Slamalamadingdong – a year in review

Know nothing, and forever evolve – Michelle Alina Dabrowski

For the more seasoned slam poetry goers, Slamalamadingdong evokes a deep emotional response; a recall of their first introduction to the Melbourne slam poetry scene; a place that reignited and nourished a dormant love for poetry, breathing fire into their oral storytelling traditions.

Now in its fourth year, Slama, as it is affectionately called, has grown into one of Melbourne’s iconic slam poetry communities, attracting a diasporic world of both emerging and well-established poets, artists and performers.

At the heart of Slama’s success has been founder Michelle Alina Dabrowski’s meaningful curation of events and willingness to explore and experiment with spoken word’s place within the wider art scene, all the while honouring the show’s deep-rooted slam foundations. Supported by a loyal crew, it is Michelle’s innate and authentic ability to simultaneously hold and navigate through space – and the audience’s acceptance of her offerings – that makes Slama’s tagline ring true: “Poetry Slam meets ritual meets celebration meets community coming alive”.

While renewal has always been part of Slama’s vocabulary, this year has undoubtedly seen its greatest transformation.

The June 2015 relaunch saw Slama’s rebirth at 24moons in Northcote, with shows now scheduled for Fridays instead of Thursdays, and poets afforded 5 minute slots rather than the usual 3. Unlike its previous homeground (the Bella Union), 24moons is a much more intimate space, allowing for pockets of conversations to grow and flow and for a freer mingling of poets and audience. The new venue also affords greater flexibility to celebrate after each Slama gathering, something not possible under the old 2 hour timeframe at Bella. While the dim lighting at times makes it more difficult to gauge the audience’s reaction, the familiar finger-clicking and uplifting feeling of community spirit remain ever present to steady and inspire both new and more experienced poets.

This season we have been reminded of our common humanity by Amal Ibrahim and Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa; heeded the revolutionary cries of Yoram Symmons; reflected on white man privilege by the ever-lovable and not privileged white man Rowan White; fruit-picked the pun(net) musings of Cameron Semmens; cookie crumbled to forlornly serenades by Sam Hassell; mmmm-mmmmed to the freestyling collisions of Justine Jade and epic lipsynching duals of Charlotte Roberts and Brendan Dennis. And of course, as ever, bore witness to the first hatchings of a brave new generation of poetic younglings.

And while the poetic offerings on display have always stimulated discussion, perhaps nothing has drawn such strong and diverse reactions from the community this year than the first two shows of the season, which featured vulnerable and raw performances by Dancing Eros.

While some community members were uncomfortable with the sexualised nature of the acts, others embraced the physical embodiment of emotions that so many Slama poets had inked on sheets and laid bare on stage. As the community reflected and soul-searched on what this ‘new’ Slama meant to them, in truth these offerings are a manifestation of the trajectory Slama has always been on – risk-taking and challenging our ideas and ideals, our definitions of ‘community’, what spoken word should be and its place within the wider world. The response also helped confirm Michelle’s growing personal recognition that it was time to start taking steps back from Slama to honour her own artistry; that Slama will continue to re-birth and rejuvenate with the ever growing love of the wider community.

With such a strong mix of offerings thusfar, what should we expect for the season finale? Insider goss is that this is a show that is not to be missed, with a few big announcements expected to be made. Line-up will include the Top 6 poets, word-twisting feats of MORGANICS, and the soul/funk lovin’ beats of band DOOKY & DJ Major Issues.

And as for our poetic younglings who are still contemplating whether to join the Slama circle, in Michelle’s own words, the highest gift you can ever give is what comes most naturally, so bring from within the parts you need to refine and perfect, bring fire to what already exists – that is your most valuable currency.

So what are you still waiting for?

Slamalama whaaaaaat?

Photo by John E Photography