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New Year's Resolutions for Spoken Word Poets

You could decide to write a book, go on tour, win a slam, or run a gig. All awesome things to make resolutions for and some of you probably will. But there are a few forgotten resolutions that spoken wordsters can make to make their 2018 in spoken word extra special for everyone.

Stop apologising If you need to explain a bit about your poem, do some preamble before reading it on the open mic, do so, but do so quickly, but make it your resolution this year to not apologise or sell your work short before you show us the poem. Don’t apologise for not having memorised it, don’t apologise for first drafts, or if you think people won’t get it. You sell yourself short before anyone’s given a chance to realise how dope your writing is. Own the space. It’s your turn on stage. You deserve it just as much as anyone else.

Tell a poet you liked their work Someone’s just poured their heart on stage, they’ve probably said a line that your ear twinkles because it gives you chills but you’ve never heard anyone say anything in that way before. You might whisper to your mate, “holy shit, that was good,” or join the chorus of applause but go and tell the poet who read the poem, especially if they’re new or you’ve never seen them before. You don’t know but your words could be something they really needed to hear.

Go to a gig you’ve never been to before With thirty-five or so regular gigs in Melbourne, you’re bound to have not gotten to them all. That gig you’ve seen advertised but none of your friends go to so you think you won’t know anyone…go to that one. Bring your friends. If it’s on the other side of town, get a carpool together and go check it out. Check out that gig where you don’t know who the feature is. Read the poem you’ve read a million times already to a new audience. If you say you don’t write slam poetry, enter a slam.

Vying for the audience: the relevance of slam

Slam. Is this once agent in changing the way we produce and consume performance poetry still relevant?

For those who are not familiar with slam: Slam is a competition format in which poets are given a set time limit to perform their pieces and are then scored by a total of 5 randomly selected audience members, the scores usually range from 1-10 to the nearest 0.1 with the top and bottom scores being dropped in order to avoid bias, giving each poet a final score out of 30. The poet with the highest score at the end of the night wins. There are many variations on this basic format (which was first introduced by Marc Smith) employed by poetry competitions across the globe.

Slam boasts origins in the idea that the people should have a say in the type of content they are presented with. That is, that those who are the predominant consumers of performance poetry or spoken word; the audience should be the deciding party in the kind of work that is allowed recognition and reward. This has given rise to a style of poetry unofficially termed “slam poetry.”

Slam poetry is a term used to define the type of poetry, both in cadence and content, that is likely to score well at slams. A poet who presents poetry predominantly of this style may be called a slam poet. And while slam, by definition, is a format for competition, the world of slam poets and slam poetry is a rapidly growing one with poets who have attained worldwide recognition for their execution of this style of poetry. However, over time and particularly on our extensive and hugely varied poetry scene, the idea that the poetry presented in slam is of an inferior quality is becoming an increasingly held one.

That is to say, there is a specific school of thought which views slam through a lens that portrays the art that is presented on slam stages as simplistic, repetitive and lacking in any depth beyond the concise point that the artist is trying to make in the allotted time limit.

Workshop critiques: fitness coaching for your poetry

Do you have a fitness coach?  Well good on you. I don’t.  Probably why a flight of stairs leaves me huffing and puffing.

But if I did, I imagine it would function for my health the way critique workshops function in my writing life.  

A critique workshop is where a group of artists meet regularly to share their work with each other and give feedback.  This group can consist of peers or might be facilitated by a teacher/leader.  Groups can be as broad as a meeting of mixed artists, to something as specific as a group of speculative flash fiction writers wishing to publish in journals.  I’ve experienced the full range and gotten benefit from every meeting.  Melbourne Spoken Word’s free Sunday workshop, We Work This Shop, is a poetry/spoken word specific one to try.

Generally, a critique workshop has the following structure:

Warmup: the purpose is to pull people out of their daily lives and get them in the mood for their art.  In some groups, this is social, for example updating each other on recent progress.  In others, this might be a free-write or specific writing exercise. Sharing & Critique: participants take turns to share their work, other group members take turns to provide feedback.

Now I don’t want to lecture you to join a critique workshop anymore than I want you to evangelise to me on fitness.  But if you are interested in giving it a go here are some tips (not rules!) to getting the best out of a critique workshop.

RECEIVING CRITIQUE Don’t apologise for your work: Your co-participants are about to invest their time and consideration into helping improve and progress your work.  Show this investment due respect.   If you have to, provide information about what stage you’re at, “This is a first draft/ I haven’t written the ending” etc.  But disparaging your work skews people’s evaluation before you’ve even started – you won’t get the objective feedback you’re seeking.  I

I want to be boring

Why should poems always be interesting? For some time I have wanted to write a poem that is perfectly bad, or boring, or both. On purpose, I mean: poets strive to make their audience happy or sad or amused or anticipatory or intrigued…. why should they not also strive towards the full gamut of poetic emotion and also make their audience tired or apathetic or full of ennui or sickened at the tedium of it all? Boredom is really an incredibly interesting emotion: why do we get bored? What do we do when bored? Can boring things be comforting? If we can even get bored by the things we know and love the most, does this mean that the things which bore us straightaway will be the things we come to know and love the most? If we get bored to distraction, what do we think about in that distraction?

The secret lies in making the boredom seem interesting to the audience: in making them not bored by their own boredom, but rather simultaneously bored and fascinated. Boring boredom bores me, oddly enough, and it is, after all, easy to achieve by not trying: that is why I used the words ‘On purpose’ in the first paragraph above: it is easy to write a boring poem by accident, by not caring much about it, by paying no attention to the audience, by not ever once attempting to actually speak with them, and by not even really thinking what we are writing. We’ve all heard that boring poem, which, whatever it actually says, somehow says exactly the same thing as every other boring poem. No, I’m more after my own individual style of boredom, my own voice of tedium. Maybe something like

Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock! Who’s there? Knock knock

Honest Criticism: the challenges of critiquing within a spoken word scene

One of the things Melbourne Spoken Word is going to try and focus on more in 2017 is the culture of critical discussion and writing about spoken word. Since we relaunched the website in 2015, we’ve had a few people review books, gigs and albums from around the scene but it’s never quite taken off as planned. I wrote in 2015 about the challenges of reviewing spoken word as an art form. But another element of this is how we go about having open and honest critical discussions about each other’s work as a close-knit community of artists.

So far, most of the reviews we’ve published have been wholly positive. Many of the reviews have been written by friends of the artist, or artists find someone they know to review the work. This isn’t in line with other publications that require minimal correspondence between the producer of the work and the reviewer, so it’s unbiased and as objective as possible. We’ve tried to address this by asking that reviews go through us. This is extra hard for us to avoid because most poets within the scene know each other.

“Friendly” reviews take on more of an explanatory role, almost advertorial in nature, describing a work they like and highlighting it for the rest of the community to engage with. This is one way of reviewing work, but another one that I think is beneficial and would enrich our artform is going beyond the surface level and having more critical discussions in a mature way. The issue is: how would poets react to critical or even somewhat negative writing about their work? How would you react if someone reviewed your chapbook and said some of the pieces fell flat in places, for example, or critiqued your work in depth? I think poets would react differently to this. Some might take the criticism on board or accept it as a difference of opinion, a different approach to the art form. Some might take it more personally or as an offence.

The point isn’t to

8 ways to get more involved with spoken word in 2017

We promise we’re not trying to become BuzzFeed but we always get asked how to get more involved with spoken word in general or Melbourne Spoken Word the organization, whether you wanna be up on stage or helping out in the background so we thought we’d start the year but filling you in on a bunch of ways to engage and get more involved.

Keep making your impression on the open mic

Most gigs have open mics and they’re there for a reason. Use them to practice, to introduce yourself, to try something out, to show off new poems, and to get noticed by gig conveners. We often get asked how they can perform at one of our gigs, get more features at regular gigs or get on our YouTube channel. Our advice is usually to not ask but to get yourself in a position to be asked. Show on the open mic that you’re good, you’ve got enough work to fill a 15-minute set and you’re active and available. Open mic and open mic often at different venues. We’re taking notice, and gig conveners are too.

Melbourne Spoken Word especially wants to include active and prominent talent from around Melbourne so we need to see you perform around the place to want to ask you, whatever style of spoken word or poetry you’re into, whether you’re young or old, emerging or experienced, whatever background you’re from.

Stick your hand up to write for us

The Words section of the website is there for a multitude of voices to discuss our art form. We’re looking for people who are willing to write reviews, interview poets and maybe offer thoughts on spoken word, in general, such as opinion pieces and even little writing advice columns. We’re passionate about encouraging more critical discussion about spoken word in 2017, something you’ll hear more about soon. In the meantime, we have a form for those who want to stick their hand up to write for us. If you have something specific in mind, you can pitch to us via