Interview by Benjamin Solah. Transcribed by Tim Train
To celebrate reaching $3,000 in our campaign for a new website, we’ve found, in the depths of the Melbourne Spoken Word archives this exclusive interview with Steve Smart following the launch of his double album, Voices Inside My Head.So now we’re at the Dan O’Connell Hotel and I’m interviewing Steve Smart and we’re going to do a profile on Steve Smart and ask him some questions about his involvement in the Melbourne poetry scene. So how long have you been in the Melbourne poetry scene, we’ll start with?
Steve: Oh God. Long time. I think I was doing readings in Ballarat in the late 90s for like a year or two and then about 99, I think, I started doing readings down here. So it’s been a while. I’ve been doing the performance poetry thing for about 15 years, I’ve probably been in Melbourne for 13, 14 years doing it, like I’ve always lived here but I used to travel to Ballarat because my sister had a venue up there, so I used to go to gigs up there and then I thought, “ah ha” in my brain, after about a year and a half, I went, “you know, if there’s readings in Ballarat, dot dot dot. I live in Melbourne, so yep. Down the Builders Arms, Dan O’Connell, The Arthouse” and here I am.
So you started doing poetry in Ballarat. So did doing the readings in Ballarat – I’m predicting a smaller demographic – did that kind of set you up for poetry in Melbourne, because I guess poetry gigs are a lot smaller than music gigs or other things?
Steve: Yes, well I mean I did, like there was a regular reading in Ballarat that we would do kind of once a month upstairs from the main band pub, and we moved around different venues but we would also do festivals. My sister had a big space called Grainery Lane which was a theatre/gallery/cafe/bar/band venue/whatever. You know, so we would do – like i
Story by Benjamin Solah
A new bi-monthly spoken word gig is set to hit Melbourne curated by none other than Sean M Whelan. A House Safe for Tigers was announced on his Facebook page with a stunning poster which describes the event as “an evening of spoken word fused with music…” with the premise that it will only feature writers collaborating with musicians, and not just poets either, but other writers including those writing non-fiction.
The first line-up, set to take place on Wednesday, August 20, 7.30pm, includes Sean M Whelan himself with his band Isnod, as well as Brooke Russell and Ben John Smith. With no open mic section, there’s plenty of room for the features to strut their stuff in a pretty polished event. Put this one in your diary.
Sean M Whelan is a name familiar to most people interested in spoken word in Melbourne, and with the old Babble slam added as one of the presenters, we hope this one will regularly pull a crowd. Some Velvet Morning, previously Dexter’s, is an intimate venue in Clifton Hill that is dying for more spoken word.
You may have noticed things look a bit different around here. We’ve been moving stuff around, tidying things up and getting ourselves ready for a brand new look and the amazing functions set to hit Melbourne Spoken Word in a few months, but for this we need your help.
Melbourne Spoken Word began by me creating a humble blog two years ago, and our focus has always intended on being on events, listing the open mics, readings, slams, performance, workshops and other events that populate our scene. Some nights you have the great task of choosing between one event or the other, there’s usually multiple events a week representing the diversity and depth in our community. We haven’t always been able to put as much focus on the events as we’d like with our current design and so we’re embarking on a daunting but exciting project to crowdfund the money to get a professionally designed website just for us.
With the help of Pozible, That Mob and Phil and Toby, we’re hoping to bring you a website that gives our community the attention it deserves. $4,500 may look like a lot of money and it is, with everyone chipping in, we can raise the money, with your help, by not only pledging but spreading the word.
We have until the start of September to raise the money and already we’ve received hundreds of dollars at the time of writing toward our goal. Help us help the whole community, a website for all of us, where we can send all of those in love with poetry and spoken word out to all of the great events our community hosts.
Written by Carrie Maya
I’ve only been involved in Spoken Word Poetry for about two years. That’s nothing in comparison to many of the poets I’ve seen gracing stages and pages with their words; some of them have been at it since before I was a zygote. It’s for this reason that I am a little hesitant to make the following claim, but it feels necessary nonetheless: there are a few elements within this community that have been detrimental to the creative health of poets of all shapes, and sizes, and genres.
Indie v. Mainstream
This seems to be one of the most toxic attitudes in the community. At least from my perspective. In all honesty, I’ve been guilty of it, myself. If someone takes the stage with a stylised, slam style, they get labeled ‘mainstream’ or ‘sell out’ . I’ve had my issues with slam, for sure. But I also recognise the role it played in creating a platform through which I had the opportunity to build confidence and receive prizes which facilitated my professional development. Things I am genuinely grateful for. But, during the time I was more heavily involved in the slam scene, or if I experienced a degree of popularity and success, it was hard not to listen to self-proclaimed ‘indie poets’ or ‘real poets’ say things like “I’ve been doing this for ten years. You’ve done this for two and you’re more successful than me. That’s not fair.” I’m like: okay, sorry about that.
Then there’s the flipside. There are incredible poets who don’t attend slams, and who stick mainly to readings and page poetry. And because they’re not engaging with slam culture, they get labeled ‘snobs’ or ‘elitist.’ Totes not cool, bro.
Here’s the dealio-yo: there are good and bad poetry apples in every basket. And it’s just not fair to pit them against each other out of so