Newsletter time!

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Last year I started a monthly newsletter about storytelling and performance poetry things in Brisbane. I decided to start it in answer to people who often come up to me at gigs and ask what I do, and how they can find out about more events.

(Click here to read the latest newsletter.)

The January edition is out, and it includes a charming photo of my latest crop of Yarn storytelling workshoppers. (They were a pretty charming group.)

I’ll be pretty flat-out over the next few weeks as I fly to Perth for Not Much To Tell You‘s first fringe festival appearance/interstate premiere. But I’ll be tweeting and instagramming the whole way, and I’ll try to update this ol’ blog as often as possible.

Please subscribe to my newsletter if you’d like to keep getting updates on how to get involved with storytelling and performance poetry in Brisbane. People are always saying “I love events like this but I don’t know how to find them” WELL HERE YA GO. 🙂

It’s JAMuary – as in JAM-PACKED WITH STORYTELLING GOODNESS. (I’m sorry.)

 

Inua Ellams: ‘Musical and delicious to the ear’, March 2012

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As part of Waxings blog’s coverage of the Perth Writers’ Festival, I had the opportunity to interview poet Inua Ellams. Here is the feature, as published on Waxings.org, March 2012.

Performance poetry is gradually finding its way out of the grunge-covered back rooms of dark pubs and catching the attention of wider audiences. One of the poets carrying this contemporary artform into the mainstream is Inua Ellams, a Nigerian-born Londoner who recently travelled to Australia to feature at the Perth Writers Festival.

Ellams was invited to the PWF to perform his play The 14th Tale, a one-man show combining poetry, performance, and personal narrative.

I ask Ellams if he had done any theatre before The 14th Tale. “The 14th Tale was my first theatric outing. My first collection of poems was published in about 2009 and I tried to stage the poems with a little bit of banter in between, but it didn’t quite work. There wasn’t a strong narrative, so I scrapped that and wrote The 14th Tale.”

Ellams’ poem-play is autobiographical, following the foibles of his mischievious childhood in Africa, weaving in tales of the men in his family. Ellams describes himself as a born trouble-maker, although he tells me over the phone (and you can actually hear the twinkle in his eye) that now he is making a different kind of trouble.

“Poetry for me walks the line between lyrics and finely, tightly written prose. I think that’s how I try to cause trouble – well, regarding work specifically, that’s how I try to cause trouble. By being aware of the line and walking it and constantly trying to redefine it. That’s one of the ways I cause trouble.”

Walking that line often means not fitting neatly into any one genre. Ellams is an accomplished poet of both the page and the stage but he still feels that he is not quite accepted by either.

“In London, I am often described as a performance poet, sometimes as a spoken word poet, sometimes as a page poet …” Ellams muses. “And sometimes I find that I am marginalised by both groups. There is this line that I seem to walk. And I continually try to further blur the lines, and even at performance poetry sets I just read my page poems. And when I write page poems, I just make them sound as musical and delicious to the ear as songs do.”

Speaking of delicious to the ear – Ellams’s voice is like a song itself. Soft and lyrical. Even when he talks casually, he sounds as if he is riffing on ideas for a new poem. And I think that is exactly the effect this poet is going for. Ellams speaks about poetry with a self-conscious pride, confident in his abilities as a wordsmith. He lacks the self-deprecatory humour that I personally can’t seem to shake off whenever I tell people I write poetry. For Ellams, poetry is not an indulgent activity. It is his craft. And it has held his life together.

Ellams tells me about a close friend of his from Dublin, Stephen Devine. They went to school together as teenagers, and the two boys had a friendship built on a love of language. “He and I would sit down and argue about the colour of the sky. We would just sit there for hours.” Then one summer, Ellams received a phone call telling him that Devine had been found dead, hanging from a beam in his garage. “I guess my world became very destabilised and the part of me that excelled with language, with Stephen, was no longer there. And I started writing to keep that part of myself alive, really.”

Since Ellams often performs his poetry, I enquire as to whether he takes the audience into consideration when writing. A debate that keeps coming up within the performance poetry community is whether a poet compromises their artistic integrity by writing to entertain the audience. Purists say one should perform for their own pleasure only; at the other extreme, entertainers seek only to win over the crowd. Ellams’s philosophy is an elegant compromise. “I always write for myself, of things that complicate me on a personal level. And then I edit it knowing that other people will have to come to this.”

So what does Ellams think of slam poetry, where poets are pitted against each other with only two minutes to please the judges? He hesitates. “I like it and dislike it in an equal sense.”

Ellams illustrates his opinion of slam poetry by telling me the story of a slam where he performed a poem that scored high – “it was the best poem of the night” – but ultimately did not win. “This guy, this huge guy stood up and read this poem about accidentally drinking urine which he found in a bottle of gin. And he got a full 30 points for that.” Ellams laughs incredulously. “I thought, this is never happening to me again.” He hasn’t slammed again since.

Whatever his personal feelings, Ellams is charitable as to the role of slam poetry in our culture. “I do think [slam poetry] has done a lot for the appreciation of poetry. Especially in the West, where we do have this competitive environment which champions oneupmanship and the idea of the individual. So, bringing poetry – which is old and classic and sometimes viewed as a dead past-time – bringing that into the twenty-first century I think has been really afforded and helped greatly by slams.”

Since first performing The 14th Tale in 2009, this already-established poet has written two successive solo shows, the most recent of which is currently touring Britain. Inua Ellams is a rising star of the spoken word scene. There is something about the frankness with which he describes himself and his work that borders on arrogance; there’s a lack of humility. But, as I talk to this charismatic young man, I can’t think of him as arrogant. He is simply focused. Poetry is a very serious craft in which he works hard to achieve a high standard. The Romantics would be nodding in approval. And the fact that Ellams is also crossing mediums to bring poetry to more people – that is just gravy.

NYWM interview: “Why I Write: David Vincent Smith”, May 2011

Posts

Today I posted my interview with David Vincent Smith (the man known as DVS) on the NaNoWriMo blog – we discuss writer’s block, David Wenham (swoon), and being poor.

Have a read:


DVS

I’ve just sat down for a chat with Perth writer and filmmaker David Vincent Smith, also known as DVS (pronounced ‘Devious’ – see what he did there?). DVS is one of Perth’s best performance poets, as well as one of the founders of Seventh Continent Productions. He has been featured at poetry and spoken word events around Perth (including Cottonmouth just last night), and was invited to be a guest at the 2011 Bali Emerging Writers Festival. And he’s twenty-three years old. When he saunters in with his scruffy beard and wide grin, you might mistake him for a bad Gen Y stereotype – but this is one of the hardest working young writers in Perth. READ MORE…

Poem: “The Bogan Rap (lyrics)”

Poems, Posts

I’m here today to tell you about a man – you might know him.

He is every man lining up for The Shed in Northbridge
and he is every man who still thinks Ben Cousins is a hero
and he is every man with a southern cross tattoo on his shoulder.
He bears the cross on his shoulder but, christ, he’s not Jesus
(though he may wear sandals wherever he pleases).
He’s crackin’ a can of coke and Jack Dan
and lurching at me with his drink in his hand
and I’ve seen him, leaning out his Commodore,
keening on me like I’m a common whore.
I’ve got class, man, I like a conversation.
Been to uni and got me an education.
Yeah! This shit’s tertiary, bro,
and I think you should know
to use your head
use your head
use your head
use your head.
Like John Stuart Mill said,
SHOW BITCHEZ RESPECT.
Show bitches respect, show bitches respect,
like Johnny Mill said, show them bitches respect.
…Uh, yeah, that’s not quite what Mill said,
but you know what I meant,
though using the term ‘bitch’ was a detriment to my argument….
But I digress. Yes! Express my words with finesse.
Though this bogan everyman is causing me real stress,
‘coz he’s the loudest and the meanest and he’s got cash, too,
and he’s traded up the flannel for Armani suits
so he’s harder to find. But the state of his mind will divide
him from the other blokes every time that he gets blind.
‘Coz in his head, the world is neatly split into two –
so it’s me and it’s you
it’s yours and it’s mine
it’s black and it’s white
it’s us and it’s them and it’s them and it’s us
and everyone owes him
and it’s not his fault
and his only ambition in life
is to drink every weekend and have a hot wife.
Such is life! I guess this is
the life of his missus –
tradin’ her freedom for his seldom kisses.
So take your coke and your Jack
and a big step back,
‘coz if you’re crackin’ on me, I feel sorry for ya, son.
I got 99 problems but a bogan ain’t one.

Hit me.