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Sam van Zweden

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australian poetry slam

Little Girl On A Big Stage

Photo by Megan Burke

Experimedia at the State Library is cavernous. It’s almost as tall as it is long. An amplified voice floats up to the rafters and swells to fill the room. Sometimes it swells too fast, and the words get swallowed up. Other times it swells and settles softly on the crowd.

This is where I was performing last night, in the 2010 Australian Poetry Slam Victorian finals. I’ve never performed in such a big venue before – I think there were about 200 people there, every seat was filled, plus some standing. It was nerve-wracking, but I think I’ve finally found a performative medium where I belong. I’ve tried acting, singing, bands – none of those nerves were good. Those nerves all came from the place inside me that knew I was no good, and had nothing to offer in that medium. But this – this is good nerves, this is feeling like it’s where I’m meant to be.

I’m rambling. Back to the event –

14 poets performed at the event, hosted by EZB and deflowered by Geoff Lemon. Geoff Lemon’s name is one I’ve known for quite a while, but I’ve never had anything to do with him. I have to say, he’s wonderful in person. Seeing him perform just knocks you off your feet, he’s so witty and animated.

The fourteen competing poets were comprised of the winners and runners-up from the regional heats around Victoria. Some of these poets I knew quite well, others I’d never seen before. Some I’d seen in other non-slam contexts, while others gained new respect from me for outdoing their previous slam performances.

With a two-minute time limit for each piece, the night was incredibly snappy. I read fourth, following Luka/Lesson (winner of the Overload slam), Meena Shamaly and IQ. How to follow those guys? Good question. I don’t think I answered it adequately.

I scored quite low in comparison with the rest of the performers, but that’s not what I was there for. I learned a lot from this event, such as the need to have options up my sleeve for different pieces depending what I’m following. Also, I need to become more performative in my movement – I need to be bigger, MORE DYNAMIC! I need to have my words in my pocket, written down, because if I know they’re there, I don’t panic and forget them.

Stand-out poet of the evening for me, hands down, was Joel McKerrow. This man has innate rhythm such as I have never seen before. And he obviously knows about it, and how to make the most of it, because for last night’s piece, Joel turned himself into the beating heart of the world. There was chest-slapping and bouncing and oh, what a piece!

I feel so so very lucky to have gotten to the state finals, and performed next to people I admire so much. Melbourne has a really vibrant slam community, and it’s such a supportive place to be. People I’d never met before came and shook my hand and told me I’d done well. People I did know came and told me they’d “boo”ed the judges for my score. As with all good slams, there was a lot of yelling, there was a lot of laughing. General merriment and hilarity. It’s so… healthy.

Runner up Tariro Mavondo and winner Nour Abouzeid are off to Sydney – and I wish them the world of luck, they both obviously work incredibly hard at what they do and are stellar performers. There’s nobody better to show Sydney that the best slam poets are chillin’ in Vic!

Photo by Megan Burke

Megan Burke over at Lit Life beat me to this post – for a great wrap-up of the event, complete with lots of photos (…of me) head over there.

Talking of slamming, and awesome slam poets, Luka Haralampou is one of Melbourne’s best. He’s trying to fund his way to the World Slam Finals. Help him get there – we need to let the world know that Australia’s poetry slam scene is strong.

Running-up and Not Quite Believing It.

Tonight was the Balwyn heat of the Australian Poetry Slam. I arrived almost spot-on 7pm – I missed the clearly-in list for registration, but I did get on a secondary wild-card list. Luckily, my name was drawn as one of three wild-card performers.

There were twenty performers – a mixed bag. A really mixed bag. There were the people I’ve seen before and was incredibly glad to see again – Steve Smart’s performance of something much more serious than I’ve seen him do before really stood out. There were people who’d clearly been reading poetry in public for a while, they were confident without their notes and looked everyone in the eye. There were those who were first time readers, and I really must tip my hat to these guys – bless their shaking, stumbling, unsure hearts; they were brave for sharing their words, and I hope to see a lot of them in future when they gain the confidence their words deserve.

…Then there was me and my mis-placed confidence in my memory. Having performed this piece last night at The Spinning Room and getting a good response and not looking at my notes, I decided that tonight was the night – no more security blanket. I left my notebook on my chair and got up to perform.

I was planning on titling this post “The Fatal Pause,” and blogging about what a cock-up my first slam-without-notes and getting real scores was and how much I learned from failure… This is what was running through my mind after I felt like I’d made a fool of myself and I was trying to figure out how I could get something out of the situation. But that’s not what happened.

I did cock up. I did pause, and I’m sure I did that bug-eyed panic-face, where everyone in the room knows that all the words have flown straight out of your head and into some unending abyss… But I recovered reasonably well.

Apparently the judges thought so anyway, as I came runner-up for the evening. I’ll be going on to the state finals at the State Library of Victoria on Friday the 19th (7pm-9.30pm) – please oh please please come and whoop and holler for me, and the slew of other amazing poets that will be performing that night. Through from Balwyn also is Nour, who performed a really touching piece about Lego. It’ll make sense later, if you get to hear it, I promise.

Brain-work on a Monday?!

Usually I manage to structure my Mondays so they involve as little brain-work as is humanly possible. I just put chutney on some toast – usually that’s about as tough as my Mondays get. That, and turning pages of trashy novels.

Not this Monday! This Monday I’m doing all sorts of brain-work, and I’m not sure I’m OK with it quite yet.

There are decisions to be made today. I’m going to a slam tomorrow night to perform at their open mic in preparation for the State Library’s Australian Poetry Slam on Wednesday at the Balwyn heat. Both these events are quite big and scary for me – I haven’t done any poetry performance outside uni events, so while I’m not nervous just yet, I have a feeling I very much will be later. I have two pieces that I feel are quite strong, and I need to choose which is stronger. One has some humour. The other is a bit pretty.

I need to practice these pieces more so they’re totally drummed into my brain (brain-work…).

When that decision’s been made, I need to decide on an extract from Hold On, the story which is appearing in Page Seventeen, being launched on Saturday. I’ll be reading an extract at the launch, up to 3 minutes… I haven’t decided which three minutes yet. I think most logical is from the start of the story, because the chronological story is intercepted by flash-backs. But is that the strongest part of the story?

The following piece of brain-work involves writing up a pitch for a workshop I’ll be running before the end of the year in Northcote, through Express Media.

By the end of the day, I think I’ll be happy to head off to work and only think about filling fridges. By far too much brain-work for a Monday!

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