Thoughts: On there being not one way to write a poem

Thoughts by Benjamin Solah

There is no one way to write a poem or a piece of spoken word. Perhaps I used to think that there was a formula of sorts. I used to spend too much time wondering whether my poem was not a poem that it got in the way of writing it. I still probably spend a lot of time dismissing my own work as not poetry, or it’s a certain kind of poetry, but not appropriate for another kind, another gig or journal.

I think I first learnt how to write poetry based on the free verse of Sylvia Plath and the poets we read at school. Except for Plath, I didn’t like them that much but I modelled what I wrote based on their form, their rules. And then I entered spoken word in Melbourne, discovered Passionate Tongues and all these spoken word artists doing things differently, but somewhere in my head taking from it that I need to write a certain way. I obsessed about not being too literal, hiding what I wanted to say in metaphors and even when I do get minimalist or direct, I’m still thinking a bit too much about that.

Then you see the slam poets, those performers from America that excite so many people. It feels like a lot of them are much more like storytellers than poets, though not in a bad way. They are still concerned with poetry and rhythm and images. They have a certain style, a certain tone of voice that I can’t quite pin, but I know what I like and when I heard Ken Arkind, I knew I liked how he did it. I feel like he has a confidence in the way he uses anger in his voice and the way he constructs images around story telling, often quite literal in places but bringing out the images, those moments where you click your fingers as he brings the poem and story to life.

The poems that I’ve tried to write as slam poems like ‘Unless You’re Free’ in particular, feel like more on the cryptic side and the poems like ‘The Red Tram’ which is pretty cryptic but more like a dream-time story, have been difficult to mem

Anis Mojgani performs to a sold-out Melbourne crowd

Review by Benjamin Solah

Last night, Melbourne got lucky – at least if you’re a fan of spoken word or poetry. It’s very rare we get to see the slam poet heroes we’ve come to love on YouTube and from afar. Last time we saw them, it was Ken Arkind with a whole range of others about two years ago, and Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye last year.

Last night, we got to see Anis Mojgani thanks to Bo Svoronos, Alia Gabres and Global Poetics, supported by the Emerging Writers’ Festival. And he performed in front of a sold out crowd at the Footscray Community Arts Centre hosted by Ken Arkind, supported by Carrie Rudzinski and a whole bunch of local poets. It was an impressive and ambitious line-up. If One Night Stanza last night was a restaurant, it would be an upmarket version of Sizzler’s, an all-you-can eat buffet with so many dishes on offer, you only got to taste a bit of each, even though you could have gorged on each one alone. And the metaphors were much better than that one. It included Randall Stephens and Steve Smart, Michelle Dabrowski, Grace Vanilau and Ajak Kwai, Alia Gabres, the return of Luka Lesson from Greece. As well as May’s Slamalamadingdong Nerd Slam winner, Freya Dougan-Whaite who won the chance to perform in the line-up, and for me, was one of the stand out performances alongside more experienced performers.

It could be argued that the night was bound to extend far into the night, and Anis Mojgani did go for an hour and a half but the audience soaked it all up and the performers had their attention the whole time. Mojgani mixed his brilliant imagery in his poetry with witty insights and anecdotes both in the poems and in the banter in between. But if there could be one criticism of his work, some of the pieces often blended into each other, a collection of quite vivid and imaginative images but sometimes I felt lost as to the central theme of each individual piece, and often that’s a critic

Spoken word emerges again at EWF

Words by Benjamin Solah

The Emerging Writers’ Festival is beginning this Thursday and if you’re into spoken word, there’s certainly events for you to get along to. The line-up of spoken word artists and poets in the festival program include Jessica Alice, Ali Alizadeh, Khairani ‘Okka’ Barokka, Alison Croggon, Josephine Rowe, Alicia Sometimes, Jessica L. Wilkinson and Arda Barut. There are also a heap of events that are relevant to spoken word artists, as it is for all kinds of writers.

But the most impressive event is One Night Stanza coming up this Sunday night, supported by the Emerging Writers’ Festival. American slam poet, Anis Mojgani, will perform at the Footscray Arts Centre, hosted by another American slam poet, Ken Arkind as well as Carrie Rudzinski, Randall Stephens and Steve Smart, Michelle Dabrowski, Grace Vanilau and Ajak Kwai. It is an impressive line-up and like the Global Poetics tour a few years back that Ken Arkind was apart of, it’s a very rare chance for an Australian audience to be wowed by the American slam poets that some of us have come to love on YouTube. Tickets will likely sell out so people need to book ASAP to avoid being heartbroken when all your friends rave about how great it was.

The other spoken word event that looks impressive is Sweatshop Stories. It’s brought to you by the Sweatshop Western Sydney Literacy Movement and featuring eight performers, the event describes itself as “Welcome to the sweatshops of Western Sydney, where every Aussie gets a fair go. Pockets are full and guns are empty. There are no racists here. No misogynists and no homophobes. Where the Wogs rule and the Anglos have assimilated.” It definitely sounds politically charged and unlikely to be accused of being mild-mannered and holding anything inside. As someone who grew up in Western Sydney, and who loves poets who hang their politics up on their microphone, I am sad to miss this one as I

Meeting the Regulars: Eltham Courthouse Readings

Poetry doesn’t just exist in the inner city suburbs of Melbourne, but we have found there a bunch of gigs out there in outer suburbs supported by loyal locals and attended by committed poets who don’t mind a bit of travelling time to polish up that poem before the open mic. One of those is out at Eltham, in a beautiful old courthouse.

Words by Helen Lucas

The Courthouse Reading in the historic courthouse in Eltham has been running now for ten years. Funded by the Shire of Nillumbik, it has become an established reading over its time and has a dedicated group of mainly locals who attend it regularly, but also intrepid devotees who use public transport to get there.

Regular contributor Amanda Anastasi featuring at the Eltham Courthouse. (Photo by Thomas Kent)

One of the great things as far as a convenor is concerned is not having to worry about bums on seats, as I know that they will be paid regardless of attendance. The council is committed to the reading, and supports me as convenor.

In 2011, I had an idea about putting poetry on postcards as this fitted with the council arts strategy and the Ekphrasis Poetry Competition – a postcard project that combines artworks from the council’s collection with a poetic response was created, funded by the Courthouse door and further funds from council. A series of twelve postcards, artwork on one side, poem on the other are given out for free and the three best are chosen and given money!

The reading has one feature poet who performs two sets, and an open section. A theme is suggested, but by no means mandatory, but I have found that it inspires people who may not be poets, but who love poetry, to contribute. I often ask the feature poet for a theme that fits with their work and this gives an overall feeling for the night, with readers in the open section focussing their work.

The Courthouse Reading is a convivial reading, with a $5 entry