Submission to the Senate Inquiry into Arts Funding

Melbourne Spoken Word has made the following submission to the senate inquiry into arts funding following the devastating cut to the Australia Council for the Arts made by George Brandis. We make this submission not with much belief that politicians care too much about arts funding, but to make our feelings public on the issue and have made it available here for those to read and share. We hope we can highlight the particular difficulties those practising in spoken word and performance poetry face as a result of these cuts and the general situation for arts funding in Australia.

We write this submission on behalf of Melbourne Spoken Word and the growing community of poets and spoken word artists around Melbourne and the multitude of live poetry events, spoken word performances, open mic nights and poetry slams that happen most nights of the week.

Melbourne Spoken Word is a small emerging community arts organisation based in Melbourne to support the artists and events that survive rarely with government funding and overwhelmingly through the hard work from poets volunteering their time to support the community that supports them.

This year we were able to launch a brand new website through crowd funding and the generous donations of the community and our little arts organisation that started as one person running a blog has blossomed into the potential for something bigger provided we are able to access much needed funding.

It is scary to be in this position as we approach the chance to apply for funding when it is now becoming harder. Small to medium organisations that already receive funding are afraid of losing the ongoing support they need to survive. So it is even more daunting to be an organisation that has not yet entered that pool of funding as it begins to dry up. What chance do we have of receiving funding when even those who already do and have proved themselves stand to lose out?

Spoken word, performanc

Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa / To Advance Australia Fair

Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa performs her winning poem, “To Advance Australia Fair” at Slamalamadingdong on June 26, 2015.

Video produced by Melbourne Spoken Word, Filmed by Benjamin Solah and Freeman Trebilcock, and edited by Benjamin Solah.

Performed at Slamalamadingdong, at 24 Moons in Northcote. Slamalamadingdong is held on the last Friday of each month.

Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa is a #grownwoman, hairy, single and ready to mingle, and a storyteller. You’ll find her on park benches dnm’ing with strangers about the evils of the patriarchy or impromptu rapping about Tony Abbott with her best mate. She is passionate about the performing arts and inherently merges her advocacy background with the arts. Sukhjit, from a young age, enjoyed writing pieces and performing them for her family. In fact, her first script was written when she was just 6 years old. However, while on exchange in Prague, a Bulgarian backpacker hijacked Sukhjit’s laptop and typed in ‘Sarah Kay’, exposing her to the magical world of spoken word poetry. Since then she has been workshopping pieces and it was only until the Australian Poetry Slam Competition last year that she decided to perform spoken word for a wider audience, spiralling off into a YouTube Channel titled Contemporary Kaur. Sukhjit’s writing predominatly surrounds stories of the Sikh diaspora, family, cultural confusions, and gender. She is still discovering the art form of slam poetry and experimenting with style and content while she currently resides in the ‘big city’ of Melbourne. For her, the journey has just begun.

What you can do with spoken word video

Yesterday, we talked about the why and how of making videos of your poetry or spoken word. Whilst a recording of a live performance is the obvious and probably best way to record your work, there are also other creative ways of approaching the video. Again, think of the diversity of music videos. We wanted to accompany yesterday’s piece with a few examples.

Live: If you’re going to do it live, best to do it somewhere special. Do it at the gig you love, the open mic you always perform it, or do it someplace really special. It’s not incidental.

This video of Tariro Mavondo, produced by Jeevika Rajagopal and James Beyerle, recorded at Slamalamadingdong records her performance at Jam Slam.

Or record a poem live out on the street. This guys isn’t a Melbourne poet but the live location fuels this piece by Brando Chemtrails.

Animation: One of the most ingenious examples of animated spoken word video is this video from Randall Stephens. His poem ‘I Statements’ with the help of Alex Scott brings the words to life on the screen for you and is very appropriate to the content of the poem.

With a background: Omar Musa’s video of ‘Fireflies’ is simple, one shot, recorded on location, with an interesting but not overwhelming background behind him. If you’re wanting to record something, it only takes you to step outside, out of your bedroom to find a location that’s a bit classier or grungier.

Similarly, Alia Gabres’ video, uses a plain black background. It has a similar effect.

On Location: Or you could go out a bit further like Fleassy Malay did, and record in a really interesting location.

Something totally different: Most of you will know this one but it blows videos out of the water. Luka Lesson’s video to ‘Please Resist Me’ taps into the spoken word community using other poets lip s

The why and how of making poetry videos

Poetry videos, especially on YouTube, are becoming a popular introduction to spoken word, performance poetry and especially slam poetry. With the growth of channels like Button Poetry and viral poetry videos of poets like Sarah Kaye and Taylor Mali, many people have discovered spoken word online potentially without coming across the live version in their own city.

We make no secret that one of Melbourne Spoken Word’s focus points is expanding the amount of work of Melbourne poets and performers available as video online, on our own YouTube Channel. We believe that one or two good quality videos of a poet’s work can help to increase their profile and the profile of live events in Melbourne.

Whilst Melbourne Spoken Word, with the help of poet Freeman Trebilcock, plus the YouTube channel, RealPoetryMovies presented by Ken Smeaton, get around to gigs and try and film people, we think you should consider getting out there and doing a video or two of your own work. We should also mention at this point that the work of David McLauchlan, who for many years recorded poetry and spoken word around Melbourne and broadcast it through his TV show, Red Lobster on Channel 31, where you can still access all 275 episodes, recorded between 2003 and 2012.

Why would you make a video of your work? The simple answer is so that people who potentially want to see you perform, and ask you to perform at their event know what you’re like on stage. A video is often the best analogue to your live performance, even for those who consider themselves ‘page poets.’ Of course, for some, poetry published on the page might be the best or another way to introduce your work, or perhaps radio or audio recording. A video is useful in particular for those with more performative and aural aspects to your work. It’s an example of your work for those who don’t know who you are or have never seen you perform before.

The first hurdle many p