Overland Overloaded’s Alec Patric, the critic we all love to hate, attended the final of the Overload Poetry Slam last night. It was the first slam the Melbourne writer had ever attended and the odd mixture of fascination and bemusement was clearly evident on his face throughout the evening. Overloaded’s Karen Andrews will also be reviewing the slam final.
Friday, Slam Final at Dante’s: Why do we do it? Those of us that get up on stage and those of us that listen? Why the mix of competition and farce in something as pathetically delicate as poetry? There were questions like these at the Slam Finals at Dante’s last night. I also found myself asking why the ill prepared poet, with a nervous poem read from trembling paper, reads to a room full of people who have vague intentions of listening and fluctuating efforts at concentration? If you’ve ever seen Crazy Elf MC a Slam you’ll know things get turned inside out and kicked around, brutally chopped down by his handy Ninja. He’s not kidding when he says, ‘love the poet — hate the poem.’ But since he doesn’t love the poets, and neither did most of the people at Dante’s, the question remains. Why the fuck do we do it?
One of the poets getting up last night wrote his poem on the tram over to Gertrude Street in Fitzroy. He kicked off by telling everyone they were wankers, pointing out audience members, and how he’d like to fuck someone in the audience, moving on to descriptions of someone else’s mother. And there’s an answer to the question here as well. Poetry can be about peeling away the layers and revealing what’s ugly and brutal. His poem was just as ugly and brutal.
A large woman struggled to climb the stage and propped herself on a walking cane. Read out a poem about how once upon a time she was able to write without fear of judgement or self laceration, but now struggled to remember the taste of basic things like natural enthusiasm. A kind of defiance in her eyes that showed, despite her commiserations there was still remaining worth in her words and thoughts.
Others read and performed, and there was more of this kind of peeling away of layers in the air, of the mockery and ridicule so ably created by Crazy Elf, strutting around in a skimpy singlet and posing like a steroid-pumped gym-junkie, pointing and pumping his muscles for all they were worth. Crazy asked himself why he was doing it and I was asking the same thing. Was it to call everyone c*nts and fools or did he feel like he was the right kind of butcher to wield the slam cleaver, get everyone down to the basic butchery of what a human being is.
Last night at Dante’s also answered an earlier question I had about why more people don’t go to poetry events. Why even at the height of a poetry festival some events are barely attended. It’s because most of the time we don’t really want to see the vulnerable and hurt, mutilated and mangled things we can often become. Generally we’d prefer to live in glossy magazine realities with airbrushed daydreams and stainless-steel skulls.
The highlight of the night came for me early. First up on the slam stage was a gentle poem by Michael Reynolds (not just a genius photographer apparently) who wrote about the filters of colour we look at the world through, and how we can understand ourselves through shades of blue or how we might think in pigments of red. The kind of man who doesn’t seem to ask questions or offer up answers — who simply shows you a more perfect way of looking at the world.
Oh, and watching the Ninja in action was pretty cool as well.
The top three finalists in the Overload Poetry Slam: Benjamin Theolonius Sanders, Michael Reynolds and Randall Stephens, will be performing tonight against Bristol Poetry Festival in the Skype Slam, linked in from ACMI.
Photographs (from top) of poets Crazy Elf (Joey Kurtschenko), Randall Stephens and Michael Reynolds.