SlamCraft face-to-face course starts soon

There’s nothing I enjoy more than helping people fall in love with poetry. For those located near me in the Tweed region, NSW, here’s your chance to join the most comprehensive poetry course I’ve created yet.

SLAMCRAFT is a unique course in writing and performing powerful poetry. Over 4 weeks, you will create new, authentic poems and gain skills to perform them with confidence. Learn creative strategies to unlock ideas, build your writing skills, and explore your voice in a safe and inclusive setting.
SlamCraft is not just for slam poets; it is for anyone who wants to connect with themselves and others through their words. Developed over 15 years of practice and research, this is the most comprehensive SlamCraft course offered to date.

SlamCraft runs for 4 consecutive Sundays from 2-4pm at the Frances Mills Education Centre in the Tweed Regional Gallery.

Course outline:
Oct 27 – Week 1. Love your materials.
Nov 3 – Week 2. Writing for the ear.
Nov 10 – Week 3. This is my voice.
Nov 17 – Week 4. Taking up space.

Cost: $155 / $135
Beginners are most welcome.
For an enrolment form or more info, contact Sarah:
Ph: 0428 256 531
E: poet@sarahtemporal.com

What people say about SlamCraft:

“This is the first creative writing workshop I have ever attended. I came thinking I’m not a poet; I’m leaving with a poem I’ve written and am proud to perform. Thank you.” – Dee Milenkovic, SlamCraft participant 2018

“I’ve never been so moved by my own poetry. This experience is with much thanks to Sarah for creating and facilitating a workshop which helps people to connect with themselves and others through their spoken words.” – Gabrielle Journey Jones, spoken word artist and author of ‘Spoken Medicine’

“Sarah Temporal’s SlamCraft is a much-needed excavation of the components behind successful spoken word poetry. Sarah uses an in-depth study of successful spoken word artists and the form’s hip hop origins to educate those wishing to hone their writing for the stage.” – Elliot York Cameron, Word Travels Program & Education Officer 2018

On my way to the state finals…

This year has been full of good news, but I’ve been a little selfish – or lazy – in keeping it all to myself. There was the birth of my gorgeous, healthy baby girl in April; and the success of the poetry events I started running in February. More on these later – I promise to keep you updated – or at least better informed than you were!

The latest good news is that I’m on my way to the NSW STATE FINALS of the Australian Poetry Slam! On the weekend I slammed with 16 super-talented poets in Byron Bay, at an event that’s become a yearly must-see for me in the Byron Writers Festival program. I won the slam with my piece “My Vagina is Fucking Huge” – yes it’s true, pregnancy and birth give you lots of new ideas to write about!

Sarah & Sahar - Byron APS heat winners
Sarah Temporal (1st) and Sahar Salahshori (2nd), winners of Australian Poetry Slam 2019 Byron heat.

This poem was my first attempt at writing a humorous piece of ‘doggerel’, and I was kind of surprised by how well it turned out. It’s not exactly a factual account of my birth experience, but it is an honest response to the ridiculous pressures placed on women to be perfect calm birthers, to never talk about their private bits, and to value tiny vaginas while blokes brag about their enormous dongs. I’ll have the video to share with you soon.

But enough about me (and my massive vagina…) The slam was heaps of fun! It was wonderful also to see my husband nearly scrape into the top two with his piece ‘I’m that white guy’. Others explored a wide range of experiences in their moving pieces. The judges, chosen at random from the audience, were very moderate and fair, reflecting the high standard of entries in their scores.

My personal highlight was performing for one of my poetic mentors Tug Dumbly – Australia’s unofficial poet laureate of satirical and humorous verse. Tug’s open mic night ‘Bardflys’ lit the spark of spoken-word for me in the early 2000s. It was extra special to have him in the audience, and to be able to make him laugh – a gift he’s given freely to thousands of delighted listeners through his poetry over the years.

The first and second place winners of this heat now get to compete in the State final at Customs House in Sydney, on October 18. So we’re going to pack our bags and do our first airline travel as a family to enjoy a weekend of words. Part of my prize is a ticket to the 5-day spoken-word festival, Story-fest, which culminates in the National final of the Australian Poetry Slam. I also get to share the trip with my poetry comrade Sahar Salahshori, the second place winner of the Byron heat. Like me, Sahar forged her poetic identity in the spoken-word scene of Sydney and then made a seachange to the northern rivers, so it’s something of a return to familiar turf for both of us.

If you’re in Sydney at this time, look out for me and say hi! It’s going to be a blast poetting it up with some of Australia’s best. Wish me luck!

 

That’s a wrap: Poetry Tour 2018

I recently returned from my first ever poetry tour. Working as a poet in regional Australia is fantastic: I have a strong creative community and a great work-life balance, with all the benefits of a laid-back lifestyle. Unfortunately though, regional artists often need to engage with the cities to bring our creative work to a wider audience, and that’s what I decided to do at the end of this year.

The tour saw me doing a different gig every day in Sydney, Newcastle, and Wollongong. I featured or facilitated at six poetry events, met the most inspiring people, and got to see how poetry communities are evolving in different cities. Interestingly, most of the poetry events had a fairly small attendance – around 30-40 people – but this number was comprised of such dedicated and engaged individuals that it was immensely valuable to connect with them. I really was surprised by the positive response to the tour. People were excited and interested even if they hadn’t heard of me, and they showed their support in many generous ways: offering accommodation or drinks, buying books, starting conversations.

Most of the poetry nights were arranged with a feature and open mic, so that I did a feature set of around 15-30 minutes at each. This is great for building up performance skills because I was able to try out different combinations of pieces. It was enormously rewarding to then hear poems from the attendees, some of whom were accomplished poets and others nervous newbies, all embraced in the welcoming community of spoken-word. This is something I love about live poetry, it always feels like an exchange between equals.

The hosts of these nights were a truly extraordinary bunch of women, all very professional and passionate about supporting poets. Many were happy to host me not just at their event but at their homes as well, giving me a bed for the night so I didn’t have to stay in hotels. Getting to know each other, trading stories and book recommendations, made it the very best kind of travel.

A few people have been curious about how to organise a tour like this, so I’ll aim to give you the run-down soon. It’s really not that hard, but it’s also not glamorous or financially rewarding. Fortunately I have a day job too, and the ‘reward’ I seek in creative work is the opportunity to do more poetry. Even if work doesn’t often translate to income, it’s always a privilege to be doing what I love.

A big shout out to everyone who supported the tour. Thank you for supporting an independent working poet. I can’t wait to see you all again soon!

 

*Photo credit: Top 3 images by Alpha Sierra studios, Newcastle.

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

 

 

The Image

My most exciting find this week was hearing Lynda Barry talk about the “image”. Not just visual images, or imagery in poems, but the image which is ‘contained by a form’ in any kind of artwork. To me, this is exciting because it makes sense of what goes on in the process of trying to make a poem or anything creative: we are trying to find a form, or make a home, for an image.

For Barry, the key question is, “What is an image?” She says an image is the thing that is contained by anything that we call art. An image is something spontaneous, it’s alive, it’s private, and it’s specific; as she explains:

So this kind of explained something weird that keeps happening for me recently. I have trouble sleeping, and just as I’m trying to drift off, I’ll get an idea for a poem. It feels like a really good idea; I can see the poem; I can feel the concept, shimmering in its beautifully balanced and energetic articulation. I have to get up with my notebook and write it down. But there is nothing to write! It’s a poem that doesn’t have any words yet. This sounded so mad in my head that I didn’t tell anyone about it for a long while. I assumed it just meant that I’m a really crap poet.

But listening to Lynda Barry, I started to see it differently. It’s true that my poem-making skills are not up to scratch when it comes to finding poetic forms in which to house my ideas. But that feeling of being struck by something spontaneous, private, and alive, might be a fairly common experience of ‘the image’.

I like the term ‘image’ better than ‘idea’. An idea suggests something that can be articulated or communicated; an image often can’t. It hangs around, waiting for you to find somewhere good enough for it to live, some form that fits. It is specific, and it is picky. Interestingly, I still have images in my mind for poems I’ve already written, and I know the image is not fully realised by the form I’ve given it.

Apparently, this is not an uncommon experience of the creative process. And if we want to make a poem, an artwork, an object, or anything, the gap between image and realisation is an inevitability we just have to live with.

“For me it’s like this: I make up a novel in my head. […] This is the happiest time in the arc of my writing process. The book is my invisible friend, omnipresent, evolving, thrilling… This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its colour, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.

And so I do. When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure the job is done I stick it into place with a pin. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing – all the colour, the light and movement – is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.”

Ann Patchett, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Hence, we get the sage advice, ‘kill your darlings‘. It’s the only way to get anything done.

For Ben Lerner, however, there is something extra problematic about poetry as opposed to other forms of art. In his excellent essay, “The Hatred of Poetry“, Lerner argues that poetry holds a special place in humankind’s tendency to idealise what we can’t realise, precisely because, as he bluntly reminds us, most people hate poetry. In fact, “many more people agree that they dislike poetry than agree on what poetry is”. The poem is always an attempt to meet that ‘transcendent impulse’ that calls upon us to sing; but the actual song is always compromised, always limited, never fully realised; like a dream upon waking. And because poetry dares to tread this territory, attempting to say the unsayable, it is always haunted by imperfection. We can imagine, behind every imperfect poem, the ‘ideal poem’, which does not exist, and never will.

So the ‘ideal poem’ to me sounds a little like ‘the image’. The ‘image’ seems to be something that artists experience, and audiences can also see when the art is doing its job well. On the other hand, Lerner’s ‘ideal poem’ seems to be something that audiences perceive as overshadowing the actual poem, whether the poem is great or terrible. There is resentment for what we cannot grasp, even while we praise the poet for pointing us in that direction. I wonder if the ‘ideal poem’ is the side we struggle with, while the ‘image’ is the thing that drives us to make a poem in the first place.

 

*Image ‘eyes in an abstract……2017-06-19‘ by wintersoul1 licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

 

 

What to do with an idea

Some ideas take longer than others. The idea for my next performance poem has been 5 years in the making… that’s a long wait. So I wanted to share some thoughts on the process before I enter FREAK OUT stage – which is due any day!

According to my highly scientific calculations, I am now at peak re-write time (4 weeks prior to performance, right on schedule). The poem is 95% written, my voice likes it, my unfailingly committed poetry focus group (i.e. husband) likes it, tickets to the show are selling, and everything seems to be coming together.

The idea is in the right place at the right time.

But when it first came to me 5 years ago – no wait, more like 7 years ago – the idea was in the right place at the wrong time. I had an intense feeling of being trapped, with no creative outlets, and the feeling resonated deeply with traditional fairytales I was studying at the time – particularly Rapunzel, the tale of the girl locked away in a tower. I set out to re-tell the Rapunzel story from my own experience. It didn’t work. Maybe because I was still in that experience, without enough distance to see it clearly, the story became tangled and shuddered to a halt. My first attempt to perform it for a live audience was an epic fail: blank faces everywhere.

We need to put some distance, or some time, between ourselves and the experience in order to write about it clearly. In the time between my first attempt at the Rapunzel story and re-writing it now for my upcoming performance, the idea has had a good 5 years to rest, recover, and find its true shape. Even ignoring an idea can sometimes be the best way to deal with it, as long as you’re ready to pay attention when it speaks up again.

Poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility.

In his Preface to the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth articulated the habits of mind he felt were most conducive to writing about our inner lives. I’m going to share the full quote because he describes so beautifully the whole process of what to do with an idea:

I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind, and in whatever degree, from various causes, is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will, upon the whole, be in a state of enjoyment. (p26, Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads, online source accessed 17 Jan 2018.)

For all its highs and lows, writing a new piece is certainly a process of enjoyment. Not only do we get to live through the emotion twice, appreciating the fullness of our experience and how it makes us greater human beings, we also have the pleasure of letting the mind do its work in peace. In my case, coming back to the idea years later has meant that I can see clearly where its significance lies in many other contexts beyond my own life, and that conversation with the world is one of the greatest pleasures of all.

So wish me luck at the show on February 14-15 at Byron Theatre, and grab a ticket if you’re in the Northern Rivers. Sign up to this blog below to hear more about how I re-wrote the Rapunzel story as a slam poem; writing tips, creative life, and more.

 

Happy New Writing!

Welcome to the new year! Here in the Northern Rivers, we’re getting pummeled by fat, drenching, subtropical rain, and then by riotous, skin-searing sun – in fairly equal proportions. Plant life is springing forth like nobody’s business; lettuces pop up in the lawn from stray seed and then burst into seed themselves just a short time later. It all feels like a recipe for renewal to me.

So, since new beginnings are a good time to make new stuff, I thought I’d share with you my pick of the best writing exercises to start the year. Whether using them myself or with students, the only measure of a good exercise for me is that it makes new things happen: new images, new voices, even new memories you didn’t know you had. Everything we need in order to write is right here. Use it!

My Top 3 writing exercises for making new stuff:

  1. ‘I remember’
  2. Best first lines
  3. Re-sentencing

You don’t need any writing experience to have fun with these. They are designed to bypass what you think you know, and dig into the fertile soil of imagination and association. I’ll be honest with you, when I go to the page to try and write some new stuff, often I never get past doing exercises. Why? I’m kind of fickle when it comes to ideas, I don’t like to commit to them. But when exercising, there’s no role, in fact no room, for commitment. You just open up to what’s endlessly possible.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

– Suzuki Roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s mind

So get your pen ready…

  1. Memory is always a rich source of inspiration, but sometimes we need a nudge to make the most of it. In one of the simplest and most effective exercises I know, we take the words ‘I remember’ as our starting point. Go to the exercise.
  2. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune, must be in want of a wife”… and a blocked writer must be in want of a prompt! Try using the best first lines in literature to create something new. Go to the exercise.
  3. In this exercise, new material is generated by re-purposing a piece of found text into an unusual writing prompt. Like all the best exercises, Re-sentencing is both challenging and liberating, and you might be surprised by what comes out. Go to the exercise.

If you have tried any of these exercises and created something new, congratulations! If nothing emerges, keep trying. Whatever happens, don’t throw away your first attempts, even if you see nothing of value in them yet. Just put them aside for later. As with gardening, in creative life we sometimes need to rest our garden beds in order to let the nutrients back in.  If we turn over the soil too often we might disturb the seeds that begin to sprout, unnoticed. So do your exercises, close your notebook, and look forward to the next step – figuring out what to do with the raw material. But that’s another post for another day.

Happy New Writing to you in 2018. And if you liked this post, don’t forget to share!