Sam van Zweden



overload poetry festival

Overload: Telling It Like It Is

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.

Overload Call-Out for Volunteers

It’s almost that time again – only a few weeks until the 10th Overload Poetry Festival starts.

They’re looking for volunteers for front of house –  this is a great way to meet some really lovely people and make some poetry scene connections. And you get to see a bunch of really great gigs for free. GO!

EVENTS! My goodness, EVENTS!

There’s just SO much coming up – my credit card’s getting a decent workout. As is the bit of my brain that controls excitement. I’d almost go as far as saying I’m perpetually excited by all the tickets I’ve got and things that are coming up.

Broadly speaking – two festivals. Melbourne Writers Festival and Overload Poetry Festival. MWF starts tomorrow, and Overload runs from the 9-17th of September.

Excited about the following:

– Tomorrow night’s keynote speech and opening of Melbourne Writers Festival by Jonathan Franzen, and general opening frivolities and Melbourne Town Hall.

Liner Notes, 3rd September – always a thoroughly entertaining night where spoken word artists “cover” (write on the theme of) a particular album. I’m not a huge INXS fan, but I am a fan of the people involved in the event – Emilie Zoey Baker, Omar Musa, Catherine Deveny, Ben Pobjie… The list goes on. And The Toff in Town is a great venue for these kind of writing events, so it promises to be a great night.

–  Melbourne Poetry Map launch – 15th September, at Loop Bar. Last year’s event was really fun, they had a huge range of poets on places that were familiar, and some that weren’t so familiar. This year ten new poets have been commissioned to do ten new poems about ten new places around our fair city – poets include Luka Lesson, Amy Bodossian, Joel McKerrow, Geoff Lemon, and other boys and girls who kick poetry’s butt on a regular basis.

– This is the big one. Shane Koyczan. If you know the fellow and hadn’t yet heard, I apologize if I just made you wet yourself. He’s doing a few gigs in Melbourne – one is some sort of science and rationalism conference at Jeff’s Shed on the 18th, tickets are about $300 and his set is only half an hour. I’m sticking with the two other gigs he’s doing, with Overload. He’ll be at the Tell It Like It Is slam on Friday 16th September, and also at the Overload closing night at the Fitzroy Town Hall on the 17th. Tickets for the closing night are available online, so get onto it, you don’t want to miss this man – the closing event also has a huge lineup of our own Melbourne poets.

If you don’t know Shane Koyczan, try this on for size. Sorry about the uncontrollable crying you’re about to do. Let’s remedy that with some uncontrollable laughing from this one. And just for good measure, this one is one of my favourites. If you watch these and feel as strongly as I do about the man’s brilliance, I’ll catch you at the gigs on the 16th and 17th. (We can talk about how we *completely* dig Degrassi!)

Overload Call-Out

The Overload Poetry Festival was one of my favourite things about last year; I had an absolute blast blogging for them. Sure, it’s not on again until September yet, but the back-end stuff has started happening already – they have issued a call-out for submissions, and first announcements of performers and events for the 2011 festival should happen around June. This year being the 10th year of the festival, it’s all set to be one big party.

A media release from the festival is below. Don’t discount this festival as “too hard” or “unachievable” – last year I had two pieces of micro poetry accepted and broadcast at the ticker text at Fed Square. The people who perform are those who are more than happy to rub shoulders and get sloshed with you afterwards – you could be one of those people! Melbourne’s poetry scene is super-accepting, uber-friendly, and incredibly feel-good. If you’ve got an idea – PITCH! Go forth and verse, yo.

Be sure to check out their website for details about the festival.

Overload 2011 – Calling for Submissions!

The Melbourne Overload Poetry Festival is the biggest grass roots poetry and spoken word festival in Australia. We are an inclusive and diverse festival that strives to showcase all forms of poetry, on or off the page. Overload has a reputation for pairing the experimental with the traditional, presenting them in an equal light in an accessible way.

From 10 to 19 September, the festival celebrates its 10th anniversary. We have come from being a small collective of regular, mainly pub poetry readings to a 10 day festival with a national and international presence.

In 2011 we want to celebrate this evolution with your help. We are calling for expressions of interest from poets in Melbourne and elsewhere in Australia who have ideas for events, a publication or CD they’d like to launch, or would simply like to read their work at Overload.

Go to, download and fill out the submission form and return it to Overload before 13 May 2011. Provide as much information as possible: examples of your work, a bio, a thorough description of the event you’re planning, what kind of resources you have or need (publicity, venue, fees, etc), and if you’re coming from outside Melbourne, which dates you’re available.

Send us your proposals via email to, or by post to Overload Poetry Inc, 176 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000. Attach as much support material as you can. If sending via post and you’d like us to return any samples of your work, please provide a SSAE.

Interstate and international poets please note: Overload is unable to offer any financial support for travel or accommodation. However, we will try and make the trip worth your while by offering two gigs at the festival.

176 Lt Londsale St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9094 7835

Overload Day 10 – All Done

It’s over for its 9th year – Overload Poetry Festival has said goodbye and won’t be back until next September. It went out with style and a bang at the Grace Darling on Sunday evening.

I’d never been to the Grace Darling before. What a venue! Down-stairs is decked out nicely – nothing spectacular, though their menu made me drool on the floor. The Overload Surprise Showcase was upstairs. Upstairs is like some absolutely NUTS cross between Ding-Dong, the Hotel Windsor and your primary school hall. There are some amazing gold glittery curtains, and fantastically upholstered wing-backed chairs. The space is quite large, and was set up for the evening with rows of seats around the stage.

Hosted by Steve Smart and Santo Cazzati, the showcase featured performers and awards, and DJ Zanda kept us entertained in breaks and later into the night. 

A hightlight was the performance from Ian McBryde, who whispered his poetry so quietly that I found myself leaning towards him. He performed many pieces, my favourite was a piece about the Titanic. McBryde made himself both the doomed ship and the iceberg, in an incredibly striking piece that really spoke to me.

I’d never seen Anna Fern perform before, likewise Alicia Sometimes. Anna has a unique brand of performance, combining spoken word with vocal acrobatics and percussive instruments to make something more like a soundscape than a poem. Alicia Sometimes’ poetry is just plain fun. She did a piece about spending too much time at home and plugging her pets into amplifiers. Her dog into an amp, her cat into a wah-wah pedal (“meowowowowwwww”) and her budgie into a delay pedal (“who’s a pretty boy-boy-boy-boy-boy?”) – I’ll be looking out to see this self-proclaimed “poetry slut” again.

Also performing were Graham Colin, Joel McKerrow, and Luka Haralampou, who all placed at the Overload Slam Grand Final. Awards were presented, with Bendigo Bank being kind enough to donate $2000 in prize money for the winners.

It was a small crowd, but a responsive one. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet some of the festival’s performers in a more intimate setting, and a last chance to see some awesome Overload Poetry in action before it all wound up.

I’ve had a great time over the festival, and I’d like to thank Overload for being kind enough to take me on board to review the shows. Thanks to Ashley Molese and Luis Gonzalez Serrano for their support, and congratulations to Overload for such a hugely successful program. Can’t wait until next year!

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

Overload Day 7 – Melbourne Poetry Map Launch

Spring Street isn’t usually my side of town. The suits are scary. The steps at Parliament (both the landmark and the station) are so steep I want to vomit on something. The venues all have dress-codes. Despite all of this, last night I made my way down the lane way of Meyers Place to Loop Bar for the launch of the Melbourne Poetry Map: Audio Graffiti. Impossible bar to find. We stood outside for a good few minutes trying to decide if we were at the right place – there’s a severe lack of signage here. Randall Stephens’ hat was the only thing to give it away.

Turns out that more people than the venue could comfortably fit had the same idea. We piled in on top of each other, spooning strangers. It was worth it. Partly for the opportunity to spoon people I didn’t know, but mostly for the amazing words that came through the PA.

The Mebourne Poetry Map project is a tour of Melbourne landmarks, each with its own poem delivered by well-known and respected Melbourne poets. There are six podcasts and maps available to download, and each tells a different story. As you take each route, Melbourne opens up as human and alive and very very touchable. This isn’t a tourist guide – this is the beating heart of Melbourne as told by our best.

While the podcasts feature 21 poets, the MPM:AG launch last night showcased 13 of those performers. Highlights included Randall Stephens’ “What are you looking at?” and Lia Incognita’s “Typography”. While these poems are wonderful in their recorded podcast form, they really had a sparkle at last night’s performances. Randall seems to feed on audience enthusiasm, and his yelling “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU LOOKING AT!?” at us was electric, it grabbed attention and didn’t let it go until the end. His yells were shoved right up against quiet, lovely, intimate explanations of exactly what you are looking at.

Lia used signs to demonstrate the typography she was exploring, as a Chinese-Australian, chinese Australian, Chinese/Australian poet.

These more serious pieces were performed along with pieces that made me laugh out loud – real, blurt-laughter. Maurice McNamara talked about the terror that book sellers feel at the prospect of selling actual books to actual people. Are you sure?

The blurt-laughter-est piece of the evening was definitely Meaghan Bell’s “Union Lane References Hunter S Thompson”, in which she channels HST’s utterly terrifying technicoloured menageries into a back-alley of our own city.

The performances were strong, the podcasts are enjoyable, and I plan on downloading them and taking a walk some time soon. Check it out, get to know your city from a different angle. Props to Eleanor Jackson for producing such an original and exciting project!

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!

Look UP!

Overload Poetry Festival is here for its ninth year, and they’ve got a stellar program.

As part of the program, Overload are broadcasting micropoetry on the ticket text at Federation Square. Two of my pieces have been accepted. This poetry display will be running from the 10th-19th of September.

So if you’re going through the city and you pass Fed Square – look UP!

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