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 untouc
Scanning 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 t
Words by Benjamin Solah
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.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. 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. 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 th