Saturday night, August 23rd will see the Royal Exchange (34 Bolton St.) redound with spoken word poetry as it hosts the Newcastle heat of the Australian Poetry Slam. The competition is open to anyone and will see twenty contestants engage in two minute monologues to an adoring crowd. Within the audience will be five randomly selected judges (traditionally by freddo frogs being flung into the throng). They will give each performer a score out of then. The victor and the runner up of the night wins cash prizes of two hundred and one hundred dollars and the ovation/jealousy of their peers, not to mention a chance to compete in the state finals in Sydney. Slam poetry is not the same as those tired old poems we were made to analyse in high school English. You will not be asked to outline the string of metaphors or use of alliteration at the end of a performance. Instead, slam poetry is spoken from memory and relies just as much on the sound and rhythm of words as the meaning of those words. Edgy and current, slam poems often tackle a range of issues such as race, gender, politics, death and sex. But there is a lighter side as well, previous slam finalist Alex Martin stormed his way to the state finals in 2012 with his poem ‘Privacy Man Livedeth.’ In this piece Martin sent the audience into resounding laughter with lines like,
‘The good thing about being Privacy Man,
Is that I can read in peace, naked.
I can write in war naked.
I can be Privacy Woman, in my privacy, With my parts, oh, so very private …’
What makes slam poetry sharper than poems written in books is the stakes of competition and the pressure of the strict two minute time limit. The poem must appeal to the audience.
Slam poetry began in a little town in the United States called Chicago in 1989. Sick of going to poetry readings where poets mumbled their verses while nobody listened, Marc Smith began a poetry night where people were expected to perform their pieces and the best performer won a prize. Soon poets started to actually memorise their pieces to improve their performances and poetry slamming was born.
The movement migrated from Chicago to Australia with Miles Merrill, now Creative Director of Word Travels. Word Travels is a not-for-profit literary, literacy and arts organisation that runs poetry workshops for the public as well as school groups. By far their largest undertaking is the Australian Poetry Slam. This national competition started in Sydney in 2004 and now has heats taking place in regional areas right across the country.
Last year the slam culminated with the Word Travels Festival in Sydney which included three days of street performances, workshops for competition finalists and the national slam final.
Performing at the final, Newcastle’s own Jesse John Brand won the entire competition with his poem ‘Joshua.’ As slam champion Brand has since toured internationally performing in China and Indonesia. He has also published his first poetry collection Cranes Falling in Unison in May. Brand is the second Novocastrian to take out the title. In 2009 Sarah Taylor went from retired librarian to poetry superstar with her off kilter rant about sex aids and the taboo of later life love making.
You can see Brand in performance when he hosts the Australian Poetry Slam’s Newcastle heat. Sign ups to perform start at 6:30pm, so get there early if you want to enter. The night will kick off at 7pm. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $5.
For more information go to: http://australianpoetryslam.com
or contact slam coordinator David Graham: firstname.lastname@example.org