Review of La Mama Poetica featuring Melinda Smith, Kenneth Smeaton, Fleassy Malay, Robbie Coburn

As Canberra poet, Melinda Smith takes the floor of the Courthouse, her beer fizzes over. This image could be one that springs to mind for people when they think of poetry in performance: gushing with emotion, theatrical, and often extroverted. Given the theatre surrounds, it would be easy to anticipate this. By the end of the night, one poet did yell, “Now that was intense!” but it was a quiet intensity, springing from the power of the subject matter and heartfelt sentiment, rather than any contrivance of the performance. This was no flash-in-the-pan proto-slam sermon. It felt raw and immediate, aided by the packed audience being so close to the poets, with no stage to act as a barrier.

Only one poet was labeled as a performance poet, Fleassy Malay, who put the audience at ease by joking about having to ‘adjust her breasts’ during the performance. She addressed serious themes, such as racism, identity and inter-generational politics with the deft hand of someone in tune with the way the body can serve the poem. Her movements and character voices never distracted, but drew you in and captivated you. Her love of hip hop came through in her cadence, with its lyrical and engaging style.

Robbie Coburn belied his youth as he tackled the thorny nature of life and love in the Victorian countryside. It was bush poetry with a twist of something bitter and real. It was an interesting juxtaposition of poets overall, which is something La Mama does well. You have the seasoned street poet, Kenneth Smeaton, with his world-weary everyman tales, urban unease nestled in next to Robbie’s rural malaise. It’s interesting for an audience to hear these contrasting environs the poets traverse, including splashes of Canberra and Sydney from Melinda. Perhaps one of the more traditionally accomplished poets of the bunch, her work touches on the personal, but is both witty and touching in turn.

If a poetry reading is a feast for the senses, convener Amanda Anastasi always ensures variety in the dishes. A well-balanced performance, the ingredients were all there to not just ensure the audience was sated, but to tantalise and keep us coming back for the next taste sensation.

Anna Forsyth
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