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Review: Fixing the Broken Nightingale by Richard James Allen

Fixing the Broken NIghtingale

Review by Gemma White.

Fixing the Broken Nightingale is a small, compact, beautifully produced book of poetry divided into seven sections; Prologue, Natural Disasters, Unanswered Questions, Occasional Truths, Flickering Enlightenment, A Scheme for Brightness and the Epilogue.

The preoccupation with artistic legacy is clear from the Prologue “Here we are, you and I, writer and reader/bound together in an eternal timeless dance”. It is later revisited in the poem The Disappearing Soul with a kind of melancholy disappointment in humanity, with the opening lines “I want to say something which makes us believe that the/human race was worthwhile after all./That we left some kind of legacy”.

The speaker in the poems highlights the fallibility of humanity, with personal confession: “if I had been a lesser man/I might have really/fucked up my life/but all I did was fuck up yours” and an psychological insight into the ‘shadow-side’ of the personality, the “dark, selfish, gaping, un/speakable, wordless part of each other/…The great, putrefying deep sea monster/…squatting in the heart of each of us”. The grossness, vulnerability and exposure of sexual relations is also explored in graphic detail in 13 Acts of Unfulfilled Love, with also a sense of searching, of the vain hope of finding a missing piece in the Other: “I have lost something/and am wondering/if I’ll find it/inside you”. But again, this idealised search for meaning is foiled, with a partner who compares sex with “taking candy from a child”.

In Fixing the Broken Nightingale, the creation of art emerges as a singular avenue of redemption for the failed human, as the speaker grapples with the big questions of existence – the intangibility of God in Chimera, the question of “not how to die but how to live” in the poem Flickering Enlightenment. The speaker counsels the reader “don’t try to lock down the mysteries” as even language is not sufficient, with poets mistaking “the prison bars of their minds/for the harpstrings of the heart”. Even so in The Disappearing Soul the speaker admits that “In this dark, my only candles are -/the poets,/who believed with their blood/in the secret potency of words”. So even as the speaker claims the power of art is an illusion, he still wants to believe.

I think this book has particular relevance to a largely secular society where there is still the human need to worship, without the outlet for such a need to be successfully fulfilled. Religions have been exposed, our idealistic search used in someone else’s private agenda. But still there is “the prayer that we may be useful before we perish”. Throughout the whole book there is a persistent need for meaning which I think is characteristic of the times in which we live. Richard James Allen’s work is informed by the struggles of humanity in a contemporary world. Rather than ignoring complexity, or seeking escapism, he enters the void, his words glistening with the many-faceted acts of life, love and creation.

The title of the book, which carries echoes of a whole poetic tradition of preoccupation with the nightingale, could most successfully be related to Shelley’s quote from his A Defense of Poetry: “A poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why.” Similarly, in Fixing the Broken Nightingale, although the problematic nature of language, of legacy, of humanity and intimacy is explored and admitted, the fixing is in the cheering of solitude, not only for the writer but for the reader as well, so that all might feel “moved and softened”, and thus in some way redeemed, faith curiously restored in an inexplicable transaction of truths between writer and reader.

Fixing the Broken Nightingale can be bought directly from Richard James Allen via his website: www.fixingthebrokennightingale.com

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Luka Lesson’s new album EXIT released for free

706luka-final-flat-e1395121404793Australian slam poet heavyweight Luka Lesson has released his latest album EXIT for free! The album is available for download for free from his website and features 11 new pieces.

Luka Lesson spoke to Melbourne Spoken Word and told us “EXIT is an musical album, but I approached everything as a poet. After finding my poetic roots in Melbourne and watching them grow, leaving to tour worldwide pushed me even further into the deep end of words, cultures and finding out more about who I am. EXIT is about escaping our comfort zones, and the person we meet when we are faced with difficult and ‘foreign’ situations, both internally and externally.

“The Melbourne spoken word scene is a place for me that sparked the beginning of something big, and that inspired me to make something different – not hip-hop and not straight poetry, and not even something I would call ‘Australian’. I know when we search we don’t necessarily ever find an end point, but EXIT is a chronicle of the internal and external landscapes I’ve been walking over the past two years. It is personal and vulnerable, I took risks with it and made sure I made things that were honest and powerful.”

Check out his latest video clip below.

Upcoming Dan features

tumblr_l68ov47ILo1qb69qjThe Dan O’Connell is pretty much the oldest running poetry gig in Melbourne, and it happens every week on Saturday afternoon with a feature poet each week and an open mic, it’s a relaxing afternoon of poetry, free entry at 225 Canning Street, Carlton.

These are feature poets at the Dan over the next two months.

May 3 – Emily Manger

May 10 – Lee Kofman

May 17 – Dan Poets Competition Registration Day

May 24 – Eric Beach

May 31 – Dan Poets Competition Day

June 7 – Domenique Hecq

June 14 – Kristin Henry

June 21 – Double Feature New/Young Poet Day with Bridget Loughhead and Brendan Reed Dennis

June 28 – Patrick Boyle

Video Verse: Loop City

Loop City is the spoken word show that wowed Melbourne late last year. In collaboration with former MSO violinist Sarah Curro and composer Yvette Audain, two favourites of the Melbourne poetry scene, Amanda Anastasi and Steve Smart put together a spoken word show that breathes the city we live in, whilst dousing it with some much needed critical eyes. The show traverses tones, with the music underneath lifting the poetry up rather than smothering it, and for you, we have two clips from the show.

You have two more chances to see Loop City in April and May at the Courthouse Theatre in Eltham and a regional show out in Ballarat.

Thursday, April 17 @ 8pm / Eltham Courthouse, 728 Main Rd, Eltham / $5 / Open Mic

Saturday, May 3 @ 7.30pm / The Art Gallery of Ballarat, 40 Lydiard St N, Ballarat / $25-15 (Bookings or on the door)

Right Now looking for poetry and spoken word submissions

Right Now are currently accepting poetry and spoken word for publication on their website edited by Melbourne Spoken Word editor, Benjamin Solah.

Right Now seeks poetic expressions of human rights and social justice. We are seeking poetry of 100 lines or less that fit with monthly themes, touching on the issues of human rights, whether they be in the form of non-fictional poetry, abstract examples or the obscure connections that connect words to the rights of human beings. We are also very happy to accept spoken word recordings as well.

Please send submissions to submissions@rightnow.org.au.

Upcoming themes:

May 2014 – Human Rights and Money
June 2014 – History and Human Rights
July 2014 – Health and Human Rights
August 2014 – Education and Human Rights
September 2014 – Indigenous Rights
October 2014 – Identity and Human Rights

Right Now is an online human rights magazine, published at www.rightnow.org.au. Our vision is an Australia where people have informed and inspired discussions about human rights, equality and justice.

Melbourne Spoken Word presents Laneway Words with US Slam Poet Bill Moran

One Night Only, with local features, a poet’s market

Laneway Words

Friday, March 21 @ 8pm / Toot Fanute, Level 1, Door 1, Globe Lane, Melbourne (off Little Bourke St)

$10 on the door or $8 if you pre-book at trybooking.com

Melbourne Spoken Word presents a very special one-time-only spoken word event hidden in the laneways of Melbourne. We have found this very special venue open for a limited time and we would like to fill it up with spoken word and poetry.

Presenting US slam poet, Bill Moran, also known as Good Ghost Bill, born half-Cherokee, half-Catholic, half-Voodoo, he was part of 2011-2013 Austin Poetey Slam national teams and the 2012 & 2013 Austin Poetry Slam Champion.

Also featuring…

Fury: Australian born, New Zealand spawn. Child to a renegade dentist and a right wing oil painter. Fury’s work revolves around perception, empathy & the sacking of facades through colouring things human.

Andy Jackson’s collection, Among the Regulars (papertiger media, 2010) was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize and Highly Commended in the Anne Elder Award. He has performed at literary events and arts festivals in Australia, India, USA and Ireland. He blogs about identity, embodiment and other hard-to-pin-down things at amongtheregulars.wordpress.com

Video Verse: Fade to White by Ee’da

From rural to urban, ancient to contemporary, Ee’da’s work encapsulates diversity. Her music traverses hip-hop, soul, folk, reggae and spoken word and is bound together by a unique style resonating with vitality, passion and grace.

Ee’da has performed spoken word around Melbourne, supporting Luka Lesson and Bob Holman, performing with the Centre for Poetics and Justice and the founder of Sisters for Sisters, a fundraising event, that features spoken word, “in solidarity and support for sisters in developing countries who have been exploited, sold and abused through sex trafficking.”

Let’s talk Chapbooks!

Words by Benjamin Solah

‘Chapbook’ was a term I first heard amongst the poetry scene after arriving at a poetry gig in Melbourne a few years back, probably when Michael Reynolds gave some away as part of his raffle to help pay the wonderful poets at Passionate Tongues. At first, it confused me as I’d associated it with ‘chapter books’ and poetry ‘chapbooks’ rarely have chapters, but whether you call them zines or chapbooks, the petite size, accessibility and DIY nature of many chapbooks is appealing, and for me, one of my favourite ways of reading poets work after seeing them live on stage.

Last year, I’d say, we had a bit of a boom with chapbooks in Melbourne, and self-publishing of poetry books in general. Well, not just books, but CDs and albums as well. I’d always loved that about Melbourne poetry. The grassroots nature of poets themselves – running gigs for each other and the communal nature of writing poetry and performing it – fits well with things like chapbooks as a way of getting your writing out there, especially inside of Melbourne.

I produced a chapbook, broken bodies shortly after Carrie Hagan released her chapbook, Charcoal and Red Lipstick. We did it in similar ways, both printing them in bulk at a local printers with soft(ish) covers and the best bit was they were relatively easy to sell. Going around to gigs, doing features, reading on the open stages, is pretty conducive to selling books, unlike my previous experiments with self-publishing which involved reaching out to the daunting and easy to be ignored world of the internet, where anyone can put something out there and hope someone buys it, but the audiences of poetry gigs often love to take something more home with them after seeing a local poet or touring poet perform on stage.

Jacky T’s chapbook, Things I See Around Brunswick was a light and fun take on the chapbook, printed at home, and containing freestyle poems, totally untouched, and given to us raw.

And before all that, Koraly Dimitriadis’ chapbook, Love and Fuck Poems led to it becoming a book. Before 2013, and certainly into 2014, chapbooks will hopefully remain a way to access poetry easily and cheaply. I’ve heard from poets who’ve been around for much longer than me that’s chapbooks are an ongoing tradition and even seen some of the series of the Melbourne Poets Union have produced. I would love to hear more about how that tradition came to be, and some of the ways in which they sold their chapbooks.

In the past, Melbourne Spoken Word have tried to sell a range of poets’ work as a whole at various literary festivals around Melbourne, with varying degrees of success, but we hope some spirit of collaboration can continue into 2014 and we’d encourage poets to produce chapbooks, nice samples of what we have to offer, into 2014.

Our advice on how to approach it would to not feel the need to make it too grand, a few poems, definitely no more than 20, will do, and it doesn’t need to look all professionally printed. You can get creative or out there if you like, but some people just want to read a little bit of poetry. Let’s give it to them!

Review: Product, a spoken word album, by Randall Stephens

Review by Amanda Anastasi

a2440354700_2Scanning your eye over the cover of Randall Stephen’s CD Product, the first thing you notice (apart from a silhouette of the safari-hatted poet himself) is an elephant, a bra, Darth Vader, the Taj Mahal, a flying fridge… One thing you sense, the moment your eye stops on the flying fridge, is that this ain’t gonna be boring!

The album begins with a short fanfare-like intro, complete with applause, snippets of MCs introducing Randall, more applause…then the energetic burst that is Man Alive, one of the many live recordings on the album. Let me put it this way: if you’re feeling flat or unmotivated, this track is the equivalent of a double shot espresso and a cold shower. There is an urgency and a call to seize the moment with lines like “Let it out because this will die!” There are lines that will make you chuckle: “I wanna fight the good fight with bad timing” and “I wanna be the ironman of irony!”

Brace yourself for Behemoth. The entire poem is a vocal expression of absolute power that opens with a monstrous growl. I know many eight-year-old boys who would go absolutely nuts for this, especially the line about producing “a tonne of shit every day…for millions of years.” Besides the entertainment value, there is something eerily confronting about the depiction of a creature that “has no natural predators.”

Randall duets with Alex Scott on more than one occasion: the interlude about our deceptive perceptions in Bigger Than You Are, the clever and topical The Future of Entertainment, the self (and peer)-deprecating You Fucking Poet and Saharan Siren Song. Saharan Siren Song is the most philosophical moment, and the most atmospheric. Among swirling desert sounds and the whispers of ‘step off’ is a poem about the desire to escape into a silent, tranquil vastness. Randall and Alex, with their contrasting vocal styles and combined wit, balance each other well.

The other collaboration on the album is with Steve Smart in Last Seen, which is a highlight. In Don’t Ask Why the coexistence of both the impoverished and wealthy India is effectively conveyed. We’ll Always Have Paris is another poem with a strong sense of place. Again the theme arises of catching the moment or opportunity before it vanishes, but with a softer tone, much aided by the piano accompaniment. Left Unsaid is yet another on this theme – the lost people, the lost chances.

In Jump, a poem about the initial infatuation stage of a relationship, the image of the flying fridge finally becomes relevant! I Statements is a strong moment on the album – check out the You Tube animated video of this. Darth Vader Died – My Dad is probably the most moving, intensely personal piece. The image of Randall seeing his face on a photo of his father is a powerful one.

Many of the poems have short track live intros and they work well, in that they show the banter and live interaction Randall has with his audience. It emphasizes his skill as a performance poet and keeps the whole thing relaxed and fun. There are four bonus tracks which, interestingly, are listed on the back. I guess Randall doesn’t want you to miss them! It includes a passionate ode to his bicycle and a track read by the wonderful Meaghan Bell. Throughout, the music by Andrew Horne and Jacky T is well done and fitting, never intruding on the words.

This is a poet that doesn’t take himself too seriously – even the title of the CD is tongue-in-cheek – but underlying the liveliness and wit is an emotional rawness and a surprising array of subjects and ideas explored. I must say, I really enjoyed this album – its fun, its clever, its passionate. Randall calls it as he sees it. One poet’s heart and soul jampacked into a little yellow product.

Randall Stephens Product can be listened to and purchased at http://randallstephens.bandcamp.com/

Open Mic Tips for 2014

Words by Benjamin Solah

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Have you made some poetic new year’s resolutions for the start of 2014 – or at least some in theory commitment to go see some more poetry, write some more, or finally compete in that slam or get up on that open mic?

Melbourne Spoken Word is here to help. The first thing to do is sign-up to our weekly newsletter and/or check our upcoming events page. Find a gig near you or one that you can slot into your calendar. Find the one with the open mic or open slam if that’s what you’re looking for.

And then, if you’ve resolved to get up on stage for the first time, or again, we have some tips and recommendations to help you along the way.

  1. Speak Clearly – whether the gig is with a microphone or powered only by your own lungs, it’s important to make sure you speak clearly and loud enough. You might have the best words in your head on the page but unless people in the audience can hear you, no one will know.
  2. Respect Your Time Limit – whether there’s an official time limit or not (usually it’s around 5 minutes) be sure to keep within that time limit or do not abuse the open mic and go on too long. It’s better to get the audience’s attention with a bang, rather than get known for going on too long. You may think that this one last poem of yours is brilliant but people are more likely to remember the phrase “just one more” rather than the poem if you’ve already gone over your time limit. Some gigs have a bit of leeway or more if there’s a short open mic list but if the queue is packed, best to keep it short.
  3. There’s Always Someone Listening – sometimes the audience might be distracted, with some people having conversations as the night goes on, but rest assured, there’s always at least one person in the audience that will give you the time of day, especially if you’re getting up for the first time. Focus on them.
  4. Listen to Others – it’s just good manners if you get up to read or perform, that you generally stick around and listen to others getting up and reading. It’s also one of the best ways to improve your craft by soaking up the collective inspiration of the Melbourne poetry scene
  5. Paper Crutch – And lastly, at some open mics or slams, a lot of people memorise their poems and don’t read off paper. There’s lots of good reasons to do that, but don’t feel like you’re obliged to or that’s automatically going to make your performance better. Especially if you’re getting up there for the first time, it’s better to have paper there (even as just a back-up) so you can make sure you’re going to finish your piece rather than having to freeze half way through

There’s just a few tips. Feel free to ask questions below or to offer your own tips and tricks on open mics, but also, here’s a few of the best open mics around town to get you started:

  • Passionate Tongues at the Brunswick Hotel: Every second Monday night at the Brunswick Hotel, Michael Reynolds hosts Passionate Tongues from 8.30. There’s a feature performer who does about half an hour but the best is open mic and ample chance to get up and debut. Michael loves first-time readers and often gives them a little something for getting up for the first time and there’s always a supportive crowd. Also, low pressure if you want to get up later in the night.
  • House of Bricks: roughly every month at House of Bricks Gallery on Budd Street in Collingwood, Santo Cazzati is the ‘poetry-jockey’ or ‘PJ’ for a relaxed gig in a warehouse gallery, where he often describes to open mic as just as good as the features. Find Santo in a colourful shirt and hat to put your name down. He’s one of the best people to have in the audience if you’re feeling a little nervous.
  • The Dan: Every Saturday afternoon from 2pm at the Dan O’Connell Hotel in Carlton, apparently they’re giving a free drink to first timers starting this year. What more encouragement can you get? One of the longest running poetry events in Melbourne
  • Slamalamadingdong: want a high energy debut into spoken word in Melbourne? This slam happens every month at the Bella Union Hotel inside Trades Hall in Carlton and the slammers and organisers are incredibly supportive if you want to get up for the first time. Get their early though as spots are highly sought after.
  • There’s so many more I could list like ContraVerse, The Barley Corn, West Word. Check out the upcoming events pages for when they are, keep our tips in mind and have fun!

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