Being coordinator of the Overland Overloaded blog has been an interesting experience for me. In asking people to review events at Overload, I gathered together six very dedicated people: three poets and three ‘non-poets’, or at least, people who were not members of the Melbourne Spoken Word scene (all of them, I believe, have written poetry) in the hope that a broad range of opinions would prevail. This has certainly been the case. Writers who have never seen a poetry slam before have reviewed poetry slams, writers who have never been to a spoken word event have reviewed showcases of the best spoken wordsters in Melbourne. Poets have reviewed themselves, their performances and their peers. Overland Overloaded blogger Alec Patric’s post, regarding the Voiceprints #1 event was one of the most debated reviews of the Overland Overloaded Project. Part of Patric’s review read:
The ideas going into the event are great. I was looking forward to ‘Atmospheric meditations’ and ‘Erratic, operatic exhalations.’ But interesting ideas can often translate into idiocy and madness. Function as an excuse for a childhood phantasmagoria of disintegrating daydreams and persistent unformed cognitive connection or development. If that sounds psychological it’s because I often wondered whether this is what insanity sounded like. Then there is the sounds of the natural world transformed into the threat of its pointless impact on a concrete existence. Brief moments of insight into the human experience, lovely revelations of inner bird song, blown away by existential shrieking. The art of laboratory experiments and the handicraft of animal testing.
By way of comment, Melbourne poet Maurice McNamara wrote:
Specifically: Eddy Burger, on first, does absurdist/surrealist humorous/pathetic pieces that I have seen win over children/old folks. Great rhythm and technical ability. This night a bit lukewarm – he depends on energy back to fire. Jo Truman and Warren Burt belong more to the end of experimental music, not everyone’s cup of tea, but her vocal abilities strange, astonishing. High level ‘art’. Carmen Main and Steve Smart were a bit fumbly, perhaps under-rehearsed, and didn’t exactly take us all the way to the dark side, but two good performers mixing up their poems to music tracks, a good idea, and not just cliched rapping. Santo Cazzati has tremendous rhythm, musicality, and passion. People went along because they wanted to hear different stuff and that’s what they got. They didn’t necessarily expect it to be perfect. It certainly wasn’t just dull posing as the review above suggests.
Having seen many of the poets who performed at this event read over the years, I wanted to reignite this discussion, as we pick our way gingerly out of the post-Overload rubble, by posting one of my favourite poems from Eddy Burger, one of the poets mentioned above in McMamara’s commentary:
I was walking down the street, minding my own (COFFEE!) business, when I see this person I know, and he (COFFEE!) comes up to me and tells me I’m not looking well, says I’m looking (CIGARETTES!) tense, says I’ve got dark smudges under my eyes. I tell him I’m all right, and I manage to get away, only to be confronted by (CIGARETTES!) someone else I know. She says I look weary, says I should take better (CIGARETTES!) care of myself and should try to lead a (SUGAR!) healthier lifestyle. I’m (COFFEE!) doing all right, I say. I eat (SUGAR!) well. But I’m in a hurry, I say, I have to make a (COFFEE!) business appointment. I dash around the nearest corner, pass the (CIGARETTES!) local health‑food store, and slip into a (SUGAR!) café. I take a seat. I call for a (COFFEE!) waiter. But just as the waiter comes over, three people I know – people who (FATTY FOOD!!) work in the health‑food store – come over (SUGAR!) and ask if they can (CIGARETTES!) join me. Certainly, I say. The (FATTY FOOD!) waiter looks at me. My acquaintances look at me. I order (CIGARETTES!) a felafel roll and a glass of (COFFEE!) celery juice. They say (FATTY FOOD!!) that I should (OIL!) take better care of my (SUGAR!) body, I (CIGARETTES!)(OIL!) should exercise (FATTY FOOD!!) more, do I suffer from (CIGARETTES!) stress?, am I (COFFEE!)(SUGAR!)(FATTY FOOD!!) getting enough (OIL!) sleep?, (COFFEE!)(CIGARETTES!)(SUGAR!)(FATTY FOOD!!)(OIL!) and I really should take better care myself.
As with many performance pieces, to read this poem on the page does not convey the true effect of the poem. To hear Burger read it aloud on stage, his eyes wide and boggling, his body slight twitching with ‘withdrawal’ as he yells ‘COFFEE, CIGARETTES, FATTY FOODS,’ in contrast with the calm tread of the rest of the poem is side-splitting. In the absurdist/surrealist/humourous context that McNamara speaks of, this poem works. In fact, not only does it work, it works extremely well. Such is both the dilemma, and the beauty of a project such as Overland Overloaded. Patric’s review, as he himself points out, is probably what an extremely large section of the general public would have thought of Voiceprints #1, and the reason many people cringe and back away when they hear the term ‘spoken word’. Indeed, a large number of so-called ‘traditional’ poets, might have left the event with a similar opinion to Patric’s. The beauty of a festival such as Overload is that there is room for absurdist poetry, surrealist poetry, haiku, rap poetry, hip-hop poetry, jazz poetry, visual poetry, and then some. The danger, and bravery, of poetry such as Eddy’s is that, without the theoretical or ‘genre’ context, brilliant work may be expected to serve the dual purpose of ‘explaining itself’ instead of just existing, in order to be properly appreciated.
Eddy Burger is a writer of funny and experimental poetry, fiction, short plays and zines. His poetry has appeared in a number of journals, including Meanjin, Cordite, Going Down Swinging and Unusual Work. In 2007 the Melbourne Poets Union published a chapbook of his poetry entitled Funny & Strange, and in October this year he will be launching his poetry collection Impressions of me, by Small Change Press. He is a former winner of the Melbourne Fringe Spoken Word award.