Page versus Stage Poetry - 3 myths and a personal conclusion

“That’s a *page* poem, not a stage poem.”

Go to enough spoken word workshops and open mics, you’ll eventually hear someone make a comment similar to the one above. They may be referring to their own work or someone else’s. Either way, it’s a puzzling, maybe even infuriating statement. Especially if, like me, you came to performance poetry after years as a secret scribbler. Or even if you’re an accomplished submitter and publisher of your work in the print or electronic media. What does it actually mean? How does a page poem differ from a spoken word poem? Are there a new set of rules? Will you be able to learn them? Have you wasted your time with iambic pentameters?

Here are some myths I’ve encountered that have since been busted for me by more experienced page and stage poets.

Myth 1. A spoken word poem should be three minutes long

When writing page poetry, we rarely focus on how long it takes to read the poem. Once we enter the spoken word arena, we eventually hear someone bemoan that their poem is shorter/longer than three minutes. After a while, it becomes an implied objective – the haiku lovers among us start stretching for those extra stanzas whilst the epic poets hack away at their rhymes. This is not necessarily necessary. This myth probably originates from competitive poetry slam rules that state competitors get three minutes to deliver a poem before starting to lose points. However, there are many forms and venues of performance poetry other than slam, where much shorter or longer pieces would be welcome, as long as they are entertaining, meaningful and cohesive. Where audience engagement counts more than scores and points. If you intend on competing in slams, you might want to use your allotted three minutes to best effect. However even in a slam competition, I would argue that an effective and well-shaped two-minute piece would score points over a poem straining

Review: Jess Holly Bates' Real Fake White Dirt

Real Fake White Dirt – Jess Holly Bates Guild Theatre, Melbourne University Emerging Writers Festival, 22/06/16

There are moments, as a reviewer, when I realise that I can’t hide behind objectivity. That I use words too often to assuage my guilty (post?) colonialist middle class white consumer privilege. Because I need you to know that I’m a Good Person, sensitive and not the demon oppressor at all. I’m not bad. I’m not. I’m…’ Sometimes you have to take one on the chin and admit that this is about all of us, so I won’t hide behind objectivity to imply that I’m somehow outside the collective problem.

One of the dominant themes I took from Real Fake White Dirt is that Colonialism doesn’t end because ‘We didn’t didn’t do it’. And as a half Aussie half NZer, this show hit me right in the guts. As 2nd generation Kiwi, it’s easy to fall for the myth that we’ve left behind some kind of utopia of racial harmony and that it’s only Australia that has a toxic relationship with our first people. It isn’t true. They’re doing better than we are, but that shouldn’t take the foot off the head of colonialism.

Jess Holly Bates is fearless in dumping herself and her audience right through the looking glass if everything we hope not to be. She’s asking questions without presuming to give answers and the show never feels like proselytizing. There’s humour too, which is perhaps the hardest aspect of the show to pull off. It’s not a subject that lends to the comedic with ease but Jess pulls it off with a natural warmth and a strong physical presence and assured verse. The play is a mixture of poetry and theatrical monologue.

There’s a telephone at centre stage that keeps ringing to both break the tension and increase it, depending on the moment. Jess talks to her director as though he was not present, keeping him u

A guide to surviving Melbourne winter as a spoken word poet

We know. It’s cold. Most of us have been there in previous bitter Melbourne winters, our fingers all stiff trying write on the tram on our way to the open mic. When we get there, it’s hard to click our fingers. We’re afraid they’ll break off.

We’ve clicked attending on the Facebook event, in some cases bought our ticket, and we’re meant to get rugged up with scarves, floppy beanies and fingerless gloves but now we can’t seem to get ourselves out of the house. We were reading on the open mic in shorts what only felt like a few short months ago. It’s warmer at home, there are no beds with electric blankets at Slamalamadingdong and you can’t wear slippers to Passionate Tongues (well, you could, actually.)

We try and fill the void by reading poetry books in bed or watching videos on YouTube but it’s not the same. How do we get our fix of sultry Melbourne voices and the slightly askew look on life that can only come from someone who also volunteers to live in such a cold city? How do we do that and survive another Melbourne winter? How do we get to read on the open mic without becoming metaphorical popsicles?

Here are some obvious and not so obvious approaches to surviving winter as a spoken word poet.

Warm Beverages Of course, most hip bars and pubs where we congregate now serve mulled wine, mulled cider, even hot toddies throughout winter. Both alcohol and piping hot spices got us through Voices in the Attic until it left us until Spring.

If you head to Mother Tongue, chai is the drink of choice. Ms Millie’s do all kinds of coffee and hot chocolate, even chilly for extra heat. All a great way to warm your insides to go with that love poem that, we hope, someone made you feel warm and fuzzy about.

Blankets We could do this. I haven’t heard of people being kicked out of venues for bringing blankets at gigs. Find a table, couch or corner and

Good for poetry, not just having poetry be good for me: a review of All the Blame - the best of Steve Smart

Aside from some notable exceptions, the chapbook or the page collection is the preferred artifact or published item for the performance poet around Melbourne, at least in the last few years. The book trumps the spoken word album in terms of its popularity. It’s rare then that you can point to someone who’s released enough albums to justify a ‘Best Of’ album. It’s not too hard to guess that that person is none other than Steve Smart.

Steve Smart’s poetic antics and ridiculously deep body of work has become a staple of the Melbourne poetry scene for as long as I’ve been involved. Still I go to open mics, or see him do a set somewhere and in there there’s not just new pieces but also old pieces I just haven’t heard yet. Amongst that, there are pieces that I can’t get out of my head. Pieces I rave about to friends like that poem about ‘fucking poets’ or the love poem for smokers, and here, they come to life and feature in All the Blame – the best of Steve Smart.

Launched at Passionate Tongues a few months back, All the Blame features twenty poems, many from his previous albums, and including four previously unreleased tracks. With musical textures from George FoH (O’Hara) and a bunch of others, many of the pieces take on a new life. Most are lovely reminders of the time you heard him do the pieces live.

For me, there are two standout pieces. I admit they were probably going to be the standout pieces before I even heard the ‘Best Of’ album. I may have asked for them to be in there.

The first, ‘Girl on Fire,’ is a love poem about preferring to date girls who smoke. I don’t even smoke and I get the pang of feelings from that piece, when he nears to end of the poem and says “I’ll roll for you my darling…flick the ash off your skirt.” It demonstrates Steve Smart’s ability to twist tropes, turn them on t