In the field of literature, spoken word is the ultimate equaliser. We are often forced to do away with what we think we know about writing and words, and trust our ears and our hearts. An outstanding piece of spoken word can wind you in the gut like a baseball bat, echo in your ears for months.
When we hover at the microphone, just before taking that first breath, we are saying listen to me, I have something to say. When readers click on that sound file, pick up their headphones, or look up at that stage, the reply is a resounding: I am listening, what is it? Add to that the resistance theme of this second edition of Audio Overland, and it is perhaps unsurprising to have unearthed so many eloquent, heart-wrenching and brilliantly executed audio poems which pass comment on the lives of women. Let this rich blood warm and heal us, prays our first international contributor Nwatilo Mawiyoo in her poem ‘Flag and Future’, and so begins the journey.
In many of the nine pieces selected for Audio Overland II, the real story is glimpsed through the gaps in primary narrative – we piece together the full picture through the questions we ask ourselves as we listen, the deliberate omissions. This is instinctive and clever crafting when giving voice to the silenced.
In ‘My wedding dress’, the narrator’s mother takes the used wedding dress away to her room. The dress is mine, she says, I paid for it. The ambiguity in this statement is concise and cutting. The Greek mother considers her own debt – due to the failure of her daughter’s marriage – to be both monetary and societal. The wedding, the separation, the consequences and the poem somehow become her story, despite all three belonging to the narrator.
In Jenny Squire’s ‘The road here’, a young man is being driven from courthouse to jail after a rape trial. He can’t believe she fooled them/between her tears and her words about consent and force/ and how’s that fancy suit she wore/ but it’s bullshit/ he kept thinking... It’s the addition of those last three short words which alerts us to the absent second narrative. Though the account belongs to the perpetrator, we spend the entire poem in suspicion of the veracity and objectivity of the account.
In Nathan Curnow’s ominous and surreal ‘The MCG will imprison us’, the Melbourne Cricket Ground becomes a backdrop to war. Scenes of execution and re-conditioning fit comfortably into the scaffolding, tiered bleachers and viewing rooms of the iconic stadium, a venue familiar with testosterone-fuelled displays of physical strength.
‘Occupy Who magazine’ is not so much a war cry for the ‘new feminism’ but a scathing critique of the passive nature of political activism in the modern age. Childs laments empty gestures dressed as politics, aiming her left hook at yarn bombing, anonymous online petitioning and the political face-masking adopted by pussy riotesque protest mobs.
Tiggy Johnson’s two-voice poem ‘Drowning in three children’ is orchestral in its claustrophobia. We are in the narrator’s house, amongst the mess and the squabble, the cardboard and the mud. When the male narrator dashes out to buy milk, we step out into the silence with him in temporary relief. At the same time, this poem is a hymn to the unkempt and unremarkable domesticity of an ordinary home filled with small children.
The collective message in Audio Overland II is that amongst the children, and dishes, and second-hand wedding dresses, beneath the pink balaclavas, high up in the bleachers and locked down in the paddy wagons are moments of change, enlightenment and hope. Candy Royalle’s ‘Our hearts’ is an appeal to sensitivity, and our better selves. Klare Lanson’s narrative piece ‘The seduction of the cloud mistress’ finally gives voice to a woman who was assaulted, then drowned in the 1897 floods in Castlemaine.
The delivery of each poem in this collection is also so distinctly and carefully linked to subject matter. Belinda Lopez’ seductive ‘Guitar’ is paired with sensuous plucking. Holly Child’s ‘Occupy Who magazine’ is delivered in a near monotone, which ably conveys her apathy. In ‘Drowning in three children’, the male and female voices narrating the same series of events at the same time with slightly different accounts leave us gasping for air. In Pascalle Burton’s ‘The Cleveland line’, the sounds of the sleeping city gently sway us to sleep. ‘Flag and future’ descends into a chaos of beats and jumbled melodies along with the country’s political turmoil.
The voices in Audio Overland II are raw, real and ready. Resistance, it appears, is no longer futile.