You are part of the team that Slamalamadingdong is sending to US to compete in the National Poetry Slam. What excites you the most about competing in Chicago?
I’m immensely proud of Slama and of the whole Melbourne poetry scene, so I’m excited to go and represent everyone at such a huge event. I’d like to be a kind of ambassador for the amazing art being created in Melbourne and Australia. I’m keen to watch, connect with, and learn from lots of other amazing artists. I think we might also be able to push the boundaries of what American audiences think of as ‘Slam Poetry’ by bringing our own styles, experiences, and contexts into our work and our performances.
Your accent is decidedly English. What part of the UK are you from, and what brought you to Australia and Melbourne in particular?
I was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne, but grew up down south in Surrey. The rest of my family are from in and around Manchester, so that was an influence too. I’ve also lived in Leeds, South London and North London. So, maybe I’ve got more of an ‘undecidedly’ English accent. I wonder whether those varied influences were part of what got me interested in accents, dialects, and language generally.
My partner and I met in the UK but her mum is Australian and her family emigrated to live in Geelong some years ago. That gave us the chance to try living in another country and we fell in love with Melbourne. We said we’d give it two years and see how we settled in. That was five and a half years ago. So, it looks like it’s going okay.
Yes, I did hear that you would travel from Geelong to attend poetry events. What made getting up in front of that mic worth the small journey each time?
The poetry and spoken word scene is my community, so it was well worth the journey just to be among those people and hear their art and their stories. I think it was important for my mental health to keep performing regularly too. There is sometimes harsh criticism of people using poetry as therapy, but it’s certainly part of mine. On a good day, I can turn all the mess in my head into a concentrated three minutes of pain, trauma, and desperation, and then laugh at it all with everyone else. As soon as we laugh at these things together, hope comes into focus on the horizon.
You have a great sense of comic timing, as well as a penchant for rhyming in your work (“mostly”)! Share with us where this comes from and what your influences have been.
I think I gravitate towards rhyme partly because it’s fun to write and fun to perform. I’m as interested in sounds as I am in meaning, but what really interests me is the relationship between the two.
If I wanted to over-intellectualise it, and I do, I think rhyme has great comic potential because it can function like a joke. A joke works, arguably, by setting up an expectation and then turning it on its head or satisfying it in an unexpected way. Rhyme can work like that in that everyone is expecting and anticipating a certain series of sounds, but you can play with that expectation if you keep people guessing where it’s going and build moments of tension.
And timing. Sorry, I should have said this earlier. Comic timing is all about learning how and when to release that tension.
I find my influences hard to pin down. I remember being delighted to discover that the kind of supposedly ‘highbrow’ literature we studied at school, like Chaucer and Shakespeare, was full of laughs. I think musicians and lyricists have been a big influence. And comedy, of course, in all its forms including the everyday joking culture shared by people on the streets and in homes, workplaces and pubs. I think there’s a largely unrecognised creativity happening constantly with ordinary people doing ordinary things, playing with ideas and with language. British people, and maybe the English especially, can be quite a melancholy bunch so we try and make each other laugh at the grey ridiculousness of it all. Perhaps what I do with poetry is a microcosm of that to some extent.
Do you write always with the mind of performing your poems live?
Not always, but mostly. The fantastic range of poetry readings, features, open mics and slams in Melbourne have been my way in, so it’s certainly true that live performance has always been where my writing reaches an audience. I’ve become more of a performer than I had previously thought, and I do like being in direct control of how a poem is delivered in terms of rhythm, timing, cadence, tone and all that good stuff. I also enjoy the symbiotic relationship between artist and audience in live performance and the way we create a moment together. I like taking the risk that some of my pieces won’t work unless I’ve anticipated the audience’s reactions correctly. I would like to publish a book (and I am open to offers of obscenely huge advances to do so), but I suppose I’ve accidently become a performance poet and I don’t know whether I need to explore ways of translating that energy on to the page. Although, I might be overthinking it all. I have been known to do that.
When was the last time you spoke with “the abyss”?
Oh, we’re in regular contact. The initial idea of that piece was to turn the concept of The Abyss into a character that gets in the way of and interferes with whatever I’m trying to do. Whether that’s external pressures or, more often, the thoughts that come out of my own anxiety and depression. That still happens a lot and probably most days. I’ve been surprised how much people have related to that piece, but I suppose it’s a pretty universal experience to varying degrees. I’m slowly coming to grips with the idea that these things I write and perform for myself do resonate with others more deeply, rather than seeing it as a diverting way to spend a few minutes.
I like the way you’ve phrased this question: talking with the abyss. I think that feeling of being unable to act, or unable to focus on what you want to do is exacerbated when I allow the abyss to talk at me. A fairly basic thing you learn in therapy is to explore and gently question your own thoughts to look at how true they are, how much power you’re giving them and whether they can be followed further to a different conclusion. I think trying to talk with the abyss, rather than just ignoring it, can be very helpful. So I’m not planning to block their number just yet.
*Name the poetry collection you keep returning to.
‘You Took The Last Bus Home’ by Brian Bilston.
Are there any subjects, people, or places that you’d like to write about but haven’t yet? What is next for Tim Evans?
That’s a slightly terrifying question. At the moment I’m worried I’ll never write anything as good as ‘Poem, Interrupted’ ever again.
Working with Team Slama and the Slamalamadingdong crew is pushing my boundaries and getting me writing about subjects I maybe wouldn’t tackle on my own. Exactly what form that takes and which ideas develop into finished pieces is all very much still in progress. So I don’t know, which is exciting and terrifying, obviously.
I would like to do a book at some point. I don’t know if my written work is more of a script for me to perform from than a collection of page poems. I don’t know if that matters too much. I will probably have a long talk about it all with The Abyss when we get back from Chicago.
*What is your favourite word?
Discombobulation. It’s a bit like an existential crisis, but it sounds funny.
*Poetic self-portrait: in seven words or less, describe Tim Evans.
Tim Evans will be performing and competing the United States, at the National Poetry Slam and touring New York, in August. He’s part of the Slamalamadingdong National Poetry Slam Team, that’s raising money for flights and accomodation. You can donate at youcaring.com/teamslama
(Questions marked * are questions I ask all of my interview subjects.)
- Fragility Disguised: Interview With Rania Ahmed - July 24, 2019
- The Creativity of Ordinary People: Interview with Tim Evans - July 12, 2018
- The Work of Curiosity: Interview with Peter Bakowski - May 15, 2018