If Dan Poets and Passionate Tongues, as the longest running poetry open mics, are the eccentric and venerable fathers of the Melbourne spoken word scene: then Slamalamadingdong, the longest running spoken word slam competition, is “Mother.” ‘Slama’ has been running since 2011, first at Bella Union Trades Hall and now in the dark, warm, cavernous womb of 24 Moons Bar. Founder and artistic director Michelle Dabrowski and her crew have given birth to an event that is eclectic and embracive; even as the “slam” format imposes a current of competition.
This month, Three Ring Circus Poetry Collective (Arielle Cottingham, Sam Ferrante and Will Beale) inherits the creative producer role from Michelle. The Circus have brought with them a brand new slam format – instead of a single round where a slammer lives and dies on the strength of a single piece, poets potentially have three bites of the coveted cherry. This means lots of good things for aspiring competitive slammers. But as it turns out, the new format also meant a rocking good time for the audience-punter (or indeed, for the hapless slammer who got slammed out in the first round…)
I lined up with a small crowd of aspiring slammers, waiting for our names to be drawn. Some of us slouched about – confident and relaxed, some shuffled nervously, some of us MAY have stared blankly into space with our faces frozen into a rictus of fear. Sign-up closed promptly at 6.45pm. Twelve names were randomly picked from a bag to slam that night. The remainder were automatically entered into next month’s slam. A separate draw was held to determine our sequence of appearance. Then the show got promptly on the road.
The warm inclusiveness of past Slamas remained, with a delightful mix of familiars from the regular open mic rounds, and some fresh new faces. “Clap for the poets not the scores,” they say, but it still cut a little to be cut out early. Mere minutes later, I had forgotten I was ever there to slam myself. I was delightfully sucked into a whirlwind of slam styles: from highly-polished performance poetry to full-blown political awakenings.
The previous one round slams were like love at first sight. The attraction either happened instantly, or it didn’t happen. Witnessing the poets over three rounds gave us all an opportunity to develop a relationship. Go on a few dates and slyly find out how the other side feels about children. I think this applied to both the slammers and the audience/judges. We got to see the slammers’ range, get intimate with their styles and material. The slammers got to feel out what got the loudest audience reactions. Some of the poets clearly relished the feedback – the more vocal the better. And as the rounds progressed, everything definitely got more vocal.
However, the time limit was strictly adhered to, with many many deserving and hard earned points being ruthlessly cut the second a slammer went past their three minute allotment. It was like watching the lions at the Colosseum – gruesome and heartbreaking but also quite exciting.
The three finalists represented the full range of styles: Hunch seduced with some seriously raunchy rapid-fire rap stylings (oh BOY was the audience hooting); Chalise Van Wyngaardt wowed us with her finely honed performance skills (her nutcracker sound effects has temporarily driven me to a squirrel-like diet); and slam WINNER Alex Fusca wowed the crowd with his raw, high-impact vulnerability.
The three finalists received points according to their placing (Winner – 3 points, 2nd receives 2 and 3rd place receives 1 point) which makes them eligible to slam at the National Poetry Slam Qualifier that will be held in May 2017. Top five scorers at the qualifier are then eligible go to the National Poetry Slam which is the largest team performance poetry slam in the world.
All exciting stuff, but I was there for the feature acts. That night the theme being “Convening the Conveners.” Clunky name, but it turned out to be a genius concept. Conveners of various Melbourne open mic and poetry events were invited to perform in various collaborations. The performances were by turns, poignant and hilarious. Half my enjoyment came from a private game of “match the act to the convener’s event. It brought home how much these volunteers and passionate lovers of spoken word have influenced and defined the tone of their events, and consequently the Melbourne spoken word scene . Which makes sense: they choose the venue, the acts, the rules. And like a parent guiding their child they cajole, chide and chuckle their offspring into being. The open miccers and slammers bring their own wild element of course. But bless the conveners for the thankless task of parenting their creations — our community.
With their new conveners, Slamalamadingdong has put on fancy new duds. But she remains “Mother Slam”, warm, curious, eclectic and electric.
Photo by John E Photography