I’m sitting down for an interview with Waffle IronGirl, me on one end of old faithful (Facebook Messenger), her on the other. I’ve – somewhat unwisely – started off proceedings with a list of ‘suggested’ questions from my partner Lexi, all of them uniquely bizarre. For instance:
“How adaptable is the waffle iron as a printing technology?”
Waffle IronGirl shoots this one down:
Waffle Iron isn’t a printing technology.
It’s very adaptable personal weaponry though.
Things are off to a cracking start.
We’re here to talk about performing in Singapore (she was recently a support act in the Singapore poetry slam) and chapbooks (she’s running a workshop on chapbooks for the Melbourne Spoken Word and Poetry Festival). But I can’t resist. Where does the name “Waffle IronGirl” come from? ” I once wrote a flash fiction story about a vigilante called Waffle IronGirl,” she explains. “She used a waffle iron to dispatch with those who would violate her boundaries or the boundaries of those she cared about. When I started performing I needed a stage name, and it seemed like she could impart a courage and frankness that I felt I was lacking personally.”
I could pause here to note that Waffle IronGirl is one of the most original performers I’ve seen, and when she featured for us at the Dan, I felt like the top of my head had been taken off and I had a whole range of new weird and wonderful ideas poured in. Instead, I ask about the Singapore slam; what differences between Singaporean spoken word and Australian spoken word did she notice? “What struck me wasn’t so much the difference in style”, she says, “although that was certainly there. From a style perspective, there was certainly a more natural use of multiple languages and accents and dialects within the same
What does your name mean?
Thabani means “be happy”.
What makes you happy?
Connecting with people. I enjoy consuming art in all its forms. Art is one of the most connective things in which we can participate.
What made you leave Zimbabwe and come to Melbourne? Is Melbourne home now or is there more to your journey?
I left to study in the US and South Africa and finally Melbourne because I have family here. I just thought it would be beaches and people in swimsuits all day but had a rude awakening!
There is so much more to the journey. The project I’m working on now is about the sense of identity displacement. Even in Zimbabwe, I was not culturally accepted because I went to a lot of “white” schools. I’m still searching for a sense of belonging.
Do you know what this place looks like?
No, that’s why it’s so hard to find. But it’s not about the finding, it’s about the journey towards finding. In fact, I’m content to continuously search and not find it because it’s in the search that the most meaningful interactions are to be found.
You’re a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow. What that does mean to you?
It is a great opportunity. Connecting to other writers and becoming a part of the literary world – that is the most valuable aspect. The biggest growth for me is the discipline – working on one full body of work thematically linked, where the content needs coherent narrative. I’m usually very sporadic and volatile in writing, so it’s been an interesting challenge to get into the frame of mind where I’m still authentically expressing myself but it’s a controlled expressing. Not writing to the feeling, but bringing the feeling and writing to it.
You’re part of the Slamalamadingong National Poetry Slam Team. How do you feel and what are you expecting at the event?
A lot of poetry! It’s great to see people workin
Stephanie Dogfoot! We are very excited about your upcoming visit to the Melbourne Spoken Word and Poetry Festival 2019, especially in the festival opening night but also you’re feature at Mother Tongue. What else have you planned on your visit?
I am going to Brisbane to visit friends, and also to check out this Melbourne based sketch group I am obsessed with, called Aunty Donna. Of course I am also excited to check out MSWPF19. I’m also really looking forward to doing some hiking around Melbourne.
Before Melbourne, I’m going to Malaysia for a show there. I’m going to be bringing my new book there, they actually have a very big spoken word scene in KL, with a number of spoken word events. The scene is buzzing and exciting.
Can you tell me more about the spoken word scene in this region?
That’s something I am hoping to talk about a bit in my workshop. I’d like to draw on my own knowledge and experience, the history of spoken word in this region (including the English language slam poetry scene), and explore if there’s anything poets can draw from the history and stories of the region. I also plan to explore political spoken word, as it has emerged from the political context of this area. This includes drawing on the examples of poets I admire from this region.
There is a long history of spoken word poetry in Singapore. It started in various languages, especially Malay, and forms like sung poetry were practised extensively.
As for the history of English language spoken word, well I was on a panel a year ago where the panelists tried to trace the history of spoken word and open mics in Singapore from the sixties. There were open mics organised by university students, featuring visiting artists and professors. In the nineties, Borders (an international bookstore chain) came to Singapore and people used that space for open mics or spoken word poetry events. Legendary Singapo
Through the magic of technology and electronic communication, I was honoured to delve into the thoughts of Natalie Jeffreys.
Natalie is a singer-songwriter, composer, and spoken word poet based in Melbourne. Her music and poetry explores the intersection of faith, beauty, mental health, playful storytelling, and comedy. She is the creative mind behind Puddledog Productions, a business where she creates customized songs as personalized gifts
There are poets and then there are people that are a poem in human form and Natalie is one of the latter.
Firstly I just need to say when I heard you had won the 2018 MSW prize, my heart was full of such warmth and joy. How did winning that esteemed accolade make you feel?
Thank you so much! I felt overwhelmed by imposters syndrome. When you are asked to compete against 29 other poets, let alone 29 of the best poets in Melbourne, winning feels like an incredible honour, but also arbitrary. I kept thinking, and actually explaining to those who congratulated me, that if it was any other night, it could have gone any other way. My beautiful friend, and one of my favourite poets, Farah Beaini was extremely ill that night, and performed regardless. I still think that if she didn’t have to focus on staying vertical as she performed, she could have put me to shame. However, I did win, and it forced me to acknowledge that there may be worth to my words (she says through clenched teeth).
The piece that won you that prize – The Purity of Sadness – is a such a beautifully raw and genuine piece. Did you write it specifically for the prize?
It had been brewing for a while. I had been struggling with the connection between my anxiety disorder and PMS for a while and it felt like I couldn’t catch a break in terms of actually validating my emotions. If I was sad, my first thought is “where am I in my cycle”, and then “it’s just
Arielle Cottingham took the Melbourne poetry scene by storm a few years ago, hailing from Texas, she made our city home and featured all around town, taking the Australian Poetry Slam Championship home in 2016. After sadly leaving us, Arielle returns to Melbourne for the Melbourne Spoken Word & Poetry Festival this July so Emilie Collyer sat down (digitally) to have a chat to Arielle about writing, spoken word and her upcoming workshop.
Where does work emanate from for you?
It seems like too easy an answer to say my current emotional state, but there it is. When I first started performing, I had a lot to say that came from a place of justified anger that hadn’t had a place in my life before. I still carry that anger – anyone who doesn’t isn’t paying attention – but since I’ve been able to express that anger, I’ve found room to express other things, as well. Living in Hobart, watching winter roll in off kunanyi and gathering friends for dinner and fireplace chats – all of this warmth against the cold has found its way into my writing lately.
How do you know when a piece of work is brewing?
When I can’t get a phrase out of my head, or when I get the urge to look back through all the fragments of unfinished poems scattered through my notebooks.
Can you talk about the balance between generating an idea, creating a piece and revising or editing it?
Generating ideas and creation go hand in hand for me; I get too easily distracted if I stick to thinking up or speaking ideas without writing them down, and writing is the first major step of creating for me. Voice and physical choreography grow out of the text. Revising and editing are vocal processes for me, too – do the words sound good in that particular order when I say them out loud? Do I stumble over awkward lingual transitions? Will people pick up on this motif when they hear it for the first
You are part of the team that Slamalamadingdong is sending to US to compete in the National Poetry Slam. What excites you the most about competing in Chicago?
I’m immensely proud of Slama and of the whole Melbourne poetry scene, so I’m excited to go and represent everyone at such a huge event. I’d like to be a kind of ambassador for the amazing art being created in Melbourne and Australia. I’m keen to watch, connect with, and learn from lots of other amazing artists. I think we might also be able to push the boundaries of what American audiences think of as ‘Slam Poetry’ by bringing our own styles, experiences, and contexts into our work and our performances.
Your accent is decidedly English. What part of the UK are you from, and what brought you to Australia and Melbourne in particular?
I was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne, but grew up down south in Surrey. The rest of my family are from in and around Manchester, so that was an influence too. I’ve also lived in Leeds, South London and North London. So, maybe I’ve got more of an ‘undecidedly’ English accent. I wonder whether those varied influences were part of what got me interested in accents, dialects, and language generally.
My partner and I met in the UK but her mum is Australian and her family emigrated to live in Geelong some years ago. That gave us the chance to try living in another country and we fell in love with Melbourne. We said we’d give it two years and see how we settled in. That was five and a half years ago. So, it looks like it’s going okay.
Yes, I did hear that you would travel from Geelong to attend poetry events. What made getting up in front of that mic worth the small journey each time?
The poetry and spoken word scene is my community, so it was well worth the journey just to be among those people and hear their art and their stories. I think it was important for my mental health to keep performing regularly too. There is some