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.

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 wrap yourself up. You might find it hard to convince yourself to get up from your warm spot when it’s your turn on the open mic but we’re sure staying put would either be suitably awkward enough to coax you up or people wouldn’t blame you for staying put. Adding blankets or people underneath blankets may increase warmness, unless they have really cold hands or they did a poem about men’s rights.

Don’t stop at blankets. Get in a sleeping bag and jump like a slug trying to make your way down Sydney Road on your way to Bar Oussou. I’m sure James Curtin won’t mind.

Hugs are all the rage now. It’s the choice of greeting for poets who’ve met at least two or three times at a previous gig, provided the other poet or poetry lover is ok with it. It will hold back the cold for between three and five seconds at the beginning and end of your night. When Tim Evans asks the audience “Where’s the place to be?” at Girls on Key, say “on Tim’s knee” instead and sit on his knee. I did it. His knee and cuddles were quite warm.

For lasting effects, I wouldn’t be surprised if I see poets clustered like birds at the edge of the nest all snuggled up together, poking their heads out of blankets with mulled something in hand to last the night. If you’re at La Mama or The Owl & Cat Readings you could claim it’s part of the set of whatever theatre show is going on at the same time. Santo would be suitably impressed.

Warm Poetry
I’m not so good at the science, but perhaps performing poems about summer or sun or heat or hot coals could trick your brain into thinking it’s warm and you’ll forget you’re in the middle of a city that only has Tasmania between it and Antarctica. Short of that, there’s always poem about happy and warm feelings that do something gooey to your insides that either distract or have some unexplained effect on your body temperature.

Cold Poetry
Now hear me out. I’m paraphrasing Steve Smart here, but poets don’t mind suffering as long as they can get a poem out of it so perhaps the idea of some fresh dark ode to Melbourne winter will convince you that the sacrifice is worth it. Make a thing of it. Wear shorts and a singlet, drink a slushee on stage, give yourself a brain freeze, and then sit in the beer garden at the Dan and write. Someone is bound to feel sorry for you and hug you and John McKelvie will probably buy you a drink.

Physical Poetry
Exercise is good for keeping warm. Turn those dramatic slam hand gestures into full body movement. Write about running on the spot and then actually run on the spot. Write about hugging and then hug yourself so tight you wrestle yourself to the ground and roll around until you’re sweaty. Has someone done a poem standing on their head yet? Or break dancing? Why not? Take it to Ruckus Slam. You’ll warm the audience up as they sing “Holy shit, holy fucking shit, fucking dinosaurs, it’s a five” to the tune of the Jurassic Park score.

Short of all that, you could either set something on fire, move to Sydney for a few months or not go to any poetry gigs until it warms up. But we know you agree those are all very drastic options.

So how are you going to survive Melbourne winter and still get to warm your insides with spoken word and poetry?

Photo by Michael Reynolds

Annie Solah