Eleanor Jackson and her infant daughter graciously hosted me for this interview. Over tea and cake, we had a wide-ranging conversation about spoken word and its revolutionary potential.
One of the things I love about poetry is that it is deeply transgressive, precisely because of its anti-capitalist tilt. We live in a system that assigns a utility to every person and their time. To do something that is a ‘waste of time’ and makes no money — it is a revolutionary act.
I was listening to your performance of “Shave and a Haircut” at Slamalamadingdong. I was struck by the musicality, how it evoked the sounds and rhythms of jazz. I wanted to ask about musical influences. Is that a conscious thing for you?
Yes, spoken word and poetry is about musical language. There is so much resonance between the way that musicians and poets use language: for its rhythm, tonality and song. My earliest musical loves were discovered scrounging through my dad’s vinyl collection of 70s classics, including all of Joni Mitchell’s work. She is an incredible lyricist, a beautiful painter and writer, a phenomenally talented musician. Her sense of story and lyric form is just exquisite. I loved the standard folk troubadours like Bob Dylan or Elton John. The 70’s rock-folk classics almost seem daggy in their sincerity, but I think they are still really beautiful. They continue to influence me at some level, although I don’t use end rhymes the way that musicians seek to use them in their songs.
The other striking feature of your work is pacing, your modulation of both pace and emotion.
If there’s one thing I miss in Australian spoken word, it is space and silence. Pace is about finding the beauty that happens in the pause. The pause allows for contemplation and absorption, allows for the time and space to sit with a thought, to then decide if the words truly resonate. Poet and spoken word artist Anthony O’Sullivan said he thought m
Your most recent collection, ‘The Courage Season,’ opens with ‘Portrait of a teenage boy wandering the CBD, Melbourne.’ In it, you are observing a young man navigating the city and all of the possibilities. There is a sense that this may also the younger Peter. What were you like as a young person and how did your journey in poetry begin?
The main character portrayed in ‘Portrait of a teenage boy wandering the CBD, Melbourne’ is partly autobiographical, as I worked and wandered (during lunchbreaks) around the Parliament end of Bourke Street for 30 years. I remain a habitué of Pellegrini’s, The Paperback, and the Hill of Content bookshop. The poem is about restlessness, choices and searching for nourishment, stimuli and connections within and also beyond one’s stomping ground/hometown.
I was an extremely unhappy teenager who loved books, the map of the world and the idea of going on the road as soon as I could manage. I wrote my first poem on the road at the age of 28, still an unhappy young, questing man.
You have written many ‘portrait’ poems. ‘Portrait of Frida Kahlo’ is written in first-person, while ‘Portrait of David Bowie’ is in third. How do you approach inhabiting the world or character of someone else, and is a certain level of commonality between yourself and the subject needed in order to take on that first-person voice?
My portrait poems come out of empathy and research. Given my own medical history, major surgery and health crises, I can relate to the sense of body violation and salvation Frida Kahlo faced. In regard to David Bowie, his investigation into the multiplicity of identities one could adopt and discard is an ongoing investigation of mine, as I feel I am multiple selves within any 24-hour period. I’m always imagining other lives – the lives of total strangers and passers-by.
Your short poem ‘Self Doubt’ is very much about procrastination. How do you avoid the rut o
Joumana Soueid performs ‘Falafel’ at Melbourne Spoken Word presents Fresh Voices, on April 11, 2018 at Bargoonga Nganjin in North Fitzroy.
Joumana is a Melbourne based poet, mother, and de-stigmatiser, Certified crazy, nearly certified teacher, forever a student. Her poetry ranges from being humorous, touching and visceral to jump out of your seat fiery, depending on where and when you happen to catch her. She has been described as the “queen of pop reference” for good reason; She is Batman.
It’s a grizzly Melbourne morning. You know the sort – neither convincingly rainy nor dry… the kind of weather that merely dampens concrete and irritates pigeons. I’m sitting at a café preparing to interview Magan Magan, a poet who is currently working on a collection of poems centered around grief and this meteorologically meepy morning feels fitting… I’m wrong. There is no meepiness in the man who greets and sits before me. Magan exudes calm and strength and I am bathed in a sense of warmth as we settle in to talk…
There’s a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth that reads:
“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”
Is that a fair statement in relation to how you came to write a collection around grief? What was the genesis?
I came to Australia when I was four and before Australia, I was living with my family in Malta. I’m originally from Somalia but born in Yemen. After Yemen we went to Malta as there was a civil war back in Somalia and my parents were travelling when the war broke out and couldn’t go back. So, they left their families; had no contact with their families or anything like that. I remember from the age of three carrying a heavy load of life; a sadness. A feeling of being unsettled. Once we were granted permission to come to Australia, I remember mum telling me that we’d made it. That we were going to a different country that was settled. That it’s going to be peaceful and we are going to build our lives – and everything’s going to change. But we came to Australia and that feeling didn’t leave me. I still didn’t feel settled.
That’s a great weight for a four-year-old and this sense of grief; of loss and displacement sounds to be absolutely part of the fabric of your identity.
Yeah. So, since then I’ve been looking for a place to belong and I’ve started realising that belonging isn’t specifi
Winner of April’s Slamalamadingdong, Scott Wings performs ‘Ticking Boxes.’
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Slamalamadingdong happens on the last Thursday of the month.
Scotty Wings is a physical poet who makes theatre, physical performances and immersive experiences. Here he is trialling new poetry at Slamalamadingdong. Scotty fuses text and physicality in an exciting melting pot that has seen him win Best New Theatre at Adelaide Fringe, been nominated for the prestigious Total Theatre Award at Edinburgh Fringe and won multiple state poetry slams including the unique Nimbin Performance Poetry World Cup. Scotty Wings is currently working towards a season of his one man show Whiplash at Melbourne Fringe in September 2018.
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 t