Monday, November 16, 2015

Footnotes for Red Hands on Red Charts

I have had a few questions about "Red Hands on Red Charts", mostly because of two Latin phrases within it. I try to avoid obscure language in my poems, but I think these references fit because of the subject matter. To help those not familiar with Latin (and, honestly, who is?), here are the translations and background.

Terra Nullius

When I say that I am "the nullius to your territory", I am referring to the principle in international law of terra nullius.  This principle, which translates as "nobody's land", applied historically to territory which no state had already claimed as its own. This allowed colonisers to lay claim to land which was not owned in a way which western governments would recognise. The first courts of Australia applied the principle of terra nullius when deciding that indigenous people, the traditional custodians of the land, could not in fact own any of it. It all belonged to the Crown.

Pro Patria Mori

"The patria to your mori" is a reference to a First World War poem by Wilfred Owen titled "Dulce et Decorum est". The poem itself references a Roman quote from Horace:
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
This  roughly translates as "how sweet and fitting it is to die (mori) for one's country (patria)".


I also make reference to the "chisel that brands names onto cenotaph skin". A cenotaph is a memorial to those lost at war.

Indiefeed Performance Poetry

Today, I achieved a life goal: one of my poems was featured on the Indiefeed Performance Poetry podcast.

Wess Mongo Jolley created the Indiefeed Performance Poetry podcast in 2006. Since then, he has posted over 1500 recordings of the world's best performance poets and spoken word artists. Sadly, the blog will be ending in January 2016, as Mongo moves on to other projects. It will remain, however, an invaluable resource for lovers and creators of poetry.

The Indiefeed blog has been part of my life ever since I started performing spoken word. I have listened diligently for the past seven years, frequently being moved to tears and inspired to write at the same time, often on international flights. Indiefeed introduced me to many of my heroes of poetry and showed me how vast the spoken word world is.

All of these things make it particularly heart-warming that my poem, "Red Hands on Red Charts" has been featured as episode 1571. This recording features DJ Gosper, the incredible Canberra blues artist, and was recorded, mixed and mastered by Michael-John Stratford at Yurt 66 Studio.

This is one of two poems I recorded with DJ. I hope they will be part of an album I am putting together for release in 2016.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Creating a Poetry Feature

I recently read a post by Mike Simms on Eternal Graffiti titled "Why Your Poetry Features Are Just Not Good And What You Can Do About It". Mike covers ways in which feature poets can fail to capture and entertain an audience.  While I am not claiming to be a consistently great feature, I was happy to see that I do many of the things he advocates in a good spoken word set.

Here are some of my thoughts and tips on creating a poetry feature set. These things work for me, and may not be right for everyone, but I offer them as an insight into my process.

Set Lists

I consider the audience and create a new set list for every feature. If the room is likely to be quiet and contemplative, I will perform some of my more introspective and layered pieces. If the energy level is going to be high and the crowd needing to be entertained, I will shelve those poems in favour of something more direct.

I try to create light and shade in my set, roughly alternating between sad and happy poems. Usually, I will end on something upbeat, to bring us back out of whatever 4 am hole my last poem just put us in. Sometimes I will end on a low note if I think the crowd will appreciate being left with a kick in the guts. My sadder poems seem to have the greatest impact.


Biggest confession of this post: 90% of my banter is scripted. When preparing for the feature, I rehearse the full set, including between-poem chats. I try to sound as natural as possible, and will react to the evening where appropriate, but rehearsing banter has several benefits. It prevents me from rambling between poems. There may be something I want to say, but if I haven't prepared for it, then I'm likely to find myself sounding vague or repetitive. It's like editing my writing.

Rehearsing banter also makes sure I don't forget anything if, for example, I want to thank the other feature poets or the inspiration for a particular piece. Finally, it helps me keep to a flow during the set, creating something cohesive that fits within my allocated time.

One note while I'm discussing banter: I limit the introductions of my poems and do not explain them. I feel cheated when a poet tells me what their next poem is all about. I would much prefer to find that out for myself. If I do introduce a piece, I try to set up a context that makes people what to hear what comes next.


I am fortunate to be very good at memorising my poetry. This means that I can focus on performing every piece. When I say "perform", I mean naturally engaging the audience and showing the emotion I felt when I created that poem. If I know the lines deep in my subconscious, I can concentrate on accessing these feelings and portraying them on stage.

(Photo: Adam Thomas)

This can sometimes be very draining. Candy Royalle speaks of being "resiliently vulnerable". This resonates strongly with me. My best poems, best performances are when I am being brutally open and honest. I honour the audience by putting myself in this vulnerable position.

These are some of the things I think about when preparing for a feature set. I am very privileged to be able to share my words with others. I hope that by putting in this effort, I am respecting this privilege and my audience.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


For the second year in a row, I was very grateful to be asked to take part in Wordsmith,  an exhibition at M16 Artspace of works of art in response to written pieces. Each of the works created for the August 2015 exhibition were shown alongside the writing that inspired them.

I contributed two poems: Ian Robertson responded to "On Trying Hard Not To Write About The Sea, Which Is Ever Present", and Bernie Slater worked with this poem:

Bitumen Stitches

objects appear clearest as they
pass. a poem is a snapshot, not a
transit. any motion is the
hand of the photographer

shaking. the veiled rosy
swollen moon sits on the
end of the road. the fore-
head of the car is tucked
between the headlights’
outstretched arms. my heart

out the windscreen, pulling me
forward, my stomach on its
chain bumping on the road
behind, my torso abandoned empty. I’m
climbing the white line

beside me. I’ve been creating roadside
memorials to moments. I didn’t
predict the energy it takes to
tend the flowers. I should, instead,
have written goodbye in chalk on the tar.

Bernie Slater works in multiple media, often defacing found objects to create political art and social commentary. His response to "Bitumen Stitches" involved creating three-dimensional paper cars which he then crushed and distorted.

Ian Robertson is a landscape artist, who took the sense of disjunction and separateness from "On Trying Hard Not To Write About The Sea" and created two striking sea-side paintings. You do not see the face of anyone in either painting; they are either turned away or looking out into the distant or horizon or the face of a deep-green wave.

Stephen R Randall, someone I'm yet to meet, has blogged a few words and pictures of writings and artworks, including my two poems and the artist's responses, here.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Post-War: Thousand Mile Stare

So, it's been a long time since I blogged, but this year has been a very busy one. One project I am very excited about, and fortunate to be a part of, is Katy Mutton's Post-War Project. I have been a fan of Katy's work for a long time. Her combination of materials, ink, silhouettes and cut-aways carries so many layers. I encourage you to visit her site and look at some of her work.

For the Post-War Project, Katy is researching the Australian Soldier Settlement Scheme post-First World War and using this research to inspire new works. The year-long project will culminate in an exhibition in Mildura in 2016. Mildura has a strong tie to the Soldier Settlement Scheme through the close-by Red Cliffs district.

Performing at Post-War Project: The Thousand Mile Stand, ANCA Gallery April 2015
Katy has invited me to tag along with her, sharing her research to inspire me to write. I performed as part of Katy's exhibition at ANCA Gallery in April/May, titled Post-War Project: The Thousand Mile Stare. My poem, titled 'Keeping Our Heads Down', can be found here.

Post-War Project: The Thousand Mile Stare, ANCA Gallery April/May 2015

It was fascinating to discover that a lot of the objects I included and themes I developed in my poem also appeared in Katy's works: spades, rifles, watercourses, metal, the colour of the soil, separation and loss.

I am looking forward to continuing to work on this project and I hope to be able to contribute to Katy's exhibition in 2016.

Seriously, though, you should check out Katy Mutton's work.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Word in Hand

Last night, I performed my first full slam feature set in Sydney, at Word in Hand, at the Friend in Hand Pub in Glebe. It was a heart-warming night, with an attentive and welcoming audience. I performed a 20 min set of six poems, which would have been new to nearly everyone there.

Here is my set list:
Two Doors Down From Billycart Hill
The Silent Poem
Ten Ways Your Love Is Like Water
Red Hands, Red Charts
This Is My Poem
Catherina Behan joined me on the middle two poems, sharing stanzas on Water and singing the chorus in Red Hands. She was incredible and made those two poems much greater than they have ever been before.

Look out for some video I hope to post soon.