With the closing ceremony of the Overload poetry festival at the Grace Darling Hotel on Sunday, I was disappointed poetry would once again retreat from the limelight. The experience I had this year, participating in the festival as a poet, was far more exciting than my role reviewing it here on Overland last year. Observing from afar is quite a different experience to being part of Melbourne’s poetic voice. Over this year I have gotten to know many of Melbourne’s poets by attending regular poetry readings and it is only recently that I have come to appreciate just how lucky I am here in Melbourne to be a part of such a vibrant poetic and overall artistic community. I didn’t have a chance to attend all of the interesting and diverse readings and events that were part of the festival, but I thought I’d write a few words reflecting on my own personal experience.
The festival, which ran for ten days, was themed ‘Screening the word’, and screened and showcased the words WERE on the silver Federation square wall, poems scrolling digitally across the wall for all to see. Two of my poems were selected as part of this showcase. Sitting at Federation square and observing my words drifting quietly above the city has definitely been the highlight of my poetic career.
On Monday 13 September, I attended the regular fortnightly spoken word event Passionate Tongues at the Brunswick Hotel, only this was a special Overload festival event and the pub was busy with eager poets and curious pub spectators. The two feature poets were Santo Cazzati and Josephine Rowe. Once again, Santo dazzled the crowd with his political spoken word, and had the crowd either silently concentrating or hilariously laughing. Heavily influenced by his background in classical music, Santo’s spoken word was delivered elegantly and rhythmically. To say he is a treat to watch and hear is an understatement and he is definitely one of my favourite poets on the scene. Santo hosts 3CR’s Spoken Word program once a month.
Josephine Rowe brought a calmer poetic ambience to Brunswick Hotel, and I thought it was a great decision by convenor Michael Reynolds to have the features do two small alternating sets to break up the night. Josephine, poetry editor of harvest literary journal, recited her verses calmly, with controlled emotion, and allowed her words to speak for themselves. And they did. The most memorable piece she read was a poem that won a National Gallery of Victoria competition on love, loss and intimacy. I felt it captured the human instinct we call love, and that desire to be in the same space as the person we love, even when they might not necessarily want to be in the same space as us.
The Overload poetry slam was an event I was involved in, which saw poets competing in heats at venues around Melbourne for a spot in the final. MCed by former Overload slam champion Benjamin ‘IQ’ Sanders, each heat carried with it its own mood and set of expectations by the randomly selected judges. I attended two heats, one at the Newtown Workers Club and another at the Cornish Arms, where IQ hosts a monthly poetry slam, Muddy Rivers, on the second Wednesday of every month.
I came fourth in the Cornish Arms slam, which meant I was a possible wildcard entry to the final. The final, held at the Wheeler Center, was full and the crowd was excited, many attending a poetry slam for the first time and not knowing what to expect. It’s interesting: many people I speak to who haven’t attended a spoken word event perceive it to involve a poet standing at a mic and reading monotonous verse after monotonous verse on life and love. Although there are poets that do that, most spoken word artists are lively, political and, in a sense, revolutionary, speaking words that are absent from mass media.
Although I was selected to participate in the final, I didn’t get past the first round. I didn’t mind, though; what excited me more was my poetic voice being part of the other voices of the night. The performances were diverse – each unique and special in their own way – and I enjoyed the transitions from laughter to sadness, from challenging to inspiring, from the ache of love to the sadness of death. The night was filmed by Red Lobster, Channel 31’s spoken word show (Wednesdays, 11pm). Some of the poems will also be aired on RRR’s Aural Text.
The judges had a hard task on their hands, scoring performances over three rounds, eliminating poets from a group of sixteen to five, and then three. Only a few points separated first from last. Luka Haralampou finished first, Joel McKerrow second, and Graham Colin third. Luka, originally from Brisbane, has only been in Melbourne a few months and has amazed the poetry scene with the smoothness and sleekness of his performances. Mostly preoccupied with race, religion and identity, Luka, a strong second-generation migrant voice, has the ability to reel audiences in and then deliver blunt punchlines, leaving the crowd enthralled. His final performance, which won him the slam, received a standing ovation.
Joel McKerrow also has a unique style. His performances are intense, giving new meaning to the power of words and almost leaving you breathless by the end. Both Luka and Joel make commentary about the world we live in, commentary that is usually silenced in mass media but commentary that should be heard.
Graham Colin, in contrast, has a musical, jazz element to his spoken word performance, and I very much enjoyed his piece on the union of two artistic lovers ‘Let’s get artistic’.
Congratulations to all three, and to all the poets who were part of the festival. I am already looking forward to next year. I will be interviewing the winner of the slam, Luka Haralampou, on 3CR’s Spoken Word program on Thursday 21 October from 9-9:30am. You can listen on 855AM or online at www.3cr.org.au