Koraly Dimitriadis crept into the Northcote Social Club on Wednesday night to review Overload Allstars as part of the Overload Poetry Festival. the Melbourne writer found herself chuckling, enraged, serenaded and turned on. In the end though, she realised that one must ultimately wear their words, in order for them to be appreciated.
When asked to review a session at the Overload Poetry Festival I was excited not only at the thought of writing the review, but also at attending a performance poetry event. I’ve always read poetry on the page and it was only in the last year or so that I noticed an increased interest in spoken word. I started to tune into Triple R, surrendered to the art.
On Wednesday night, the Overload Allstars audience was treated with four unique poets: Ali Cobby Eckermann, Geoff Lemon, Maxine Clarke and Lewis Scott. The venue, Northcote Social Club, was dimly lit and the audience sat sprawled on the carpet, mellowed out. I stared intently at the stage in anticipation, open to new images and the bubbling up of emotions.
Ali Cobby Eckermann is an indigenous poet who I knew nothing of prior to hearing her read. Through her poetry, I learnt she is part of Australia’s Stolen Generations: taken from her birth mother and placed with a white family. Her intense anger spun off her tongue and into my mind. Her poetry made me angry at myself: that I didn’t know more about her pain, and the pain of Aboriginal people; that I was one of the people she spoke about with disappointment – one that knows little about Aboriginal culture. Each of her poems took me deeper into her culture, and by the end I was hungry for more. One image still with me is a part of her poem addressed to her adoptive mother: Mum, when you die, will you let me grieve like we do out in the bush? At the end of her performance, I was ashamed of myself and my lack of knowledge in this area. I wanted to write a letter to the government: shove your intervention.
Next, the audience was catapulted into the humorous rhythms of the theatrical Geoff Lemon. Geoff and his words were inseparable, and his poetry had a sort of rap beat to it. Though he started out with comical verses, soon the laughter of the audience turned into serious whistles. Geoff had turned serious: he was hurt, fucked up by friends and the world. Lemon succeeded in commanding the attention of the room, and his poems were infectious. An image still with me: write the Ten Commandments on a tablet, but not on the one that thorns can grow on, the type you take when you’re ill, so they are easier to swallow.
Maxine Clarke was up next. I’ve read a few of Maxine’s poems on the page but never seen her perform. Maxine brings her poems to life – her voice is smooth, sleek, her body moving through the verse. She delivered three distinct types of poetry: a few were sprinkled in cheekiness; others written in Jamaican Patois; and others with a hip-hop feel to them. What they all had in common was that they stemmed from the struggles of African descendants and always ended with a punch. Some words that spring to mind from the evening are about an elderly black woman: Y’all don’t know her name, so let’s call her Black History. When Maxine recited her poem about President Obama and her body moved in waves while she repeated the letter “O” over and over again, I actually got turned on. I think it had something to do with the thought of seducing the most powerful man in the world.
Last but not least on the stage was Lewis Scott. Alec Patric has reviewed Scott’s performance in some detail, so I’ll keep it brief. After Lewis’s performance I felt as if I had just woken up from hypnosis, and someone had been tampering with the insides of my mind. I wasn’t sure how many poems he performed because they merged with each other, swelling and evolving as he moved through his set. The world is darker than the womb, he said. It was as if he was reading from the Bible. Images of birth and conception floated around in my mind while Lewis acted out a swimming sperm fertilising an egg. Lewis used various techniques to “perform” his poem: moving away from the microphone, which had me straining to pick up his words; raising and lowering the tone of his voice; and sometimes he even sang – Jehovah, Jehovah. He ended with more singing – There must be a God.
After the show I was chatting with Lewis Scott and he said something interesting: a poem that can’t be read aloud isn’t poetry. Maybe this is true. It’s like a dress hanging in your wardrobe – it has to be worn to be appreciated.
Photographs by Michael Reynolds.