Review by Heidi J. Loos
If my doctor could mix medicine and metaphor as quickly and as rhythmically as Doctor Ben Mellor, I think I would move into the clinic!
But Ben Mellor is not actually a real doctor he was simply dressed up as a doctor for his performance of Anthropoetry at Sweetalkers on Tuesday, March 13, 2013 held at the John Curtin Hotel in Carlton, Melbourne. Mellor revealed his fraudulent identity of Doctor at the beginning of his set, but continued to feed the audience with a generous dosage of the very best medicine, well-crafted, well-delivered poetry.
Apparently this was the first Sweetalkers gig of 2013, and the first Sweetalkers event in almost a year, but it was my very first Sweetalkers event ever, and it was my second taste of the Melbourne spoken word scene. Enchantingly sweet and salty, sweaty, actually, but it left me wanting more!
Despite this event happening in the middle of a record heat wave, with a high of 37 degrees, held in a venue without air conditioning, I found myself constantly chilled by the talent and depth of the poetry. Goosebumps crept up my arms on more than one occasion, forced out of hibernation by pure passion and creative genius. The line up was diverse in style and performance and we heard everything from sassy love poems to boarder line satires. Topics skyrocketing from dinosaurs to soap powder, lustrous murder, individualism, hipsters, and optimism, to beautiful, dangerous, and romantic activism, Paris Hilton, and a call and response poem about breasts! And all of this happened before the UK Slam champion and feature of the night even took the stage. Let’s just say, the bar was set extremely high, but luckily Ben Mellor and his musical counterpart Dan Steele delivered a phenomenal performance that was bubbling over with passion and precision.
Their concoction of music, poetry, hip hop, beat boxing, science, left-wing environmental activism, comedy, acting, and improvisation was wildly complex, yet so simple to watch and listen to and get lost in. Steele’s guitar rhythms seemed to bleed into Mellor’s voice until you could not separate note from word, sentence from strum. Each poem, song, blend explored the human body literally and as metaphor, twisting words through veins, pumping music and poetry from heart to mouth, sharing their talents with an eager and responsive crowd.
My favourite piece in Anthropoetry was set in the region of the heart: a poem about our future as a dystopia where love has become a commodity and smiles and hugs must be purchased. Where our governments make choices to drill into the ground to mine ‘love’, destroy our economies for ‘love’ etc. The metaphors in this piece held such agency, and screamed for attention, for cooperation from the listeners, and the speaker’s intentions were crystal clear. However, the themes and messages from this poem and a few of Mellor’s other more political works within Anthropoetry did not flow through the entire performance equally and there were some poems and songs that I found extremely jarring and poignantly contradictory. Mellor spoke of love and equal marriage rights, of environmental justice and equality, so I was disturbed by some of the underlying sexism, gender essentialism and unrecognized misogyny. Two poems that did not sit right with me for these reasons were the poem set in the region of the chest and the poem for the genitals. Perhaps I was disappointed because I had anticipated that at least one of these areas would be used to stage a more political piece that might dismantle objectification of women, sexual assault, hegemonic rape culture etc. But instead Mellor seemed to be criticizing women who object to objectification of women, and placing ‘maleness’ and masculinity on a pedestal. I found both of these poems reiterated essentialist notions of sex and gender, and did little to nothing else, politically anyway. I was also shocked and appalled by his casual use of the term Femi-Nazi (an oxymoron in itself, but one that I would not expect from someone who for the most part presents as an ally). That said, I found the performance as a whole to be very progressive and sent a lot of really positive messages. And of course, Mellor’s poetry, in structure and in presentation was absolutely, undeniably, sensational.
Mellor spoke of the conception of Anthropoetry revealing that it was inspired by anthropometry, the study of measuring the human body. As he elaborated on multiple measurements and contexts for measurements, I couldn’t help but make my own mental measurements, comparisons in my head, of this event to others I’ve been to. Of this poetry and spoken word, to the spoken word of my home country, and how the Melbourne spoken word scene compares to the Vancouver spoken word scene, the people, the community, the venues, the hot topics and the slam trends, the differences and the similarities, but the only conclusion I could come to, was that I’ll have to go to many more spoken word events here in Melbourne before my measurements are anywhere near accurate.
Anthropoetry as a book and/or CD is also available to buy and download via Bandcamp
Heidi J. Loos is a Canadian writer, musician, and activist from the Yukon Territories. She holds a Bachelor in Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of British Columbia. She has experience writing and editing across genres. Currently, she is travelling around Australia on a working holiday and blogging about her experiences at http://heidijontheloose.com/