Lentils to mouth. Eyes have some trouble deciding between Charlie Chaplin film and milling crowd. I recognize a lot of these people, but I also don’t recognize a lot of them. This is nice. This is people coming out of the woodwork because of a festival. This was Lentil As Anything in Abbotsford last night, which turned down its music and gave its space over to poetry by candle-light, the Last Chance Slam for Overload Poetry Festival. And such words!

The evening began with a “sacrificial lentil” for judges to practice on. A tall man named Joel gave us some words about what it is to be human. That we’re all essentially human on the inside, as our essence. He knew how to string words together to feel good without rhyme, and he knew how to deliver them with varying speed to great effect. I didn’t catch his surname**, but Joel will be performing at the Slam Final for Overload on Saturday night.

The night was hosted by the very encouraging and enthusiastic IQ, who got the crowd riled up about scores, sang us some little ditties while waiting for poets or music, and encouraged us all to eat about five times our fill of lentils.

Some of the evening’s highlights could be seen coming a mile off. Some of Melbourne’s most entertaining poets were there, the ones who you see at an event and feel warm and comfortable and cosy with the fact that you’ll be hearing some awesome poetry. Last night the always satisfying Steve Smart and Randall Stevens performed, as well as the lovely Deb**.

Steve performed a piece expressing his wish not “to be intense like I can be / I want to be the guy who is more fun” – painting a light, spinning, carefree wish, peppered with true Steve Smart wit. In round two Steve’s work only got better, bringing in audience participation, offering himself up to lovers as “a knight in shining ugly clothing”.

Randall, the jungle-hatted bard, similarly talked about wanting to impress women (let’s face it, we all do), trying to be “a little bit geeky in that cool kinda way”, and in round two Randall talked about falling in love, “with all the grace of a fridge”. I’m always a bit delighted by Randall’s understanding of sound – he co-co-coughs, he “hisssssssssssssssssssssssss”es. He gets right inside his words, not just reading them but really becoming his work. Randall placed 3rd for the evening, and will be performing at the final on Saturday.

Deb**, who I’ve also seen perform before, didn’t disappoint. She writes about the way things feel, how they really feel, and when you hear it, you somehow end up nodding your head. I love listening to Deb because she doesn’t write about feelings in a “Woe, Vulnerable Woman!” way, but in a way that is empowered because she’s in touch with it all.

The thing I love about Overload is that it’s so inclusive. While I was excited to see poets that I’d seen before and knew were good, it was even more exciting to be seeing new people. There were bush poets, established poets, I met a woman from Elsternwick who hadn’t performed in over a year, there were hip-hop poets, there was an entirely endearing guy who worked at Lentil as Anything who just wanted to share his two-line poems with us.

There were thirteen poets competing, so it’s a bit impossible to cover everyone. Highlights from people I didn’t know, though:

Lauren** performed a piece about how hip-hop was, before we even knew about it. In round two she performed a piece about changing yourself, starting with your attitude and what’s going on in your head. Lauren placed 2nd for the evening, and will be performing at Saturday’s Slam Final.

First place-getter was Meryl**. Meryl. Was. Amazing. I’d never seen Meryl perform before, but gosh I’ll be looking out for her in future! Meryl wasn’t afraid to look her audience in the eye. Meryl had an incredible grasp on the use of volume, and what it could do for a performance piece. Meryl had lovely pause moments, she had wonderful funny moments, Meryl is an incredible performer. Taking home a $50 prize and a pass to the finals, I’m going to predict at least a placing for Meryl in Saturday’s final. She was undoubtedly the highlight of last night at Lentils.

And this has just been one night! Tonight I’ll be heading down to Loop Bar in the city for the Melbourne Poetry Map: Audio Graffiti launch. Check out the event page, because this is a night that promises to GO OFF.

**This “Not Catching Surname” thing was actually quite a prominent theme of the evening, me being incredibly alert and not even thinking about the fact that the event would be written about. So I’m missing a lot of surnames. I apologize, especially to those I’m writing about whose surnames I’ve missed!