Monday, November 4, 2013

TEDxCanberra, Part 1

One of the most rewarding things I have done this year was perform at TEDxCanberra. Being one of a group of inspiring speakers, musicians and performers, sharing our hearts and minds with 600 receptive people, was very heart-warming.

I had been planning for sometime to nominate myself for TEDx, but very satisfyingly, I was approached first by Stephen Collins, the licensee and curator of TEDxCanberra. I immediately accepted his request to perform and began planning my piece.

Building on We Are the Poem, I wanted to share in verse what creativity and poetry mean to me, and encourage the audience to find their own poems.

At the rehearsal the day before, I found out I was to open the event. This added to my nerves - leading off was challenging, knowing the inspiring talks that were to follow. And I had no real idea how the audience would accept a talk in verse.

A Poet Quietly Panicking
Photo: Adam Thomas
It went really well. I was very happy with the audience response, during my piece and afterwards in breaks. Here it is in full:



On HerCanberra, Charly Leetham gives a good example of the type of feedback I got during the day and afterwards:
The day started with a poetry slam from CJ Bowerbird - I really have to say I’m not the artistic sort. I prefer my information straight up without the frills, so I wasn’t expecting to even understand this session let alone connect with it. How wrong could I be? I admit, I simply did not GET some of it – but I got the gist and I appreciated it! CJ’s delivery was fabulous and it set the scene for the rest of the day.
That sort of reaction was typical. I got a lot of 'I don't normally listen to poetry, but...' or 'that didn't sound like the poetry I know. I liked it'.

Charly is exactly the sort of person I was trying to reach. I was so pleased I was able to do so.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The music in you, the music in me


A music nerd? Sure, that's me.
I can draw you the tie
From Dave Brubeck to Jay-Z;
Between Parkway Drive and the Dirty Three.
For me, High Fidelity is a documentary.

But I didn't know music until I met you.

The phrasing of the way you move,
The harmonies between your smile and eyes,
The brushes beating the pulses beneath my palm,
The song cycles found in your sighs;

Your soul has the authentic vinyl hiss
Uncompressed, the full dynamic range;
No meaning I would ever miss,
From the gutter to your embrace;

Your body sings songs I should have known,
Liner notes I can't believe I haven't read:
I want to flip through your back catalogue
and place you on the platter's bed;

Run the needle of my finger through
Your skin's faithful peaks and grooves,
Feel your vibrations fill my nerves
With the melodies played across your curves;

I can't sing a note or hold a chord
But have never felt more in tune,
Your hands guiding me across the fingerboard,
Finding the intervals as I swoon;

Miles Davis, I didn't really understand,
Until I heard your open throated honesty,
Felt the brash brass cool of your hand,
The full chested bell of your breath upon me:
The one note dropped, the unexpected trill,
Always catching my mouth empty, my lungs filled;

I thought I got what Elvis added to 
words heard before, until you sang me your 
cover, told me 'I love you', while your 
hips swivelled above me;

You Coltrane my heart, you Tom Waits me in bars.
I Jackson across your living room floor;
We Cash holding hands in road trip cars;

The Duke Records roster is your dirty mind,
Manchester in the 80s is your bed:
I lie down with Joy Division, die
With New Order in the morning lift my head;

You take me to Amy's makeout point,
The precipice between suicide and eternity,
With the knife twist of blues, the risk of jazz
Over the blade's edge you swing and dip me;

No baby, I didn't know music until I met you.
My life was toneless, a flat, stilted hum;
I can just hear things clearer now:
Music, with you,  is what my body's become.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

To the Flight Attendant on QF11 to LA

James, it might be the red wine you poured so
conscientiously, casually splashing two drops so you could
confide how the turbulent tremors appear at always the
wrong time, causing us to spill when we mean to
contain, but the fourteen hours I spent with your eyes have
changed me. James,

your eyes blue like Lake Louise,
condemned to ever imitate the pristine Rocky Mountain
peaks but never free enough to
disturb them, those tall sharp points
dangerously tempting, right there,
out of reach. James,

your eyes blue like glacier cracks,
opening like wardrobe doors to
timeless tundras of beauty and numbing
amnesia, pitching forgotten wars of
lions and timid boys. James,

your eyes blue, wide and
contradictory like autumn skies, a weak
apology or a vow to return with
heat, posing the question that stands
pigeon-toed between innocence and deceit.

And I should know. I too have
blue eyes that sometimes knock on
unlocked doors, offer answers that sound like
requests, know far more than they
share with me. James,

it might be the red wine, but
fuck it, it’s not the red wine,
it is the fourteen hours I spent with your
eyes that woke an idle part of me.

Since the moment I arrived in this world,
cold, I have been handed
bricks. I have placed them
conscientiously, building walls around my yard, glorious
hygienic mountain towers of safety and
distraction. But you reminded me of the
turbulent tremors that appear at always the
right time, that one brick left crooked and a
crack.

A crack that, if I lean forward and
peer, allows me to see into other meadows between
rocky facades, marvel at the reflection of my face in
someone else’s lake. James,

your eyes reminded me we are born human first,
naked over open fields, but
we are taught to lay tectonic
shields. James,

your eyes reminded me we arrive with
wide, open sight, but we
fall closed between walls, we
labour to construct our Shangri La.

James,

Thank you for reminding me that if we
crack open that little gap, we can
see very, very far.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Brisbane Roar Poets Tour 12 July

Last Friday night, I was honoured to perform in Canberra with three fantastic poets from Brisbane. Darkwing Dubs, Angela Willock and Martin Ingle ended their Roar Poets tour performing to a full house at Smith's Alternative.

It was heart-warming to see so many Canberrans come out to support spoken word. The audience was receptive, engaged and interactive - very satisfying for a performer. It made me proud to be from Canberra.

Amelia Filmer-Sankey, Zoe Erskine and Ellie Malbon provided local support, working as MCs and offering small gifts of poetry between sets.

Here are the poems I performed, with links to where you might be able to find video, audio or words:

To the Flight Attendant on QF11 to LA

I will post the words to the flight attendant poem up here soon.

Darkwing Dubs' ramblings and links to videos, etc can be found here. Here is one of his videos - Secrets.


Angela Willock does not have a home on the internet yet, but here is a video of her performing Bus Stop, which she opened her set with on Friday night.




Martin Ingle is a film maker and poet. He has a bunch of stuff on his YouTube channel, BreadAndBullfights. Here is Martin performing My Generation, one of the poems he gave us at Smith's.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Sydney Writers' Festival 2

I have read a few 'best of' lists for Sydney Writers' Festival events, but none (that I have seen) focus on poetry. In fact, few include poetry events at all. Which, I guess, is understandable. For Australians of a certain age (mine), the chance to hear Molly Ringwald both talk and sing is bound to block out any other things happening.

Anyway, in an attempt to right the balance, here are the poetry events I am going to try to attend.

Rare Objects Series Launch - Thursday 23 May 10 am

Luke Davies will launch a selection of chapbooks from Australian poets, including David Malouf.

Anis Mojgani - Thursday 23 May 6.30 pm at UNSW

Anis will be performing a solo show at UNSW. I believe it is already booked out (it is a free event), but I have my ticket! There is a waiting list.

Celebrating the Voice Writers' Night - Thursday 23 May 6.30 pm in Wollongong

This regular Sydney Writers' Festival event will launch a collection of poetry written by indigenous inmates at the Junee Correctional Centre. This is sure to be challenging and diverse writing.

Dermot Healy with Luke Davies - Friday 24 May 2.30 pm

Luke Davies' Interferon Psalms was the most challenging book I read last year. During this event, he interviews Irish writer Dermot Healy.

Words and Music - Saturday 25 May 10 am

Facilitated by Luke Davies and featuring musicians, poets and an ABC radio host -  Kate Miller-Heidke, Jeff Lang, Kate Fagan and Andrew Ford - this combines two of my loves: music and poetry. And according to Twitter, Kate Miller-Heidke appreciates the poetry of my predecessor as Australian Poetry Slam champion Omar Musa. Twice the reason to hear her speak about the intersection of music and words.

Marathon Poetry Reading - Saturday 25 May 4 pm

This event will mirror somewhat the Spoken Four event from the Friday night Festival Club, instead this time showcasing the written form of poetry. Eight poets from a variety of backgrounds and countries will present their work.

Finally

While I am posting links to events, I should say that the Sydney Writers' Festival online program is one of the best I have ever seen. If you doubt my suggestions, just checkout swf.org.au. You can browse by day, author, genre or venue.

Some other lists:

ABC's coverage and participation in the festival

Concrete Playground

Crikey's Liticism

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sydney Writers' Festival

Thanks to Word Travels, one of the rewards for winning the Australian Poetry Slam is the opportunity to take part in the Sydney Writers' Festival. Later this week, I will participate in several events during the festival and perform alongside Anis Mojgani from the US and Kate Tempest from the UK.

I have been a fan of Anis Mojgani since I started performing poetry and searching for inspiration on YouTube. I have only just recently discovered Kate Tempest, through the online recommendation of Scroobius Pip, no less.

For my major event, the Festival Club on Friday 24 May, we will be joined onstage by Eleanor Jackson from Brisbane. This is a very diverse lineup of performance poets, which should give a great demonstration of the breadth of spoken word.

These are the Sydney Writers' events I am participating in:

Mouth to Mic - Friday 24 May 4 pm

Miles Merrill from Word Travels will interview Anis, Kate and myself after we each have given a short demonstration of our work to the audience. I dread these sorts of things - I don't particularly like explaining my work and always feel somewhere between pretentious and superficial when providing answers - but I am really looking forward to hearing Anis and Kate talk.

More details can be found here.

Spoken Four as part of the Festival Club - Friday 24 May 7 pm

This is my main event of the festival. Anis, Kate, Eleanor and I will each perform a set within a 90 min poetry feature at the Festival Club. This will be followed by The Chaser and HEDTalks with Max Lavergne, Eddie Sharp and Andrew Denton. My favourite bit: I am up first so I can get my rubbish over with before sitting back and enjoying the rest of this entertaining night.

Details on this event are here.

Troubadours and Minstrels -  Sunday 26 May 12 pm

This creative event will see musicians lead small groups to poets hidden in alcoves through the Rocks. After a short performance, the groups then rotate to another poet. The combination of music, poetry and the architecture and history of Sydney is unique.

I believe this event is already booked out, but details are here.

Q-Poetics - throughout the festival

Curated by Sydney poet and performance artist Skye Loneragan, Q-Poetics will see poets delivering 'literary relief' to festival-goers waiting in queues. I am one of the poets who will be entertaining those waiting and those travelling between venues.

Next post I will list some of the poetry events for the Sydney Writers' Festival which I am not part of, but which I highly recommend nonetheless.




Sunday, May 5, 2013

Making Sense

On Saturday 3 May, I performed as part of Sense at the Nishi Gallery in New Acton, a well-curated 'audio journey' from spoken word through classical and jazz to 'intelligent dance music'. The largest drawcard was Max Cooper, a British electronica producer. Sense introduced me to Cooper and I have since become a serious fan. I recommend you listen to Synesthetes Museum, which includes a thoughful spoken word piece in the mix (from around the 55th minute).

Rosie Stevens plays cello on 'Manifesto'
Photo: Adam Thomas
For my set, I linked together four poems into Making Sense, which was very similar to other shows I have done recently. It builds on the themes of questioning my motivations and trying to discover my subtexts (a fruitless process, trust me, but hopefully one that is interesting to the audience).

More importantly, though, I achieved a first and was able to check off one item on my 2013 to-do list.* Rosanna Beatrice Stevens accompanied me on two pieces, on the cello and the piano. Rosie is a talented musician, writer and all-round artsy person.^

I gave Rosie recorded versions of two of my poems: 'Manifesto' and 'The Sound of a Fish Jumping'. She composed music to fit the words, pace and tone of the pieces. I think she did a brilliant job, taking the words to something that was more rounded and fuller.

Tapping out the fags of our white-hot wit
Photo: Adam Thomas
The addition of music had some strange effects on my poems and my performance. The emotions I felt through different passages changed slightly as the music played behind me. Sometimes, I could build on the sounds, riding the rhythms Rosie played - for example, during the 'pash' sequence in 'Fish Jumping'. At other times, I wanted to portray a different, but complementary feeling to what I was hearing in the music. This was tricky, such as when I was trying to go for a resigned, despairing reading while fighting the urge to tap my foot.

But with a few rehearsals and a musician who read my performance very well, the end result was a show I was very happy with.

The set list (with links only to the words at this stage, unfortunately):


* Make that half an item. I performed with a musician, but we have not yet recorded those poems. Don't worry, we plan to do that later this year. It was too good an experience not to capture it audibly.

^ Rosie is part of the creative team behind Scissors Paper Pen, a words-based event-producing collective in Canberra. She blogs here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Laziest poetry performance ever

Here is a performance I did recently at a new variety night in my hometown of Canberra. I cannot thank enough the young woman who accepted my invitation to the stage. She made the whole thing work.





The Silent Poem, or
I love you more than anything, but not enough to hurt you

I am sorry. 

I know when we made love this morning, 

You were thinking of someone else. 



Our hands woke before the birds; 

Sought warmth in each other’s feathered folds; 

Found holds they have always known; 

Fingers tracing familiar lines, 

Homing back with scribbled notes. 



But I know when we made love this morning, 

You were thinking of someone else. 



Morning light snuck peeks past curtains, 

Smoothed creases across uncovered curves; 

The golden flush of each day’s nearing, 

Fresh as that first morning’s glow, 

Reflected in nostalgic lips 



With memories longer than our minds’, 

As we washed over each other’s body, 



Anointing foreheads with kisses 



And were born again 



In grasping hands and arched backs. 



But I know while we made love this morning, 

You were thinking of someone else. 



We kissed with eyes closed: 

Mine shut on the present tense, 

Yours clenched around a memory. 



The worst thing I have ever done 



Is let you make love to the person I was 



Instead of leaving the person 



I’ve become.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Poetry in Motion slam - Wellington, NZ

In a stroke of astrological alignment, I happened to be in Wellington, New Zealand, for work the night of the April Poetry in Motion slam. It turns out Wellington has a strong poetry scene with some dedicated organisers and a bunch of great writers and performers.

Ali Jacs, the current NZ slam champ, is a Wellington local and naturally won the slam on the night. Here is an example of her politically-inspired, image-rich work:



In another hit of coincidence, the feature poet of the night was Laurie May from the Northern Territory. I met Laurie at the Australian Poetry Slam finals last year and was looking forward to a full set of her work. I was not disappointed. Funny, engaging and socially-minded, Laurie's pieces were fantastic.

Here is a taste:


Friday, April 19, 2013

Manifesto


Photo: Adam Thomas


To breathe
To be here
To breathe
To not fuck it up
To forget everything you ever stood for
To climb down into the well and burn the ladder for light to write by
To pin regrets to your collar
To write backwards so you can read the words on your forehead in the mirror
To throw away the first draft
To throw away every draft that follows
To melt the grains of childhood pain into flawed stained glass windows
To laugh at saints – Ha!
To have nothing you can’t live without
To have nothing
To make jewellery from broken promises
To loose the thread from around your wrist and string your bow with it for remembering
To be the gum tree the cockatoos shake from with a startle, wings beating like thigh slaps, hurrumphing at the wind
To give away small pieces of yourself to strangers, verse by verse until, hopefully, one day there is nothing of you left to give
To make wings from confessions
To refuse to fly
To stand beneath lookouts and swallow the shouts
To sing like an echo
To turn to the person next to you and say ‘tell me a story’. How about after the show, we get a kebab and a chocolate milk and sit on the swings in the park near the Polish Club in the mercurial light of the moon? You will tell me how the whole world once fit in the arc of tanbark around a park. On the merry-go-round you chased storms. Descending the slide was a dive to the bottom of the sea. Because only in the eye of a tornado or the cushioned stillness of ocean depths could you block out the other voices and hear yourself sing. And I will swing and tell you I don’t really like chocolate milk. But I’ll be crying when I do. And I’ll say ‘this has been the most marvelous night of my life. So far.’
To swing
To let go the earth
To feel falling when you know that, somehow, you will be caught
To open like a flower two hours before the sun rises, because you just know today is going to be the brightest of days, a great day for growing
To live up to this
To incandesce with intent
To not let yourself down again
To read poetry like church bells before service and after a wedding
To not let these just be words
To stand for everything you forgot
To fuck it up, better than you ever fucked it up before
To breathe
To be here
To breathe

Monday, April 15, 2013

China, Part 2

I think the best part of being at a writer's festival is the chance to meet other creative people. I was lucky enough to meet some fantastic authors and festival organisers while at the Bookworm International Literary Festival, some very well known and others less so. Being at karaoke with a group of these people was a surreal experience.

Here are some of the great writers I met in Beijing.

Justin Torres

Justin is a novelist and short story writer from upstate New York. He is one of the most entertaining interviewees I have seen, simultaneously humble and revelling in the attention. His debut novel, We The Animals, is a gripping story of growing up.

When I saw Justin being interviewed in Beijing, he was asked a question about poetry. He claimed to be terrible at writing poetry and recommended Natalie Diaz, a recommendation I followed up and encourage you to do also.

Despite his denial, I think Justin's work is full of poetry. Take the opening lines from We The Animals:
We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats, we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more.
 I wish I could write more poetry like that piece of prose.

You can find links to We Are Animals and other work by Justin on his website.

Karin Tidbeck

Karin (here and here) is a Swedish short story writer and poet. She is a distinctive writer for two reasons: she works with speculative fiction and writes in both English and Swedish. She has work published in fantasy/sci-fi journals such as Weird Tales and Weird Fiction Review.

I didn't get to meet Karin, but heard her speak at a panel on short stories. I immediately read her collection of stories titled Jagannath, an eclectic mix of tales that deal with common human themes in uncommon environments. There are steampunk airships, fairies and personified plants. I was particularly delighted and inspired by the mixture of the familiar with the fantastic.

You can read an excerpt from Jagannath here.

Andrej Blatnik

Andrej is a Slovenian writer and critic. He specialises in very short stories - nano fiction, although I didn't hear him use that term. He writes in Slovenian but has had his work translated into many languages.

His latest collection of stories is titled You Do Understand It is packed with compact hits, each tale as tight and complete as possible. I found it very inspiring, each story containing a whole picture but only enough narrative to make you think. Like a good poem.

Friday, April 12, 2013

China, Part 1

Between 15 and 24 March, I was lucky enough to participate in the Bookworm International Literary Festival in China. This was my first big writer's festival experience and I still have not absorbed it all. Being continually referred to as 'one of the writers' was very unnerving, but something I believe I could become used to.

'When I first saw you, I thought "who is
this plonker?" Then I realised it was
part of an act.'
Photo from Bookworm Festival
I performed my show, 'Meta', at the Bookworm bookshops in Beijing and Chengdu, at an LGBT community centre in Beijing and at the University of Nottingham Ningbo. I also delivered a performance poetry workshop and made a visit to an international school. Each event was distinct and taught me something new about myself, my act and creativity in general.

For those who haven't seen it, 'Meta' is a 45 minute performance piece that ties together 12 poems, most old but a few new. I incorporate the story of Narcissus into the mythology of the poet and question what motivates me to write poetry. Free from the slam format, I use costume and props to add to the theatre of the show. The show bounces up and down emotionally and I find it quite draining, in a good way, like a spiritual workout.

Some of the things I learnt:

Poetry still has the power to engage

Before I went to China, I appeared on Ross Solly's show on 666 ABC Canberra. After chatting about my upcoming trip, I read 'We Are the Poem'. It was an Outside Broadcast and there were a few people waiting to join Ross, a diverse group ranging from a Canberra Raiders rugby star to a finance guy to cover the markets. They were talking quietly during my chat, but as soon as I started the poem they all stopped and listened. There is something about rhythmic words that attracts attention.

Why I am a performance poet #1: Engaging with the audience

I get great satisfaction, that warm heart feeling, from having people watching me as I perform: seeing their emotions follow the pitch of my performance, hearing their laughs and, if I am lucky, seeing their tears. This is why writing poetry on a page is never quite enough for me. (Which is quite fortunate, as my poetry, sitting alone on a page, is never quite interesting enough for people to read. It gets lonely. I need to take it out to cheer it up.)

More than this, some of the best times were after performances, when I would answer audience questions (once they had got over the 'what was that?' moment). These questions ranged from 'does poetry matter' to 'do you have Narcissistic Personality Disorder in your family'. (Answer: other than in me personally, no).

Why I am a performance poet #2: It's all about the music

I love music. It plays an important role in my life and is with me almost constantly. But, here's the catch: I am tone deaf. I can only sing the notes that fall between the keys and I can't play an instrument beyond the 'Smoke on the Water' riff on guitar.

I realised, though, my love of music is one of the major motivators for me to perform my poems. I try to capture rhythms, rhymes and sounds to create musicality in my poetry. I didn't fully understand this until it leapt from my mouth in response to an audience question.

Surprise can be powerful

As far as I could tell, my show surprised most of the people who came to see it. They might have been expecting a poetry reading or a typical collection of slam poems. They didn't expect a performance with characters and a theme.

I was satisfied with how well this worked. It appeared to engage the audience and elicited a lot of emotional responses. My favourite moment was when one of the audience members said quite loudly: 'Is he alright? Is this part of the act?'

Gotta give it your all

One challenging aspect was the variation in visible audience responses. My first gig in Beijing was attended by 100 people, mostly English-speaking ex-pats, who laughed at all the right times and some of the wrong ones. My university gig, however, was mostly Chinese-speaking students who were learning English for business. Furrowed brows were more common than laughs.

I found it difficult to give a consistent effort to each show. At one point, I even considered cutting out a poem and skipping to the end when I, quite wrongly it turns out, thought I was losing the audience.

I don't know how actors on Broadway or bands on tour are able to give it their all every night. But I have resolved to do this for my performances. Even if I happen to lose most of the audience I owe it to the people I am reaching, and to myself, to put everything into each gig.

Next post

Enough about me...in my next post I will talk about some of the other authors I met in China and provide links to their amazing works.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Valentine's Day

Again he said 'there's no such thing as love,'
in response to something the
ABC radio announced,
'it's just a mathematical formula,
the product of loneliness and lust',
as he brought the mugs of tea to bed.

As we slowly woke to another day,
he settled down into the same pocket
in the mattress, placed his hand
on mine and slurped his tea the way
he has for forty-seven years.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Multicultural Fringe Festival

Last weekend, I performed as part of the MultiFRINGE 9.2.13 at the National Multicultural Festival. Myself and three other poets put on an hour-long performance to a great audience on the Sour Cherry stage.

Tasnim Hossain

Tasnim Hossain
Tasnim opened with some beautiful poems which reflect her cultural background but have a distinctively Australian vibe. Her last poem was the best. Starting with a disclaimer for her mother ('this is fictitious'), Tasnim spoke of mixed-culture relationships and the beautiful babies they produce.

Tasnim doesn't have any of her work online at the moment (that I can see, anyway). If I find some, I will let you know. In the meantime, you will have to seek her out at one of her appearances around Canberra.

Will Small

At the risk of sounding condescending, I think Will's poetry has matured considerably since I last heard him perform (which was a couple of years ago). I loved the pieces he performed for the MultiFRINGE. He presented his socially-conscious observations in his confident rap-based style.
Will Small

I particularly liked O Southern Cross, a poem that discusses symbols and encourages us to treat them as catalysts for thought rather than rallying points for hubris.

Will has competed on the Australian Poetry Slam national finals stage before and currently runs the ANU Voice Poetry Slam for secondary public school students. The link here contains information for 2012, but I believe it will be running again in 2013 as an ACT Centenary event.

Omar Musa

I don't think I need to say much about Omar. He rocked, as he does, with some classics (My Generation and Queanbeyan) and a couple of poems I hadn't heard before. Omar is currently completing his latest poetry collection, Parang, which he will be launching in Canberra at the Electric Shadows Bookshop on 13 March (Facebook event link here).

Being the rockstar he is, Omar then dashed off to perform on stage with The Last Kinection.

CJ Bowerbird

I had a great time performing five poems. I started with one that, I hope, reflected themes in the poetry of all four of us: inclusiveness and openness. I noticed that each of us, in our own style, performed poems that invited people in and created a space in which anyone can celebrate our humanity. I included the closest I have to environmental and political poems. In the middle, I performed two poems that reveal snippets of my personality.

Here is the set list:




Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What helps my creativity

Last weekend, awesome Canberra poet Andrew Galan* was interviewed by Melanie Tait on ABC local radio - 666 Canberra. Among other things, he discussed the concept of a 'professional poet' and how a regular paying job can be complementary to writing poetry.

This made me think: what are the things I do that support my creativity? I have never tried to survive as a poet, and I am not sure I could, but I can see that other aspects of my life help make my creative work better.

A '9 to 5' job

I agree with Andrew. Besides paying the bills, a regular job supports my creativity and make my poetry more imaginative and relevant. I can't imagine writing locked away in a study somewhere. Some of my best ideas come while working on other things.

While I am fortunate enough to not have a mundane job, there is something comforting in repetition, something fundamental in 'laying bricks' or 'counting widgets'. The brain (and the heart) is not very good at working at 100% all the time. Sometimes, it is happy just chugging along for a while, waiting for that precisely random moment to spring the next brilliant idea on you.

Pauses

Which brings me to the next point: some of my best thoughts have come when I haven't been thinking. Taking a break from writing poetry (or being creative in any way) is sometimes exactly what I need to be creative. I don't mean that writing poetry and preparing for performance is never simply hard work. Sometimes it is. Often I just have to work through a new poem or rehearse a performance (over and over). But true creativity doesn't seem to come from intense concentration. Often it is the exact opposite.

My best ideas have come either when I have not been thinking about writing or when I have returned to a poem after days or even weeks. Rarely do my most creative moments come three hours into a concentrated period of writing or rehearsal.

Running

I am a big advocate of healthy body, healthy mind. One of the best things I ever did was take up running. I am not a fast runner, but I do run for a long time.

I feel fantastic after a run. It helps physically and it also seems to empty out the trash from my mind. Sometimes I get great ideas running (best thoughts come when not thinking) but even when I don't, my mind seems fresher and more nimble afterwards.

A family

My family keeps me grounded. It provides an ongoing reason to be engaged, to be present and to love. Oh, and it provides ample material for poetry.

--------------------------------

*Andrew Galan, together with the Master of Conflict and the Score Adder, hosts BAD!SLAM!NO!BISCUIT! at the Phoenix Pub in Civic, Canberra on the third Wednesday of every month. His interview with Melanie can be found here. He blogs at this place.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Pause for thought

I write poetry not to change the world
            but to change me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Postcard Poem Project

Last year, I participated in a Postcard Poem Project initiated by the US performance poet, Christian Drake. Organising through the powers of Facebook, Christian asked for poets from anywhere in the world to email him their names and addresses. He then allocated each participant two addressees to woo with poetry. Poems were scratched, sketched and scrawled on the back of postcards and mailed across the globe.

I bought Canberra postcards from Smith's Alternative Bookshop and sent my poems off to Loudon, New Hampshire and New York, NY. I added my email address, in case my recipients would like a new poetry penpal. I only received one postcard in return, with no personal details other than the image of Los Angeles on the card.

My poems were inspired by the cards I wrote them on. Consequently, they had themes of place and home. One card had a night sky, which inevitably drew thoughts of stars. Similarly, the poem I received echoed the city of Los Angeles.

Here is one of the poems I wrote:

From my back porch, I see hearts break
And bad poetry;
I see promises made and the
Sparkle of regret;
I see sparks flung and propositions caught,
Globes spun and shapes wrought.
In the distance, I see the
Future and the Past
Meet briefly, brush cheeks, and
Blush passing.

Christian Drake has a fantastic performance presence. His poems are full of nature and animality. One of his poems has Christian roaming through the crowd, a werewolf baying for blood. He has an album on Bandcamp titled Kill Starlings.

Here is werewolf:


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What Inspired Me in 2012

Here are some of the Australian poets and publications that kept me going through the last year. I have limited them to Australian publications released in 2012. As Graham Nunn (who inspired this post) describes it: the riches of Australian Poetry.

Steve Smart - Voices In My Head

When I picture Steve Smart, he is always in a long black coat, with unruly dark hair and practical glasses, hunched over a page. He is always hunched, as if bearing the weight of all his words.

Voices In My Head is a 79-track record of that weight and an inspiring package for an aspiring performance poet. It records poems from several of Smarty's performances, including shows he put on for the Brisbane Writer's Festival and Overload Poetry Festival.

You can read a track listing and liner notes on Smarty's webpage here. Unfortunately, it is not clear how to buy the album, but I recommend going to hear him perform and buying it from him in person.

A review of the album by Amanda Anastasi is here.

Julie Chevalier - Linen Tough as History

I went to the inaugural Southern Highlands Writer's Festival in Bowral this year and got to hear Mark Tredinnick speak and read some of his poetry. After I got home I ordered Mark's Fire Diary online. Lots of googling later, I found a review of Julie Chevalier's poetry collection, Linen Tough as History.

I bought both it and her earlier book of short stories. Chevalier's poetry is modern and pop culturally aware. It contains sharp social criticism without being preachy. I much more enjoyed the first half of the collection, which focusses on this contemporary critique, than I did the second section of ekphrastic poems. Regardless, it was engaging and a fantastic example of modern Australian poetry.

The book can be purchased at this site and a review is here.

Going Down Swinging #31 and #33

Ok, I am going to cheat a little. I bought Going Down Swinging #33, which was published in 2012, but what came with it was the little gem of #31, which was a 2011 release. I love everything GDS does, but I particularly want to focus on #31.

#31 was GDS's first multimedia digital edition. The variety and combination of forms keep you engaged throughout. Collaborating with musicians, videographers and visual artists is something I am looking forward to and GDS #31 is a great place to get ideas.

Luka Lesson - 'Please Resist Me' video

'Please Resist Me' is one of Luka Lesson's older poems, but it is the title track of the album he released this year. Please Resist Me contains spoken word and hip hop pieces, perfectly demonstrating Luka's combined strengths. It also shows the impressive collection of collaborators and artists he has ties to.

The video for 'Please Resist Me' was released this year as part of the promotion for the album. It too shows Luka's broader family of people dedicated to the cause of words, being a collage of performers and writers miming to Luka's voice.

Australia has a vibrant and motivating arts and performance community. It continues to surprise and comfort me. I feel particularly blessed to be a small part of it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The year that was 2013

I am not generally a maker of New Year's resolutions. It's not that I don't agree with making commitments, more that I don't stop often enough to check my progress against them.

But as I write and perform more poetry, I am finding it offers ample opportunities to reflect. Why did I write that poem? What do I want to do next? Which poem should I be working on now?

This year I am going to write down my performance poetry ambitions. Hopefully by stating these publicly, I will be committing to making them come true. Perhaps.

Anyway, here is the post I am going to write at the end of this year.

--------------------------------------------------------------

The year that was 2013

Poetically, 2013 has been the most productive and rewarding year of my life. This year, I have:

  • Performed at literary festivals in China, Indonesia and Australia
  • Featured at poetry gigs in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and New Zealand
  • Performed and recorded my poetry with musicians
  • Written and performed work with other poets
  • Developed a complete, themed show, based on my poetry, and performed it in Canberra and at the Queensland Poetry Festival
  • Had one of my poems featured on the Indiefeed Performance Poetry podcast
  • Been published in Going Down Swinging, my favourite Australian literary journal
  • Completed the first draft of my verse play
I have been blessed this year by more than one person saying:
  • Your poetry has inspired me to write
  • Your poem made me cry
  • I really learnt something from your workshop
  • How can I get into slam?
I have also been able to achieve a lot in preparation for 2014, by:
  • Being accepted into a drama program to develop and stage my verse play
  • Having enough quality material to record and release a new album in 2014
  • Meeting the people behind Liner Notes - Sean M Whelan, Emily Zoe Baker and Michael Nolan - not just because I love their work but also because I need to be part of of Liner Notes, at least once

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Metaphor II


Thoughtlessly brought into the world of my car
By the sweep of my sleeve,
The ant lands on the horizon of the steering wheel.

In the pause between lights it seems to question me;
Antennae twitching in nervous wonder,
Or frantic fear.

I consider ending its misery
But outside the car the traffic calls;
When next I look the ant is gone
To make what sense it can
Within this vehicle’s walls.