Unlearning: Interview with wāni

Amanda Anastasi speaks to Sapologie curator, Green Room Award winner, and Slamalamadingdong Grand Slam Champion, wāni.

How and where did you first discover spoken word?

Through a collective I found when I first arrived in Melbourne. It was the first space I’d ever felt truly free to be able to explore forms that weren’t always so readily available to me.

One of the most interesting and moving spoken word pieces I have heard recently is your poem ‘Silence’. In it, you demonstrate the gaps in our speech if we removed the lies and half truths from our daily narrative. Why do you think it is so hard for us to speak plainly and truthfully?

I think perhaps it’s because of the way we’ve been socialised and conditioned to exist. It seems as if we have to be and exist in a particular way that perhaps is different to who we feel we actually are, and vulnerability as well as honesty is exposing and that’s risky, so we tend to hide behind masks we create. Perhaps.

I have often considered spoken word and poetry to be the most direct form of artistic expression. Is this part of its appeal for you?

Yes, most definitely. It tends to cut through the b.s, I feel. It allows both the giver and the listener to penetrate parts of each other that aren’t often received in the same way through other forms – not even conversations – because of the assumptions that it often carries with it at times.

Your performances are paced and phrased very deliberately through your clever use of pauses, silences, and acceleration. What are the things you have learned so far about performing poetry that you would like to share?

That there are no rules to it except the ones you make for yourself. For me, it allows me to enter a space where I can better understand myself and the world around me, in a way that opens me up to share it with those willing to hear me. It also allows me to explore new ways in which to deliver things that are often quite close to me.

*Name the poetry collection you keep returning to.

Teaching my mother how to give birth
– Warsan Shire

You have said that you use your art as a platform to tell the untold. What are some of the stories that remain largely untold that you feel need more focus?

My own. I hold many different intersections that manifest in interesting ways. I feel my telling how I understand what I know through what I don’t, is a way of respecting all the stories that lay within me and the folk who’ve passed them on as well as carried me through to here.

*What is your favourite word?

Emphatic. It just sounds dope.

*Poetic self-portrait: in seven words or less, describe Wani.


wāni will be performing at the Melbourne Spoken Word and Poetry Festival’s Opening Night, alongside poets such as Maxine Beneba Clarke, on Thursday 17th May 7pm at The Toff in Town.

(Questions marked * are questions I ask all of my interview subjects.)

Amanda Anastasi