For many years, I didn’t write my poems down. I crafted and edited them by memory, then delivered them on the mic. The material I was creating was written specifically for the voice, for my voice, and though it translated well enough to the page, paper wasn’t its intended destination.

I started submitting my poetry for print publication several years ago. I contacted a significant poetry funding body to enquire whether I was eligible to apply for advertised funding for poets to go on tour with their work. I was told that despite numerous radio broadcasts of my work, and a long list of feature readings at high-profile festivals and events, I hadn’t actually ‘published’ much and therefore didn’t meet the criteria. I was absolutely dumbfounded. Why would an organisation charged with increasing the profile of poetry, make the publication of written work, rather than paid feature reading or performances, criteria for a reading tour?

Although I’m comfortable writing for both page and stage now, I first started publishing poetry as a strategic move, not because I actually wanted to. The depressing fact was that unless I started getting published in print, or unless feature readings and radio broadcasts were considered to be publications, I would possibly never rack up enough Australian publication credits to be competitive, in a literary grants sense, at all. Though spoken word venues continue to thrive across Australia, and regular radio broadcasts such as Wordjammin’ (2SER) Aural Text (RRR) and Spoken Word (3cr) have become increasingly popular, funded avenues for the formal publication of spoken word are still few and far between.

When I was asked to put together the first edition of Audio Overland in 2012, the significance of the project didn’t escape me. A major literary journal had recognised spoken word as a genre of literature worth supporting. Not through lip service, but through paid publication opportunities. It gave me hope that, in the future, writers who work primarily or exclusively in the spoken medium may have a different experience.

There are many arguments made against the amalgamation of spoken word into broader literary publications. A few I’ve heard recently are: that the spoken word scene is grassroots, and thrives that way; that the underground, anti-establishment, collaborative nature of the scene will inevitably be threatened if poets seek ‘validation’ by the ‘gatekeepers’; that spoken word best belongs ‘in the flesh’; that a poem intended for aural delivery can still be submitted to any publication as a text version; that it would just be too difficult and costly for a literary journal to start sourcing, recording or publishing such works.

But in these podcasting, YouTubing times, when almost every literary magazine has a blog or website, there is absolutely no reason why aural literature should be excluded from publication by Australian literary journals.

I sincerely hope that Audio Overland is evidence of shifting sands.

Audio Overland II: Resistance is currently calling for submissions. We want to hear about resistance in all its forms – mundane and controversial, political and personal. What are you resisting? Death? Love? Losing love? Being sucked into the capitalist machine? The leftist agenda? Your little one’s puppy-eyed lollipop pleadings? An ordinary life? Getting out of bed for the day? Going to bed this evening? Writing poetry on the page? Surprise us.

Maxine Beneba Clarke

Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian author and slam poet of Afro- Caribbean descent. Her short fiction collection Foreign Soil won the 2015 ABIA Award for Best Literary Fiction and the 2015 Indie Award for Best Debut Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize. Her memoir, The Hate Race, her poetry collection Carrying the World, and her first children’s book, The Patchwork Bike, will be published by Hachette in late 2016.

More by Maxine Beneba Clarke ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays