Amanda Anastasi speaks to Sapologie curator, Green Room Award winner, and Slamalamadingdong Grand Slam Champion, wāni.
How and where did you first discover spoken word?
Through a collective I found when I first arrived in Melbourne. It was the first space I’d ever felt truly free to be able to explore forms that weren’t always so readily available to me.
One of the most interesting and moving spoken word pieces I have heard recently is your poem ‘Silence’. In it, you demonstrate the gaps in our speech if we removed the lies and half truths from our daily narrative. Why do you think it is so hard for us to speak plainly and truthfully?
I think perhaps it’s because of the way we’ve been socialised and conditioned to exist. It seems as if we have to be and exist in a particular way that perhaps is different to who we feel we actually are, and vulnerability as well as honesty is exposing and that’s risky, so we tend to hide behind masks we create. Perhaps.
I have often considered spoken word and poetry to be the most direct form of artistic expression. Is this part of its appeal for you?
Yes, most definitely. It tends to cut through the b.s, I feel. It allows both the giver and the listener to penetrate parts of each other that aren’t often received in the same way through other forms – not even conversations – because of the assumptions that it often carries with it at times.
Your performances are paced and phrased very deliberately through your clever use of pauses, silences, and acceleration. What are the things you have learned so far about performing poetry that you would like to share?
That there are no rules to it except the ones you make for yourself. For me, it allows me to enter a space where I can better understand myself and the world around me, in a way that opens me up to share it with those willing to hear me. It also allows me to explore new ways in which to deliver things t
The elegant Alan Pentland meets me at the Melbourne Bar, “Workshop”, to talk about the MSW poetry prize, comedy and the meaning of spoken word. Right after this interview, he retreated to his country estate to fix up a problem with a water tank.
Hi Alan. Congratulations on winning the 2017 MSW Poetry Prize! That was a great performance. Funny story about that. I was surprised to have walked away with the prize, there were so many amazing performances! I felt terrific for about a week, then I got the feeling, “What do I do now?” This felt like a watershed moment, a huge step. I thought the next step must be much bigger and I had no idea what it would be. There was an occasion I needed to rise to, but the writing actually became hard and I was quite depressed for a month. It’s funny because it’s ironic.
But I’ve started writing and performing again, I’ve got targets to aim for. I know what I’m going to do: use the prize as a leverage to contribute to the community, to others but also to myself. I think there are new ways to do things and I’d like to explore that.
I’ve been part of the poetry scene for about two years. Much as I appreciate the support mechanisms, I want to reach the people who don’t go to the poetry gigs. Ultimately you want to reach out to an audience that isn’t poets. There seems to be no prototype to achieve this, right now I’m going to non-poetry gigs and open mics — like music gigs. And I’ve been getting an encouraging response.
How did you get your start in poetry? I won an award for poetry from school. My friend and I used to self-publish a poetry newsletter in the days when you had to “roneo” them, you had to type the poems up on a stencil then run it through a machine to make copies. All sorts of people would contribute, people you wouldn’t imagine writing poetry. But then I studied architecture at uni and got into comedy, which is the kind of thing that seduces you away fr
Winner from March’s Slamalamadingdong, Tenda McFly with his piece, ‘A list of things I want to talk about.’
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Tenda McFly is best described as an amalgamation of hip-hop and spoken word poetry. He recently released a project titled Memoirs and subsequently presented it to a sold-out audience in a format which encompassed elements of theatre, spoken word, rap and visual art. In the past, he has opened for The Game, Lloyd and has been on the bill for a number of notable QLD & VIC music festivals. As a spoken word poet, Tenda has also performed as a TEDx Speaker at 3 different events. His material manages to pass as carefree and fun whilst being mesmerizing and thought-provoking. There is an accessible youthful intelligence here that is both representative of his experience and his generation.Tenda is also a member of Band of Brothaz & NoA.
I recently saw your show ‘Don’t Worry, I’ve Got it Covered’, which was a cabaret tour de force! Your presence and authenticity onstage in something many performers aspire to. How important is it for you to be completely yourself onstage, and why is this important?
I had so much fun on stage that night! It was a real joy. Hmmm…being myself…what does that mean? Ok, I won’t go down that rabbit hole! I know what you mean – I am pretty relaxed onstage – these days, after years of performing and experientially working out what not to do!
I’d have to say it’s pretty important for me to feel relaxed and allow myself to be seen in all my flawed and fabulous glory onstage. I aim to be as uninhibited as possible so that I can ‘get out of my own way’ enough to honour the wild and wacky and messy and juicy human experience. Hopefully then people can connect and feel more ok with their humanness. I feel like if I’m ‘pretending’ people won’t trust me and will be less likely to let their hair down and come on the journey. Obviously, I don’t always manage to be 100 percent authentic, but it feels like every year I shed another layer of giving a shit, and that’s’ great! I’ve always loved authentic performers who are really uninhibited and eccentric and vulnerable. If someone is loving what they do, and allowing themselves to be seen, you feel super comfortable looking at them and it can be so engaging.
I remember when I used to life model, the art teacher would always tell the students not to try to draw a face the way they think it looks – not to make it up. If you actually look at it, the eyes are wonky and the mouth is not as you imagine, and the skin colour has greys and purples and blues and oranges. But if you try to paint what you think the skin colour is, it won’t be nearly as nuanced and beautiful.
Maybe this is a good analogy for how I feel about performers being authentic. I don’t want a perform
When experiencing a Scott Wings performance, whether it’s a one-off piece on an open mic or a full-blown show, you’re guaranteed two things: playful language, and playful use of the body. It’s all bound up together. Whiplash, Wings’ latest show, now on at The Butterfly Club provides all of that, and more.
We can’t say exactly define what ‘that more’ is because like many of his shows, his improvisation ensures that each show is unique. This show’s latest iteration, with one more performance tonight, at an iconic performance venue, indicates that it’s ready for a broader audience, as well as continuing to have artists there too.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing it at various stages of its development – from parts being performed at Wings’ ‘Passionate Tongues’ feature, to a preview in his lounge room/performance venue, Cathaus. The changes made and charting its development is part of the joy, as an audience member, and also the closest analogue a live performance gets to having a ‘director’s cut’, albeit one that appears before the ‘final’ cut. Like a true follower of Scotty’s work, I find myself mentioning to a few people afterwards that I got to see earlier versions of the show, which I admit, feels like the kind of brag you’d expect from The Simpsons comic book guy character.
Whiplash continues to explore themes of mental health that he’s touched on in his previous shows and work (Icarus Falling, Colossi) and touches on some particulars of his own life that connects with other artists facing similar, envisioned struggles. To parallel the way the show is produced, the physicality of the body is used as a central motif to navigate travel to his physical heart, and what we understand ‘hearts’ do, on an emotional level.
His narrative mixes and blends several elements – at times, there is stark poetic imagery, mixed with dynamic bodily movement to music, neither fully theatrical nor d
Yoram sometimes has the air of a man possessed when he’s performing. I was interested to find out what drives this dynamic performer. I wasn’t surprised he suggested we meet at the underground bar, E55. When I arrived, he was already comfortably ensconced in a background of drumbeats.
Where did you start with spoken word? I’ve been involved with public speaking all of my life. From an early age I was trained to deliver long speeches without notes and without learning content off-by-heart, but rather, to take a theme or topic and improvise on it, sort of like a jazz of public speaking. Throughout my twenties and early thirties, I practiced this kind of speaking extensively, but exclusively within the Jewish community, and almost always within the context of a religious setting. Basically, I was a preacher.
Regarding the Spoken Word form specifically, it began for me in about 2014. I had returned to Australia from Israel where I had been deeply involved in the Arab Spring movement in that country. I had been engaged in everything from street protests to electioneering and when I returned I felt compelled to write about my thoughts and experiences.
I found, however, that when I actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) I was writing in a totally new way for me, using loads of rhymes and masses of adjectives and weird assonances and alliterations. It seemed entirely gratuitous for prose. So I sat there looking at my screen and wondered; “Is this was what people call spoken word?” Shortly thereafter I came across Slamalamadingdong and so it began.
Why spoken word? You aren’t explicitly in it for the self-exploration… That’s definitely true, I am not in spoken word for the self exploration per se. I am really in it for the revolution. I see the spoken word stage as a place to talk about political ideas and use the voice to inform and effect political transformation.
Spoken Word serves