Sam van Zweden




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.

Overload Day 9 – Poetry Slam Grand Final

This was the 2010 Overload Poetry Slam Grand Final – three rounds, eighteen performers, a hell of a lot of shouting, clapping, drum-rolling, laughing, nodding, mind-blowing. There was debate about scores, there was begging for the tech guy to stick around so the event could wrap up. And WHAT a wrap up!

Eighteen performers competed in the first round, six in the second, and four in the third. The third round (originally of three performers) grew to four due to a mis-read of scores, with a 0.1 difference resulting in an extra competitor. 0.1! That’s how close the night was.

The final round of four performers featured Joel McKerrow, Luka Haralampou, Steve Smart and Graham Colin. These men are THE best Melbourne has to offer, and this means we have a hell of a lot to be proud of. 

Steve Smart balances on the line between sardonic wit and a raging inferno of intensity. He understands, in a way that is just so spot-on when it’s appropriate for the wit, and when for the intensity. He jams these things up against each other like tetris blocks, there’s just no gap at all. His self-deprecating humour doesn’t make the audience squirm, and he plays the cynic perfectly. Steve Smart is a brand unto himself, and he knows how to play it. Somehow, he manages to always keep it fresh, and last night was no exception. He placed fourth with a score of 81.29.

If you’ve ever read anything Beat, you’ll recognize Graham Colin instantly. He’s the dapper fellow, one of any of those dapper-writing-fellows from the Beat Generation, and he performs that way too. The way Graham moves, the way Graham performs, it’s all jazz. In the second round, Graham performed a piece that began and was punctuated by scatting, and he scatted incredibly well. He spoke about making love to artists, and I believed every bouncing, scatting, jazzy word. Graham placed third with a score of 81.46.

Joel McKerrow towers over the audience but never appears too big. Never appears forceful, but always urgent. He bounces on the balls of his feet, his arms flying out in all directions to help deliver the words from his mouth, across space, to your eager ears. His words work through him, and his poems have life. Joel placed second, with a total score of 82.11.

First place winner – Luka Haralampou… Knocked.My.Fucking.Socks.Off. You know a piece is good when the audience starts whooping and clapping midway through the piece in agreement. You know it’s good when people jump to their feet at the end and clap with their hands above their heads. Luka is a slam poet and hip-hop artist. He works the two together, his slam runs along with a true hip-hop bounce, and he stands his ground in his words. Luka’s subject matter is concerned with understanding, with growing. I think that’s something that speaks to us all, so apart from 10/10 execution, Luka’s words are just plain beautiful.

Slam master IQ said to the audience early in the evening; “It’s your job to influence the judges… yell at them” – and yell we did. After a while all the whooping started to feel like “Hallelujah!”, and with IQ getting all ministerial up the front, proclaiming things loud and proud, the whole thing got the profound feeling of a revival.

This is the kind of revival I can get behind.

And for a revival of last night’s finalists, come down to the Grace Darling in Collingwood tonight from 7.30pm for the closing event for Overload, where they’ll have a feature spot, wrapping up the massive 10-day event.

All images © Danny Presser 2010

Lentil As Poetry! (Overload, Day 6)

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!

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