What we share

As I set to work on my first (written) poetry collection, I have been thinking of my task as trying to find a body for each poem. A physical form; something that will allow to speak and act from the page with as much presence as if I delivered it myself. After nearly 20 years speaking my poems aloud on stage, I’m not so comfortable on paper (or screens). My poems feel disembodied.

In performance, the actual voice and body, and the air we share, does most of the convincing. It says, ‘We are here. We are connected. We share this’.

How do you convince a reader to come along and give some of their precious time to your words? In performance, the actual voice and body, and the air we share, does most of the convincing. It says, ‘We are here. We are connected. We share this’. It’s a simple but profound transaction, and the audience has already showed up to listen. They are already there. On the page, I need to substitute that connection with something else: line breaks or word choices or commas – and that seems like a poor trade-off. But it’s necessary, I can see why a critical reader wants to be convinced that we are, in fact, here together.

So many textual tools can feel like the complete opposite of embodiment. They are small, inconsequential marks, that can be read many ways. They can be interesting, exciting, and also alienating. Poetry as text, to me, does not feel like a language that is easily shared; or at least, its shared-ness is complicated. When we physically share space, it often feels fine to hear a poem in a language we don’t know. We listen, we hear the ebb and flow of the voice, we hear the emotion, we hear the real person within the poetry. We are surprised by how much we do, after all, understand. But by the patterns of readership of much contemporary Australian page poetry, it might seem that the language of poetry is particularly resistant to being shared by people with widely or even slightly divergent backgrounds and experiences. That’s not to say it is all inaccessible; but most of the readers are other poets. They want to be challenged. In another sense, they are also an audience that is already there, with their own ideas of where ‘there’ is.

Into the silence of the white page, all sorts of nefarious comments come creeping…

The awkwardness I feel working on this book is perhaps a disconnect between my familiarity with performance, a literal embodiment of the poem, and my lack of a language to describe or explain what I am doing in that performance. Without any formal performance training, I couldn’t exactly set out my intentions for each piece, and therefore its difficult to translate these hazy and instinctive performance choices into textual choices. I’ve heard that page poetry is framed by the silence of the white page, like song is framed by the silence it breaks. In the real, embodied, person-to-person world, I’m very comfortable with silence. On the page, not so much. I struggle to cut, to condense, to stop talking over that white space. Into the silence of the white page, all sorts of nefarious comments come creeping… “This poem has no urgency or interest. This is not what poems look like. Maybe I have nothing to say. Maybe I’m not a poet.”

The community of spoken-word has been, for me, a miraculous support network that usually carries me through these doubts before they can get too much of a hold on me. I’m just beginning to feel part of a wider community of published poets too, who are every bit as supportive and inspiring as I try to become a better writer. It’s just that the feedback takes a little longer to return once you throw the words out there. Perhaps it’s not any tangible, textual details that I’m missing in these poems, but the bright, vivid attention of the audience themselves. The way their thoughts and stories arise silently in their listening, and fill the space with sudden, urgent significance.

SUPER SLAM – Info for poets

So you’re thinking of entering the SUPER SLAM? Fantastic! We can’t wait to hear your words. Here’s what you need to know.

The basics:

  • All styles of poetry and spoken-word are welcome. However, you should consider how you will engage the audience with your performance.
  • Time limit strictly 2 minutes, with points lost for going over time. Time starts from your first word – no extra for introductions. You will hear a warning bell with at 1:50 and 2 bells when time is up.
  • The poem you enter must be entirely your own work.
  • You don’t need to memorise your poem, but it really helps.
  • All ages, all topics, all levels of experience welcome.

Conditions of entry:

  • Please arrive at the venue by 3:30pm to register.
  • One entry per person, available with ‘Slam Poet entry’ ticket in your name only.
  • In the case that there is a draw, the 2 winners may be asked to repeat their performance for a “slam off”.
  • Video and photos of your performance may be published by Poets Out Loud and our business partners. This is for the purpose of promoting our writing community and the opportunities we offer.
  • The judges decision is final.
  • The prize package is not redeemable for cash. Feature poet and video production opportunities are contingent on your availability and willingness to collaborate with Poets Out Loud and our partners.

Contact the organisers:

For more info contact us through our Facebook page, Poets Out Loud Murwillumbah. Or contact Sarah on 0428 256 531 or poet@sarahtemporal.com


What if ‘Slam Poet entry’ tickets are sold out?

There are a limited number of places in the slam, so get in quick. A waiting list ticket, if available, unfortunately does not guarantee you a place in the Slam. But don’t worry –  please bring your poem along to another Poets Out Loud – every third Thursday of the month at Bacaro in M-Arts, Murwillumbah. We have open mic every month and a Slam every second month, plus amazing feature poets, dinner and drinks.

What if I want to withdraw my entry?

Contact Sarah on 0428 256 531 as soon as possible so that another poet can take your place. You can claim a refund on your ticket up to 7 days before the event.

I’m under 18 – can I enter the slam?

Yes, you can. At the venue only over 18s are to approach the bar.

I don’t know if my poem is a ‘slam poem’. Can you help?

The simple answer is, yes it is! Although Slam Poetry may have become associated with certain themes and styles of delivery that proved popular, there are no kinds of poetry off-limits at a slam. The audience responds better to authenticity than showmanship. Our advice is to be yourself, and try to share the feeling that drove you to write the poem in the first place.

How can I choose or improve my poem for the slam?

Time, edit, and rehearse your poem, preferably in front of others. Sorry, Poets Out Loud can’t help you choose which poem you should do. You may find useful resources on SlamCraft: Tips and techniques for spoken-word performance.

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



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,


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.

Getting organised

I’ve come across a lost of interesting commentary recently about how much of their ‘workday’ a writer actually spends on writing. It’s not much. Most of the writers in my network seem to spend over 50% of their time on admin, emails, promotion and marketing, and preparing work for submission. The business side of writing can be super time-consuming, and that applies whether you’re earning anything from it or not.

Since I’ve established the goal of being published, something I never seemed to get around to in all the excitement of performing live poetry, I decided to make it easier on myself by compiling a month-by-month list of all the submission openings for poetry in Australia. Some of these may be out of reach for a while as I develop my work from spoken-word into print format, but at least once it’s ready, I will know where to send it!

You can access my list of submissions, competitions and opportunities here, or from the writer’s toolbox tab.