Interview: Geoff Lemon on Going Down Swinging and the grassroots scene

Going Down Swinging, the only literary journal in Australia to regularly publish a spoken word CD with its regular issue, is launching issue #33 this Sunday at the Melbourne Writers Festival. It has also recently relaunched its website now with regular content.

Melbourne Spoken Word’s Benjamin Solah asked GDS’s editor Geoff Lemon a few questions…

Why should poets and performers in the Melbourne spoken word and poetry scene take an interest in Going Down Swinging?

Because GDS is one of the biggest supporters of local spoken word in Australia, and has been publishing in Melbourne since 1980. We’re the only Australian journal (and one of a handful worldwide) to publish audio CDs with every print issue, which we’ve been doing for 13 years.

We commission new long-form spoken word pieces each year, and stage regular gigs, giving opportunities to local performers to find an audience and be paid. We publish national and international artists, but still have a distinctly Melbourne presence and flavour, including touring Melbourne artists interstate. We’re also branching out into multimedia digital publishing, opening up more opportunities to publish performance work via video and audio.

Also, and maybe more importantly, we do our best to set the standard for quality spoken word. There are a lot of performers out there who aren’t living up to their potential. We want to set an example, and we also just want to put together a bloody good record, every time.

This is great for those who are selected, as we put local poets alongside star writers like Neil Gaiman and Cate Kennedy, rappers like Joelistics and Mantra, and musicians like Sietta and Angie Hart.

Can you tell us a little bit about how Going Down Swinging was born out of the grassroots scene? How is it different to other literary journals?

Other journals tend to have a single focus, which is print publishing. Their e-books and websites are just digitised text. Our print anthology, though, is just one part of what we do: the book is as important as the CD, the events program as important as the book, the digital editions as important as events, the commissions program as important again.

Our digital editions include film, audio, animation, interactive text, design programming. Our events include performers and musicians. Our website publishes any media it can, several times a week, so there’s always something new to see or read.

When Kevin Brophy and Myron Lysenko founded GDS back in their 20s, it was of course only print, and was a very homemade publication. It was a few stapled sheets of paper delivered by bicycle. But its content was innovative: Kevin and Myron wanted to open up new opportunities outside what they saw as a stuffy publishing scene at the time.

Our approach now, looking to include as many kinds of artists as we can, is still consistent with their early intentions back in 1979.

Were you the first Australian literary journal to publish spoken word? Are there others that have followed or do you still think it’s something undervalued?

Yes, as far as we know. GDS released a one-off CD of the late great Melbourne poet Jas H Duke with GDS #13 in the mid-’90s. We started with regular CDs in 2000, a decision to try and include writers excluded from literary publishing. The only comparable publication we know of is New York magazine, Rattapalax. Online journal Cordite now publishes MP3s, but no Australian journal publishes studio-recorded and mastered albums.

How can poets and spoken word artists get involved with Going Down Swinging?

Most immediately, go to our website, which is updated multiple times a week with new writing, podcasts, video, behind-the-scenes info, and archival material. Secondly, buy a copy, or come to a show, and say hello.

Going Down Swinging has always had a really close-knit community of readers, writers and artists. Our parties and gigs are a great way to meet other writers and like-minded people. We also have a group of volunteers, proofreaders, and sometimes advertise internships.

Our launch party for Issue #33 falls on the closing night of the Melbourne Writers Festival, at the Toff in Town on September 2 – this Sunday night. The best thing anyone interested can do is to drop by, say hello, and support some amazing local performers.

Failing that, pick up a copy, or a couple of back issues, and watch for the submission windows (usually one in January, sometimes one later in the year). Those who get published in GDS tend to be those who read us and know what kind of work to send.

Annie Solah