We have a small slam scene, and a young one, but last night it felt so strong.
Last night was the Tell It Like It Is slam at the Footscray Community Arts Centre. Crowd and performances aside, this is an amazing space. An ex-tannery on the industrial side of down, right by the river, there’s a vibe to it. I can say nothing more concrete and positive than that it’s aesthetically pleasing and has a good vibe, but who needs more than that?
Tell It Like It Is is a regular slam run by Luka Lesson and Alia Gabres, and these guys have teamed up with the Centre for Poetics and Justice, who have teamed up with Overload Poetry Festival to present last night’s pants-wettingly good show.
The evening began with local poets, with the usual suspects wow-ing. Luka performed a piece backed by Meena Shamaly, which talked about the strength of his roots leading him to write powerful words, as if it were an inevitability. Joel McKerrow told the stories of some of his students, talking about bullies who are only bullies because they don’t have pens. Mel Hughes gave us a moving and personal piece about her little boy – I applaud her bravery in sharing, but I also applaud her gift with words and her ability to perform.
The fuss about the evening though was the international guests. With such a small and young slam community, we’re incredibly lucky to have gotten these amazing performers to join us for Overload: Ken Arkind, Jive Poetic, and Shane Koyczan.
All three of these guys know how to do the personal and the political in perfect balance, and how to weight the serious and the humorous so an audience feels the light and dark from their insides.
Ken Arkind (self-proclaimed “sexiest garden gnome at the yard sale!”) bounced around, all beard and wonder. He performed the pieces I love him for – Maggie, and For Wes. Then he pulled out some I’d never seen or heard before (the video’s of Slam Nuba, he’s in there, and it’s as electric as it was last nigth), and now I love him even more. This man is small, but he’s explosive.
Jive Poetic knows how politics are done – without sentiment, without black and white. He also knows how the laughs are done, and I don’t think I’ve laughed as much at a slam as I did while Jive Poetic performed. Something about the way he performs is personable, and as Luka said, he connects with his crowd, whether that’s three people or a stadium full.
A note on last night’s numbers: at a rough guess, this place sat about 150 people. By the end of the first round, the seats were all full, plus beanbags had been pulled out for people to sit down in front, and extra chairs around the side of the stage. And many were faces I’ve never seen before – this is exciting. A small slam scene means the same faces all the time, and crowds rarely getting very big. This crowd was the biggest I’ve ever seen at a slam, and all were engaged and excited to be there.
Shane Koyczan finished the night up and mannnnn….everything I expected and more. Like Ken Arkind, he did some pieces I knew and loved, and others I’d never heard. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when he read a newer piece about the death of his best friend. Shane’s performance style is really understated, but sure and strong. He’s quite static, and the power is all in his voice. And such a voice.
Shane is performing again tonight at the closing night event for Overload, alongside Sean M Whelan, Eleanor Jackson, Emilie Zoey Baker and other Melbourne Awesome. Discounted tickets are available now, so you have no excuse not to be there.
Centre for Poetics and Justice are also doing an up-close-and-personal panel event with Ken Arkind, Jive Poetic and Shane Koyczan on Monday night. There’s only 40 seats for this thing, and it’s a “secret” event – sign up to the CPJ mailing list, and Joel will send you out the details, but not the full details until Monday. Go! Now! You don’t want to miss this.