Jessie Giles won last month’s Slamalamadingdong Open Slam. Below we present one of her moving pieces, ‘Eye Spy’ and an interview. Jessie will also be featuring at Passionate Tongues in the coming months.

Jessie was introduced to Melbourne’s spoken word community in 2012 through various slams and CPJ workshops, with the guidance of Jacky T and Luka Lesson. Jessie spent most of her teenage years in central Australia in indigenous communities and much of her spoken word draws upon that experience. Since then, she has performed with Stillwaters Storytelling Collective and gone back to Alice Springs with Jacky T and Abe Ape to perform as part of the Wide Open Spaces Festival.

Poet in Melbourne that was the biggest influence and mentor for you?

I don’t think there is a single poet who has been the biggest influence or mentor for me in Melbourne. Though I can comfortably say that Luka Lesson has been someone who has mentored and encouraged me to step up and perform and without him, I don’t think I’d be performing. Jacky T and Abe Ape, without a doubt, are my poetic brothers, they keep me sane and solid, ensuring I don’t make any concessions with my writing and maintaining my integrity. And Alia Gabres would have to be one of my Melbourne poetic heroes, who I look up to and who’s performance integrity I inspire to achieve. The Melbourne hip hop community has been a massive influence and crew of encouragers, the likes of Elf Transporter (he was the first person to see ‘Eye Spy’, the first piece I wrote as spoken word), Mista Monk, Zulu Flow and the Global Hip Hop Collective, the Allganiks Crew and Royalty Noise.

The most challenging thing about the spoken word scene…

When people come up to you after a gig and offer praise and thanks… I never ever know what to say… or I get a little creepy and just want to hug them all… hehe…

If you could perform at any event, festival, venue or show not known for spoken word and had the chance to introduce spoken word to that outlet, what would that be?

I am pretty lucky to say that in a sense I have fulfilled this dream. This year I was privileged to be able to perform along side Jacky T and Abe Ape at the Wide Open Space festival in Central Australia. It was such an honour to bring spoken word from Melbourne to the desert, and my home. But if I could perform at another none spoken word event/festival it’d be WOMADelaide… It’s my all time favourite festival, the thought of standing on one of those stages, with a crew of spoken word artists sharing stories and words makes my heart skip a few beats…

Can you tell us a bit about the different reactions to the indigenous themes in your work?

This is a really hard question to answer…

Being a non-indigenous person writing with indigenous themes is tricky, I don’t ever want to feel like I am speaking for indigenous people, and it’s really important for me to maintain my integrity and honour the people who brought me up. Having grown up on indigenous community and having been immersed into cultural practice, lore and language, I always have to keep myself in check. I speak my stories and experience and have yet come across any bad reactions. My most cherished reactions to my words have come from my indigenous family in Central Australia, who are so proud of me to being speaking up.

Favourite regular spoken word event in Melbourne?

These questions are way too hard… Hmmm… Toss up between Slamalama Ding Dong and Passionate Tongues… And all the workshops I’ve ever been to.

What would you like to see improve about the spoken word scene?

More integrity, more vulnerability, more owning space… And I’m not saying that that doesn’t happen, but that I want to see more of it. I want to see people own what they say more and more.

Sharing narrative and stories is such a beautiful, rewarding and healing thing… it can create change like no other… one of my favourite quotes currently is “It is much harder to hurt someone, if you know their story” – Big hART, I think that if we are going to stand on a stage and share our narrative, or stories that have once been invisible, then we need to hold a lot of integrity in that, we have to own what we say and say it safely.

Question from Jacky T: These days when you are performing, do you have a pattern of thoughts that go through your head at all? Or is it a different approach and moment each time?

I think it depends on the performance, where it’s at, who it’s for. When I performed at Wide Open Space I just had to let my experience and the country/land flow through me, if that makes sense. I don’t think I actually had any thoughts, but rather images of the stories I told, which was hard because it was so raw. Where as at the last gig I did at Fed Square for the Light in Winter Festival, my thoughts were around my strength and power, ensuring I used my words to empower others, share stories for positive change.

Benjamin Solah

Benjamin Solah

Benjamin Solah is a writer, poet, spoken word artist, activist and the Director of Melbourne Spoken Word. He grew up in Western Sydney before calling Melbourne home in 2008, where he's performed since 2010 around Melbourne's regular spoken word and poetry nights including Passionate Tongues, The Dan Poets, Voices in the Attic and House of Bricks as well as the NGV and White Night. He's released a chapbook, broken bodies, and two spoken word albums, Duel Power with Santo Cazzati and The World Doesn't Make Sense EP.
Benjamin Solah

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