Sam van Zweden




The Spinning Room’s Last Night at ET’s

Last night saw The Spinning Room’s last appearance at ET’s in Prahran. I’ve only been going to The Spinning Room in recent months, but I’ve found such a hugely supportive community there and had such a good time that this “last night” announcement was met with sadness. ET’s is shutting down, and The Spinning Room is going with it. Having been run in Melbourne for the last 10 years, this was an important night.

As usual, The Spinning Room’s first half was an open mic. Usually these attract 10 readers or so… Last night’s open mic had a record 22 readers. It wasn’t just readers who showed up, either. The room was packed to capacity, with people peering around door frames and crouched under bars to get in on it. The open mic was packed with awesome talent – John Mckelvie’s quiet, understated intensity blew me away, as well as Randall Stephens and Alex Scott’s high-energy bounce-fest. Geoff Lemon, Steve Smart, Jessica Alice, and close friends of mine, Jo Day and Benjamin Solah… And I managed to get on the open mic list before they ran out of room. SUCH good company to be in!

The second half of the evening was dedicated to “The Best of ’10”; sets by Amy Bodossian and Santo Cazzati. I’d never seen Amy before, but had heard glorious (yet vague…) things from friends.

Amy Bodossian has a six-year old inside of her busting to get out. She twirls and spins and plays with her hair, she laughs and shakes with so much energy that the only place left for it to come out is through her hands. And her smile. She’s not all six year old though. While some of her poetry touches on themes of childhood, she also talks about “misadventures with men” and the nature of being an artist.

Santo… Oh wow. I’d seen Santo host the final evening of the 2010 Overload Poetry Festival, and had seen him read a short piece at a previous Spinning Room. But to appreciate what Santo does, you need to see a full set.

Santo Cazzati’s performance is a cross between a race-caller and an orchestra conductor spastic with passion. His whole body keeps time. He doesn’t pause for his entire set. I can’t tell you how long the set was – time just didn’t exist while I was listening to him. A discussion of themes almost wouldn’t work with Santo… There were times where I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. But I felt it. When my audience neighbour turned to me and beamed “GENIUS!”, I had nothing more to say. That, quite simply, is what Santo Cazzati is.

The future of The Spinning Room seems uncertain – while founder Jon Garrett promises that “this is not the end”, a more sombre email from resigning co-host Anthony O’Sullivan sounded a bit doubtful.

I truly do hope that The Spinning Room finds a venue for 2011 and the future, and it’s an amazing event which never fails to entertain, enlighten, and inspire me. A massive hats-off to those behind the scenes who make it all happen; amazing stuff, which I hope to see more of soon.

The evening was also filmed for Red Lobster, the channel 31 poetry show. Keep an eye out for that episode… While you know, deep down, that you should have been at ET’s last night, you probably wouldn’t have fit in the room anyway. So you can watch the best bits on Red Lobster.

Tackling Poetry Workshop

Today I’m going out to Northland to run a poetry for 15-19 year olds, titled “Tackling Poetry”.

I’ve run one poetry workshop before, and it was horrendous. The kids who were there were forced to be there as part of the school’s compulsory extra-curricular program at the end of semester. The kids asked me if I was “a real teacher?” and why I have so many piercings, and did they hurt, and do I think I’m cool because of them? A bunch of kids “needed to go to the toilet” and never came back. One kid somehow got me to do all his writing for him.

On the other hand, there were some really talented young writers in that group. One of the girls came up with the amazing metaphor of her friend being “a balloon you want to hold forever”. Isn’t that lovely? It’s stuck with me over a year later.

The workshop I’m holding today is through Express Media, so I’ll have some wonderful back-up support there. Also, it’s voluntary – the kids who show up want to be there. And this time I’m bringing lots of sweet bribes. And I’ve been taught lots of handy tips and tricks for crowd control and distractions.

But I’m still feeling pretty nervous about the whole thing… So wish me luck!

An Emergency In The Form of a Bright Blue Box Set

There’s many book shop loyalty programs. They all basically work on the idea that as you buy books, you get “rewards” (points of some sort which can be redeemed at that book store for more books).

A quick scan through my wallet shows the following book-store loyalty cards:
BORDERS: One stamp for every book you buy over $20. When you get to a certain amount (I think it’s 7), you get a free book of a value under $20. It’s pretty rare for Borders to charge under $20 for anything decent, plus this is only valid if you earn those rewards within a three-month time frame. No thanks.
ANGUS & ROBERTSON REWARDS: One point for every dollar you spend. Good deal, no? No. It takes 100 points (that’s $100, kids) to earn your “reward” – a $5 A&R voucher. That’s a lot of money for little payoff. Really.
DYMOCKS BOOKLOVER: I’ve been a member of is for such a long time, and it’s still not such a bad deal. Dymocks give you 5 points for every $1 you spend. Every 100 points equates to $1 credit on your card. As I said, not such a bad deal.
VWC MEMBERSHIP: This is an inappropriate plug for how great it is being a member of the Victorian Writer’s Centre. For those of us on concession cards, it’s only $45 a year, and that pays itself off SO quickly. Not only do you get sent special publications all about the writing industry, and get cheaper tickets to workshops etc AND access to the kick-ass library they’ve got up at the Wheeler Centre, but you also get 10% off at Paperback Books on Bourke Street. The Paperback is one of my favourite book shops in Melbourne, and this 10% off makes it so much better shopping there. Rant Fin.

My favourite rewards card though? Easily
READER’S FEAST PRIVILEGED READER: You know those book guides that Reader’s Feast put out each season? That gets sent to you in the mail. Along with invites to special events, such as discount shopping evenings and writers’ appearances. On top of this, every dollar that you spend at Reader’s Feast gets tracked on your card, and twice a year 10% of the amount you’ve spent gets reimbursed as a Reader’s Feast book voucher. If that amount is under $5, they send you a $5 voucher anyway. Forgot to bring your card? No worries, they’ll look you up on the computer.

So, all that being said, I know my top two choices for Christmas shopping!

Last week in the mail I received the above mentioned seasonal book catalogue. In the same envelope were two invitations. One to a special evening where you partook in “Christmas cheer”, “light refreshments”, shopped, and received a $5 voucher just for coming. Unfortunately, I was working that night and missed it. However, the other invitation was for “End of Year Bonus Time”. Between the 21st of November and the 5th of December, Readers Feast are boosting the Privileged Reader’s rewards to 20% credit, rather than the usual 10%.

Today I headed in. I’ve been eagerly awaiting having enough cash to buy the whole Black Inc. “Best Australian…” box set, containing the collected essays, short stories and poetry. I’ve been unreasonably excited about this – when I received this “20%!” invite, I had to have in. I had the cash, I had the time, I went and got my box set. The box set, worth $70, is now sitting next to me on my couch waiting to be cracked open. Not only do I own this box set, but $14 of the purchase price will soon come back to me in the form of a Reader’s Feast book voucher. $14! That’s SO MUCH!

I’m proud of myself, folks. And I’m giving you a kind heads-up. Things you should take from this post:
– Join Reader’s Feast Privileged Readers reward program. It’s free, and so very awesome.
– Join VWC. They’re so plain awesome that they snuck into this post uninvited!
– Buy the “Best Australian…”  collection. In a box-set this year! It’s so pretty. So very, very pretty.

SO pretty, in fact, that I’m settling down with a coffee to get stuck into them right now. Boss, if you’re reading this, I may not be in to work tonight, I might have “an emergency”…in the form of a bright blue box set.

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!

The Literary Legacy of a Trip I Never Took

My father and stepmum recently got back from a 3-month holiday. We caught up yesterday, and they gave me some presents from around the world – they did well.

This sign now sits in my study looking endlessly cool. It marks my space as mine. This is where the genius happens!

Also a fantastic gift – magnetic fridge poetry! These are those little words that stick onto your fridge, and you can arrange them as you please, making fantastic little poems with a limited set of ideas. I spent about an hour at the fridge last night messing around.

Results that are still on our fridge:

“explore the cracks
in every spine
this villain could never tell
of beautiful poetry
beneath human monsters”

“always create
inspire another wisdom through fiction”


above science I can wander
and begin whispering magic”

a Aren’t they great? Get yourself a set, they’re fun, and they’ve provided me with a real excuse for walking out of my study and into the kitchen when I should be writing – I’m making poetry! I want to build up a big set of these, because I know there’s other sets (this one being the ‘book lover’ one, containing words like ‘page’, ‘chapter’, ‘hero’, ‘villain’ etc), and have a huge choice of words. With a small collection, though, it’s a lot of fun to get all Oulipo and see what you can do with a limited set.

Thanks, travelling family!


I used to do plays when I was younger. The roles I had usually only required me to remember choreography, maybe a line or two. The one play that had a larger speaking part wasn’t too bad, because it all seemed to have an internal logic which forced me to easily remember what to do, where to be, what to say.

Memorizing poetry, however, is something new to me. I was thrilled by the discovery that I perform better without a page in my hand. My hands move freely and they keep rhythm, they provide markers for the words to sit on, making it all easier to remember. I’m glad of this, as a hazard of reading poetry seems to be shoving a page in front of your face, disconnecting yourself and the audience.

How to remember in the first place though? I wrote out the piece on my computer, and read it over and over. I eventually stopped looking. Then I said it aloud to myself as I went about everyday things. In the shower. On the way to the tram. For the most part, this worked.

I put a call-out on Twitter for any tips anyone might have for memorizing. Veronica Cybluski was very helpful, providing the following ideas:
1) Find a beat or rhythm.
2) Stick a copy of the words around the house so you see it everywhere. Laminate it and put it in the shower.
3) Record yourself reading the piece, and listen back to it, possibly just before bed.

The laminating idea appeals to me. I heard once about people who record themselves reading their pieces at double-time, and learn them at that speed. That way when they’re on stage and have a brain-freeze, what feels like a big pause to regain their train of thought is actually only a slight pause.

My simple “repetition, repetition” theory worked well enough, but I’ll be trying everything mentioned above eventually to see how I can best remember my poetry for performance. Pieces really are stronger when you get rid of that page.

What’s your trick for remembering your work?

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!

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