Where are Australian Poetry?

Op-Ed by Benjamin Solah

I’ve been involved on the ‘Melbourne Poetry scene’ for almost three years now, but have yet to meet someone from Australian Poetry in person, or anyone from its previous organisations that merged together recently.

It’s very unlikely that I missed them because of a lack of attending events. I am prone to become quite obsessed with poetry, attending a lot, sometimes three or four times a week. It could be that there are individuals there but their connection to AP is not obvious or known.

But it is disappointing that an organisation with such a large profile and funding base, as compared to the wider Melbourne poetry scene, seems so disconnected from the grassroots base that attracted me to spoken word poetry in the first place.

I don’t know enough about the ruptures inside the organisation to comment fully on it, but the comments in Crikey that outgoing National Director, Paul Kooperman thought others in the organisation only offered “lukewarm support for poetry slam events” fit with some of my own concerns and experiences in dealing with AP. I think this extends to not just ‘slam events’ the ‘spoken’ scene in general as opposed to page poetry.

AP runs a lot of programs themselves, including the Cafe Poet program, and have a profile that could be put to better use, but there is a notable absence of the major Melbourne poetry events on their calendar. Regular gigs such as Passionate Tongues and the Dan O’Connell do not feature on the calendar, unless individual features contact AP to let them know. Where as in my own experience, getting an event listed requires numerous following up to the point you feel like you’re nagging them. A more proactive approach by Australian Poetry to connecting with the scene, researching into the major events, and giving them more exposure would be most welcome, to support the already existing grassroots scene as well as work on their own programs.

But despite their funding and profile, I feel like those within the scene itself are better placed to help it grow and give it more exposure. Building poetry from the grassroots through everyone promoting it as a whole and each other’s various events, whether it be through word of mouth or online means. This is crucial. We need to support each other as much as possible. It is one reason I set up this website, filling a gap organisations like AP can’t fill – and probably don’t want to – and why I am putting so much energy into doing so in the hope that people will get behind me.

Benjamin Solah is the editor of Melbourne Spoken He is also a Melbourne Spoken Word artist himself, introduced to the scene by the colourful and radical Santo Cazzati. He has featured at Passionate Tongues, the Dan O’Connell, and Keep Left as well as co-hosting the Percy Shelley Poetry Slam alongside Santo Cazzati.

Annie Solah