Jesse Brand - Australian Poetry Slam Champion / by Kian West

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(title) Australian Poetry Slam 2013 Champion, Jesse Brand. From October 11th-13th, the nation’s finest spoken word poets in the Word Travels Festival overran Sydney Harbour. Poets performed in hotel rooms, tunnels near Circular Quay, The Rocks, and The Opera House. The main event: the finals of the Australian Poetry Slam saw two Newcastle representatives Gillian Swain and Jesse Brand battle it out against a variety of performers. Jesse proceeded to the national final and then in a blaze of glory took out the entire competition scoring a chance of a lifetime - a spoken word tour of Asia.

I caught up with Jesse for a night of drunken shenanigans and an interview. Just kidding. We did this through email.

Hey Jesse, for those of us not at the Australian Poetry Slam festival, what happened that fateful weekend?

On Friday night I competed in State, I was picked out of the hat last and performed a poem about my brother. When the scores were tallied it turned out I’d tied with a poet named Zhohab Khan and so we flipped a coin where I started the tiebreaker with a poem called ‘Dear Mrs Miller’. I ended up winning by one tenth of a point, which meant I could go to nationals at the Sydney Opera House that Sunday with Thomas Hill, an awesome poet that placed first in state. At nationals I met a lot of amazing poets who all had a lot to say about the poetry scenes in their own hometowns. That morning I had a huge anxiety attack and almost couldn’t leave the house. But talking to my sister, Naomi, and a supportive member of Word Travels called Lorin, I managed to force myself to go. I did ‘Dear Mrs Miller’ first and progressed to the final round (with the rest of the top 5), and then I did the poem about my brother, ‘Joshua’, and I told myself no matter what happens I’ll be happy as long as I say this poem. ‘Joshua’ scored the only 10s I’d seen in the competition. After announcing a highly commended for Abe Nouk, and second place award for Martin Ingle, Miles Merrill, founder of Word Travels, announced that I was the 2013 Australian National Slam champion. I managed to assemble what parts of my mind weren’t completely blown away by this point for my encore performance, ‘Oblivion’, which I’d first placed in Newcastle with. When I first performed ‘Oblivion’ at regionals, I’d forgotten half the poem and jumped around lines, occasionally staring in terror at the audience and luckily everybody had thought that I was pausing for dramatic effect, so it felt good to tie off the entire competition with ‘Oblivion’.

That’s intense! What a lifetime experience. So that means you’re gonna be taking a tour of Asia, do you know exactly what that will entail?

Well, I’ll be working on hour-long sets for The Bookworm International Literary Festival in Beijing, Chengdu, and Suzhou, and again performing in the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in Bali. So it will probably involve a lot of poorly recited Mandarin for “please I go to worm festival you make book taxi happen a thousand thanks” and a lot of very confused and annoyed Chinese people.

Had you done much performance poetry before you entered the slam in Newcastle?

I’d never performed poetry in my life. I’d read a poem to my friend before we went, but it wasn’t exactly a ‘performance’. I’d done a lot of musical performances and a tiny bit of drama, but that’s about it.

So what’s your connection with Novacastria? 

When I was born in Monavale Hospital on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, my parents were like, “nah, man, not ghetto enough. Where be the thugs at?” and took my sister and I to Lake Macquarie, where my brother was born a few years later. I’d lived in the Newcastle area up until I did my HSC and got into UNSW in Sydney, so I moved back. I still visit a lot because my parents still live there.

What do you think is the main difference between spoken word poetry and poetry that gets put into books?

The same thing that’s different between a novel and a film – you experience them differently. Performance poetry allows you to experiment in different ways. Instead of Ergodic typography, I do things like vocal effects. The rhythm, flow and musicality (sforzando, silenzio, crescendo, accelerando) of the piece are also more apparent than the rhythm and metre in most written poetry.

The Australian Poetry Slam is an annual competition. To find out more visit their website: http://australianpoetryslam.com/

If you’re interested in spoken word events in Newcastle check out Word Hurl Anti-Slam on Facebook or contact wordhurl.antislam@hotmail.com

Written by David Graham