life.
  3. Use rhyme and rhythm. The musicality of poetry in its more traditional forms makes it easier to memorize. Who remembers rote learning “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or something like it? You couldn’t do that with modern free verse. Rhyme will cue your brain to remember the next line; and rhythm will help you settle into the flow. Remember, rhymes don’t have to follow a strict scheme.
  4. Be authentic with your voice. You may feel that slam poetry or spoken-word has a certain style to live up to; that you need to be bold, loud, or have lots of street cred to pull it off. That’s bollocks. Your voice will sound and feel real when it is your own; in fact, it’ll be harder to memorize your work if you don’t listen to it.
  5. Re-write, re-write and re-write. If you’re feeling inspired and the poetry ‘just comes’ to you, then you’re lucky. But most work that feels worthwhile to me takes a lot of writing. The process of writing makes certain choices clear: it has to be this word not that word; it is this thought that follows upon that one. And that also makes the poem live in my memory; because the choices make sense.
  6. Rehearse. I’ve been lucky as spoken-word poet because I got my training as a musician. This taught me not only about rhythm and lyricism, but also the discipline required to get work ready for performance. A good rule of thumb is three-in-a-row. First break the piece down into short chunks, and rehearse each chunk until you can do it flawlessly three times over. Then do the same for a whole piece. Leave enough time to rehearse every day for a week before a performance, and you’ll be set.

I like the old phrase for memorization, “learning by heart”. There is a process of letting the work settle into the heart. It can be hard work, but at the end of the day it should still feel like your poem; a direct connection to the heart. Learning your own poems shouldn’t feel like a chore or a brain-teaser. If it does, use this as a chance to check in and ask, “Do I want to say this differently?”

There’s more fascinating discussion to be explored on memorization, poetic techniques, and the way our brains process and retain information. I happen to subscribe to a not-very-popular view of education, that rote-learning of poetry or patterns can have benefits for the student. There’s even evidence to suggest that it might help us become more creative: check out a brief read on the art of memorization by orators in medieval culture. As Alan Jacobs summarises, “Today people will tell you that memorization is the enemy of creativity; these medieval thinkers understood that precisely the opposite is true: the more you have memorized the greater will be your powers of invention.”

Like it? Read more in the SlamCraft series or buy the book

 

*Feature image: Illustration from Edwin D. Babbitt’s The Principles of Light and Color (1878) — public domain. Source

Celebrating Storyfest: a 3-day festival of spoken-word

You have to celebrate the victories, right? Well, I spent a couple of months earlier this year sending out various applications to poetry events and publications. Of course this meant getting very cosy and familiar with the “thanks for your interest, but…” emails which then flooded back. I’ve always been told this is just part of the writer’s life, so, no biggie.

BUT…

Today I opened another response expecting it to be the same old story, and found these unexpected and exciting words… “We would be very happy to include your event in our program this year…”  Woohoo!

So I’m thrilled to announce that I will be presenting at Storyfest in Sydney this year.

On their website, Storyfest is described as:

“… a 3 day spoken word festival packed full of live literary mayhem

in the form of spoken-word, poetry, stories, lyrics and monologues.”

This is a massively exciting opportunity for me. Storyfest represents the ever-growing and strengthening community of spoken-word artists and audiences in Australia, and embodies the same goals I am passionate about. It provides a platform for people to come together in order to perform, share and learn about spoken word. It includes workshops, panel discussions, performances, and culminates in the unforgettable Australian Poetry Slam.

When I began performing in Sydney some 16 years ago, the spoken-word community was a small and largely ‘underground’ scene, very much sitting on the sidelines of other arts and cultural events. Now that I live, teach and perform in regional NSW, it’s an honour to be able to return to this same city,  and contribute to the thriving spoken-word industry that we dreamed of then.

Keep an eye out for details if you’re in Sydney, October 12th-14th, for some kickass spoken-word magic coming your way. Follow Storyfest on Facebook for details, and while you’re at it, why not follow me for more on slam poetry, performance, and workshops.

SarahTemporal-StoriesintheClub2018
Sarah Temporal at Stories in the Club, Mullumbimby, 2018. Photo credit Mala.

 

*Featured image NSW Poetry Slam Final at the State Library – Miles Merrill by Soon