‘It’s Too Early’- Poems by David Faber

He

rather liked

the notion

of a superior

order of

mathematical

clergy, but his

Welsh wife

thought the

The Glass Bead Game

a load of pretentious

old twaddle, Nobel

Prize or no

Nobel Prize.

___

 

It’s too early

to give you

red roses on

Valentine’s Day,

although I’ve

dreamt you

know what I’m

about already

courting you,

but soon I’ll be

giving you

flowers randomly

and routinely

like I used to.


Words by David Faber

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Flights of Fancy and a Writer’s Imagination

Possibilities

A notice pops up in my inbox, something unexpected: a call for applications for a month’s writer’s residency in Granada, Spain, the city I first visited twelve years ago. Suddenly, I am transported there. I can fully imagine myself being the resident writer, speaking my intermediate-level Spanish, participating in local literary events, adding some more to the writing about Spain that I have already done.

I am so fully taken by such a possibility that during the night I start to feel anxious. I worry about leaving home to travel across the world and all that I would have to organise to make that possible, as well as all the things I would miss about home. It plays out in my mind like a movie, drives me crazy, my imagination giddy with anticipation. I toss and turn as my mind wanders in and out of potential scenarios: the long flight alone; the writer’s room near the university; whether I’d be able to make a cup of tea (should I take my thermos?); the weather; the clothes I would  wear; the people I’d meet; the activities, seminars, readings, or various social events. Would my Spanish would hold up? Would Marina, my flamenco dance teacher, be able to recommend a class I could attend?

 

Anxious and willing

Anxiety is both a physical and mental experience. Once I remember to breathe, my thoughts become clearer. All that seemed confusing or impossible during the night seems lighter and more manageable to me in the morning. I remind myself that people travel all over the world all the time, for work, for pleasure – a month here, two weeks there, ten days elsewhere. It’s no big deal. The distance, the time, the different culture.

I have useful conversations about this possible adventure being realized. What an opportunity, if it were to come off, if it all fell into place. I meet with a fellow writer at a local café and we speak in Spanish about the trip. A good thing for me to be practising if I am going to have discussions or readings or give lectures in Granada. In the meantime, I hope for peace, equanimity and courage.

 

Commitments

I have made a commitment. I have written and organised my application. Three people have written letters of recommendation. I send it all in five attachments to Carmen, the contact person in Granada, and I wait for a response. Did she receive it? It’s there in the outbox saying it has been sent, but how can I know for sure? It’s the last month of winter here, but perhaps over there she’s on holiday, escaping the August heat wave?

If I were to be chosen, I would travel across the globe to the south of Spain and spend November in Granada. This is when I could do with more of the subjunctive in English: if I were to be chosen I would take my work about Spain and share it with Spanish writers, readers and audiences. I would risk the exposure this would entail and the possible criticism for it being inappropriate or for misunderstanding their culture. I would risk being misunderstood myself. Or perhaps they’d appreciate it.

I have made a commitment for this experience to throw further light on my work. I have made a commitment to be immersed in the Spanish language, to participate in the cultural life of Granada, as much as opportunity will allow. I have made a commitment to write, to read, to research and to communicate my interests as clearly as possible.

I have made a commitment to sleep on my own in a foreign city, to face the night demons if necessary, to rely on my inner reserves of strength and to remain open. I have made a commitment to uncertainty.

Chances are this trip will not happen.

I am only one amongst many applicants from around the world. I already know I will be disappointed if I don’t go, even knowing I’ll be nervous if I do. I am preparing myself practically and psychologically for the journey. Now that the application has been sent, I feel a sense of space. Along with all the others it will be considered. What will be, will be. I will stay focused. I feel surprisingly neutral.

I turn to face the wind.

I push myself into it, pleased with the effort.

 

What if . . .

I begin to wonder again, what if they don’t approve of what I have written about their country, their culture, their iconic poet? What if they are offended by this work from an outsider to their culture? Sensitive topics, sensitive themes. I’ll have to risk what little reputation amongst friends, colleagues and readers I might have, lay it on the line. Yet in the end this application might be nothing more than a process. Time will tell.

I need not have worried about my application disappearing into digital space. I guessed rightly that the staff had been on holidays all of August, and as it turned out, early September too; and anyway, as Carmen explained to me on the phone when I eventually rang, in her casual, friendly, no-nonsense Spanish way, also the weather had been a pain because it had been too hot. Too hot to do anything.

 

Yesterday’s surprise

Yesterday’s surprise was that I look as old as I am. If in doubt, just see my latest passport photo. See how my face has lost its roundness, see all the new lines and folds in the skin, like a crumpled piece of waxed paper, moist enough, but too thin to resist gravity. Line up all the old passport photos: 23, 43, 63 . . . see how I’ve progressed through the decades from a black-haired, young woman to one of late middle age, happy to have made it this far, but astonished at the changes nonetheless. We like to say that photos are deceiving and perhaps they are, the camera can manipulate, but so can our eyes – our failing eyes – when we look into the mirror in a favourable, softening light, instead of the stark white light that lays the truth bare, reminding us of the ultimate journey we all have to take. I celebrate being here now. I celebrate all that makes life a curious wonder, including my changing self.

 

Equanimity

Today I have reached the peak on the mountain of equanimity. On the mountain that overlooks our river-city of Hobart, I sit, listen and look around, just one small being; here temporarily, in this ancient, natural world, breathing in the scent of solid earth, grounding myself. My vivid imagination is both a gift and a burden, the weight of some possible scenario carried like a back-pack full of provisions “just in case”. The waiting game is a strange place to be. Things come in their own time. There are people waiting all over the world to take the next step: waiting for permission, for rain, for answers, for love or compassion. Waiting and hoping. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that ultimately there is nothing to chase after, that we can go back to ourselves and enjoy our breathing. So for now I am here on this solid mountain listening. Listening to the birds and the breeze, absorbing the peace. Equanimity. We come. We go. I am one being in a magnificent universe. Here now, beyond thinking, beyond anticipating. Que sera, sera.

 

Soy escritora (I am a writer)

I am, at this point in my life, able to live everyday freely and as I chose. In our culture people like to say they are busy, that they are active because it tells themselves and others they somehow live a worthy life. What do you do? is one of the first questions we ask people when we are getting to know them. I no longer join the flow of people in the mornings on their way to paid work. For the past 18 years I have been finding my way in the world of books and literature, writing, reading and publishing my work, participating in the literary life of my community. This is how I spend most of my time. Every now and then I still have to remind myself of what this means. One of my first daily activities is to write sitting up in bed, looking out my window at my neighbourhood valley and, with my fine-point pencil, discover the words that are ready to fall onto the smooth, inviting paper of my notebook. Call it a task and it already sounds more acceptable to our culture’s work ethic. Call it work. But I have always wanted my life, this one life, to be more than just a list of tasks that get ticked off every day. I want spontaneity, uncertainty, freedom. The purpose of being a writer is to be a writer which means writing, reading and thinking from morning until night. But also, of course, attending to those “dear tasks of continuance” so affectionately described by Denise Levertov, that keep body and mind together and sometimes spark some unexpected flash of inspiration. The question in Spanish is: to what are you dedicated?  To answer this in English is to uncover another side to the question what do you do? In my life I am dedicated to writing and literature, learning Spanish, learning the art of flamenco dance, creating gardens, maintaining my home, responding to injustice, having good relationships with friends and family, looking after myself. I am no longer the frustrated writer with little time to herself. I am the poet with space and time, my work is out in the world finding places to be. I feel most purposeful when I’m writing a poem or a piece of prose. Who am I still trying to convince? Perhaps my internal critic who tugs at my confidence as I wait to have my application considered by an international panel of judges.

 

Life is what happens . . .

The silence of a sun-lit morning is like a prayer. My eyes drink in its astonishing beauty. These last few weeks I’ve been thinking about death, about life ending or transforming as Thich Nhat Hanh says and how each day of our lives is precious. We have had a significant death in the family, our dear, elderly father-friend. A man with a loving smile and of gentle persuasion. To be the eternal writer-witness, not only of other people, events and things but also of yourself, gives me a serious gaze. I feel the need to smile and laugh more. Every thought, every act, every word carries a signature says the wise monk. Anne means grace. Can I live up to my name?

 

The significance of zero

Today is the day the selection panel will announce their decision. It is still night time in Granada but already it feels like the answer is “no”. I’ve been ahead of myself these last few months, anticipating a time to come that for all intents and purposes is not going to happen for me. On this side of the world we are always ahead of agreed time. And for these last few months I have been, in my mind, three-quarters convinced that I would soon be in the opposite time zone, leaving the brighter, longer spring days here for the shorter late-autumn days there. Now I feel sure I am not going to be making that journey. All should be confirmed by tonight. And all my practical preparation to date will be for naught – the books, the plans, the ideas for workshops and projects. Perhaps not for naught entirely. Zero is a significant number. A chance to begin again.

 

El compromiso

How to tempt fate? Name it, decide on an alternative course of action, pretend you are taking initiative,(water the garden so it will rain), make other plans, reach a conclusion, a compromise – only to have fate shout back at you. “But wait!” Wait another week as it extends the question mark over your life for a few more days. Let me just trick and tire you out, it says, deflate your new resolve, stretch it out, beyond the limit. We’re on Spanish time here. In Spanish compromiso means promise not compromise. Beware of false friends. Suddenly I feel tired of it all: of being ahead of myself. The waves of adrenalin have worn me out. I’m ready to go but will I be going? I’m over it. Over it.

 

The Art of Living

This morning, in this part of the world in our little city beneath the mountain it is blessedly quiet. I have slept and woken again. The Earth has turned. Again, I have arrived at D-day, the extended D-day. I’m sure I know the decision already and it’s time to leave this strange land of waiting. Time to let go. For the past three months I have been encapsulated in a bubble of possibility. Time to burst the bubble. Time to become un-encapsulated. This year has been a year of waiting for all sorts of things: replies from publishers, application results, calls from the hospital. The art of waiting involves effort and patience. As does the art of writing. Lorca once proclaimed, “true poetry, true effort, renunciation.” A writer recognises these sentiments. I have learnt that the art of waiting takes me to the present moment, wherein is found the art of living. I smile at the cloud in my tea.

 

Re-viewing

I am not going to Granada in November. As I had strongly suspected by the end, I was not one of the two writers selected out of, what turned out to be, seventy international applicants. Time to relinquish all that build-up. Time to close the file. Time to wind down, to sleep more peacefully. Time to return to my life in this small city with its own concerns. Time to reflect on the power of the imagination and how it can draw you into its intricately, detailed and convincing world, a world that is as big or as small as you want it to be, but a make-believe world nonetheless.

 

November 2018.


Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Words by Anne Collins

anne-collins-photo.jpgAnne Collins’ last book of poems The Language of Water (2014) tells the story of a modern day odyssey. Her two earlier poetry collections are titled Seasoned with Honey (with three other poets, 2008) and The Season of Chance (2005). Her landscape memoir titled My Friends This Landscape (2011) is a collection of prose and poetry. A forthcoming collection of poetry How to Belong will be published in 2019. Her manuscript (prose and poetry) with the Spanish themes is currently under consideration.

 

‘Wild Welsh Woman’- By David Faber

 

A daughter

of far off

primeval,

proletarian

Pontypridd,

unaware of

Mark Twain’s

dictum that

age doesn’t matter

if you don’t mind,

she hated with a

passion like

Dylan Thomas

the idea of aging

with gentle grace;

it went against

the grain of

one who had

seized the day

of youth with

romantic zest

in Swinging London.

She felt depressed

by a volume of

poems on aging,

its joys and ills

distressed her.

But she kept

her figure `til

the day she fell.

Lulled by the

sweet, sedate

rhythms of a

passionate

friendship four

decades long,

I only found out,

after her funeral,

as you do,

just how very

much I had

loved

her.


Words by David Faber

Photo by Henry Paul on Unsplash

‘The Unmade Sky’ – Poems by Ben Adams

the unmade sky

these words

touch on something lightly

like a feather drawn

through tall, dry grass

a figure crouched

on wide and careful feet

teasing their meaning

from between time’s floorboards

forehead resting on fingers interlocked

and listening—

rising to pace the old house

and place rough hands

on a splintered windowsill

seeing dark smudges

where the dust rubs away

to gaze across the grassy yard

over stones, bare dirt and strewn chunks

of rotting wood—

where no fire flickers

in the cool night air

only cinders

and a corrugated side fence

stretching down to the road

lines of iron and asphalt

at the edge of where we gathered

where something rests in the palm

a weightless bird

memories that perch

soft and uncertain as the grey sky

hung above like a rumpled sheet

the unmade sky

whispering something lightly

words lingering in the mind

like the smell of coffee

that no longer floats

through these rooms each morning


one eastern suburbs afternoon, sliding into evening

and one says to another

there are options here

and the other says to one

would you like a drink?

and one says to another

there is class here

and perfectly kept lawns

what’s on the radio?

and the other says to one

have you checked for

fallen lemons?

and the other says to one

is the front door locked

and have the eggs arrived

this morning?

and one says to another

is the wine open?

and the other says to one

have the bins

been emptied yet?


lights in the dark

through the darkness

we trudge

soldiers on a forward action cut-off from reinforcements

like little children lost

among the trees

through darkness we trudge

and seeing lights

in the distance, as if

from some farmhouse or estate

we say, “those are not the ones

   I remember,

that is not the place

   I know.”


Words by Ben Adams
20180911_155304Ben is a writer, servo-clerk, research assistant and festival cash wrangler. His poetry has appeared in a range of print and online publications, including Australian Love Poems and Red Fez at redfez.net/@badbad He also shares poems and photography on Instagram @bts.adams while poems and politics can be found on his Twitter feed @badbadams

 

In Conversation: Malaika Gilani

In 2016 Malaika Gilani published her first poetry collection: Untold Journeys. She was seventeen. This year she has been a part of the global anthology, I Bared My Chest, comprising of 21 phenomenal women telling their stories. Recently I had the chance to interview this Melbourne-based poet and talk about inspiration, writing advice, and poetry.  

 

Could you give us a brief overview of your current published poetic work? What are its themes and what would you like your audience to know before reading it?

 
Untold Journeys is about everyday life. Things we all experience: friendship, family, body issues, and so much more. There is at least one poem in there that you can connect with. If the poems aren’t giving advice then they are there to show you that whatever you are going through, you are not alone. Someone is going through the exact same thing too.

 
What was it like publishing a poetry collection at seventeen?

 
It was amazing to be doing something that not many people have done. However, there have been rejections because I am too young and inexperienced. But who cares, life is all about the good. If we start focusing on the negatives then we won’t be able to live at all. I’ve loved it. The support from my family and friends has been a huge part of how I got here. They help me stay humble and enjoy this experience at the same time.

 
What inspires you to create poetry?

 
People, their experiences, and their lives.

 

If you could sum up what you would like your poetry to evoke what would you say?

 
You are not alone. We are all going through the same things. In the end, it’s the things within us that make us more alike than we will ever know.

 

Could you tell me a bit about I Bared My Chest? What was it like working with and collaborating with other artists to create this anthology?

 

You could say it was an interview of 21 authors in book form. All participants were given a series of questions to answer, to show people someone else has gone through the same thing as you and to show people that artists are not [all] geniuses. We are [people] like everyone else, anyone can achieve what we have.

It was amazing to work with people who are so much more experienced than I am. I learnt so much from them and was in awe of how wonderful and cooperative they were. Most importantly, I realised we were all normal humans – we disagreed, we celebrated, we got sad and angry and happy.

 
Have there been any books/authors/poets that have deeply inspired you? If so, what are they?

 
Sue Lawson and Jackie French.

Sue came to my school once when I was in year nine and has been in contact with me since. And Jackie is such an amazing and inspiring lady. I contacted her to review Untold Journeys and she has been a huge part of my life since. I email her and she instantly replies, giving me advice and encouragement.

 
What advice would you give to other poets and writers?

 
Rejections make you want it more. It makes everything more meaningful too. I appreciate my work and others’ so much more now because I know what hardships we all have to go through.

 

What has been the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

 
If we start focusing on the negatives then we won’t be able to live at all.

 
Are there any upcoming projects that we can be excited for?

 
For now, I am on hold. I am starting university, so I am going to focus on that for now. However, once I am done with my psychology degree I will think about whether or not I still want to focus on writing and continue my writing journey.

 


Gilani’s book is available for purchase on Amazon and you can follow her journey on both Facebook and Instagram.

 


Interview by Georgina Banfield.

‘Bob’s Truth’ By Emmica Lore

Bob was a goldfish. He lived in a fancy house with all the fancy trimmings – coloured pebbles, a deep-sea diver blowing bubbles and an ocean view. Bob was happy. Until he was not. Staring into the world beyond had Bob thinking about the meaning of life. Enter existential crisis.

He had always admired pelicans – they were imposing yet graceful (well that might be a stretch) and had the freedom to discover new lands and wistfully watch the creatures below.

It was morning, or maybe afternoon (how the hell would Bob know? He’s a goldfish) when an idea arrived. An epiphany. A light-bulb moment. An irrational thought from inhaling too many oxygen filled bubbles. Are bubbles filled with oxygen? Whatever science, who made you the boss of everything?

It was in that moment that Bob hatched a daring plan.

He was quite a fit-fish and it didn’t take long for him to achieve his goal. Plop! Bob had thrust himself out of the tank and was now lying belly-side on the carpet. He flapped about instinctively.

“Hmmm…well this sucks”.

As his last breath was drawn, the flapping stopped.

Bob’s soul rose from his tiny neon body and floated outside above a sandy shore. He could see a sleeping bird, no, a dead bird. Then, Bob had another epiphany. Wiggling his tail and using all of his fit-fish-soul muscles he drove downwards and into the chest of the stiff creature. Opening his eyes, the world seemed sharper and brighter. The smell of salt filled his nostrils and tickled his tongue.

Bob was now a pelican.

He stretched out his wings, pressed his webbed feet into the sand and savoured his breath as he inhaled real air for the very first time.

Bob flew from the beach to the jetty. From the jetty to the river. He discovered new lands and wistfully watched the creatures below. Bob was happy. Until he was not.

You see Bob was now a pelican and what do pelicans eat? He just couldn’t bring himself to dine on his fishy friends and so eventually Bob died of starvation.

And that is why you should never leave your fish bowl.

Or maybe it’s be happy with who you are?? Yeah, let’s go with that.

 


Words by Emmica Lore.

red skirtEmmica Lore is a creative person. She is a writer, poet and avid op-shopper who also makes art from time to time. Emmica is interested in sustainable style, philosophy, politics, art, feminism, whimsy and nature. You can find her on Instagram @emmicalorecreative

‘Bob’s Truth’ has also appeared on Lore’s website https://www.emmicalore.com/ and was previously featured in an exhibition.

 

Photo by Julieann Ragojo on Unsplash.

How to be Held

How to be Held

Maddie Godfrey

Burning Eye Books 2018


Maddie Godfrey is an Australian born poet from Western Australia who has moved on to spend time living and writing in both America and the UK. She has won poetry slams across two continents and her work has been featured on a number of international platforms. An astoundingly talented person, How to Be Held is Godfrey’s first book.

There were a number of standout poems in this collection, some being those I recognised from Godfrey’s Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/madfrey22) and ‘Kissing’ which was featured on Button Poetry last year.

Godfrey’s work deals with a myriad of issues including gender politics, self-love, trauma, and self-preservation. She shares with us a deeply personal journey through love, loss, heartbreak, and exploitation, constantly calling into question the expectations of society about gender, violence, and trauma.

Much of Godfrey’s poetry explores the difference between the binary, however ‘Labels are for Jars’ protests this, explaining that sometimes a person might not fit the binary or fit the binary comfortably. As she talks about her father, Godfrey reflects on her own ideas of not fitting the binary and how important that it is to be accepted for who you are.

With a mixture of the personal and political, Godfrey includes her 2016 response to a neo-masculine organisation called “Return of the Kings”. Reading ‘Birthday Parties’ was a pressing reminder of the dangers of being a woman—a reminder that women must think and act in a way that will constantly secure their safety whether they are consciously thinking of it or not.

Godfrey follows this poem with ‘Meeting with Mountains’, comparing the differences between women being taught to take up less space whereas men that they can take up all the space. As the book progresses the poems soften allowing the reader to embrace a sense of warmth and familiarity.

Self-love and self-acceptance is another important theme which is explored throughout this collection. A number of poems read like letters to a future self, a comfort and an acknowledgement that the person you will become is not necessarily the person you are today. In ‘For Days When my Feminism Does Not Include Myself’, Godfrey writes:

“you do not realise how capable you are

of growing into future versions of yourself”

Such a simple sentiment and touching reminder that you are not locked in as the person you are today, instead you, and everyone around you, are constantly evolving as different events and experiences shape you and your future.

Intimate and deeply moving, Godfrey’s poetry focuses on the need and the will to survive, to move on from past ordeals and fight back against the traumatic experiences. Her words hold you captive and at the same time make you feel safe and acknowledged. Godfrey guides you through her book gently while at the same time boldly and bluntly acknowledging her own traumatic experiences. Throughout her message remains clearly positive, reiterating that survival is key to negotiating both this world and her trauma.

How to Be Held was released July 1st and can be purchased online: https://www.howtobeheld.com/


Words by Kayla Gaskell

Photography by Kayla Gaskell

Leeza von Alpen: Editor

meet the team.-2

Meet-the-Team-Leeza.jpgHow did you get involved with Tulpa Magazine?

Before Tulpa, I had volunteered for another magazine called Empire Times while I was undertaking my Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Arts at Flinders University; this is where I had the fortunate opportunity of meeting Lisandra and Liam. When they proposed the concept of Tulpa Magazine, and began seeking other fellow editors to expand their team, I was both excited and eager to become a part of this project. Having worked with them previously, I knew they had the experience, creativity and tenacity to launch and manage such a project, and looked forward to contributing towards it. Already, I feel that Tulpa has started to become shaped into a fine arts and literary magazine.

What do you do?

I myself manage any fiction pieces available (ideally, before any of our other talented editors can snatch it up!) that Lisandra or Liam offer to us. Occasionally, I contribute to the magazine if there’s available space.

What’s your life like outside of Tulpa Magazine?

I’m a recently graduated middle and secondary high school teacher who specialises in English, History and Women’s Studies. Outside of Tulpa, I work part-time, visit the gym, and write my young adult novels and poetry. As any avid reader will tell you, I have a copious amount of unread books overflowing from my shelves that require undivided attention that I cannot always give them, but, where possible, I enjoy sitting down with my milkless tea and reading for hours on end. Occasionally, I’ll perform at local readings in Adelaide, but my projects keep me quite busy. I’m also an amateur star watcher (that’s the term for an unqualified, self-taught individual who maps constellations and watches the night sky).

What has been the most rewarding part of working for Tulpa Magazine?

I can only choose one thing? Seriously? What part of working for Tulpa isn’t rewarding? Well, if I had to choose only one part of working for the magazine that’s rewarding, it would have to be working with the team and being engaged with the sheer creativity that we interact with. We have an excellent team here at Tulpa; all experienced, friendly and energetic. It’s a fun experience to have a group of diverse people work together because we share a common interest; our love for art and writing. Together, we help budding and experienced contributors alike polish their pieces and find recognition and worth in their projects. It’s a beautiful thing, really.

What do you see yourself doing in the future? Where are you headed after Tulpa?

Ideally, I’ll secure a contract with a school and start teaching my own classes. Also, I aspire to finally finish a novel (instead of starting another three more and adding more to my uncompleted pile of manuscripts); I’m currently working on three main projects: my young adult novel, While We’re Here, and my fantasy series, Drahdia; and a collection of short poems. I’m also looking into potentially starting up a writing website and blog with novel reviews and writing advice, and maybe a Podcast along the same lines. Stay tuned!

––

You can find Leeza on Twitter and Instagram.

Twitter | @Leeza_Jayde

https://twitter.com/Leeza_Jayde

Instagram | leezajaydepoetry

https://www.instagram.com/leezajaydepoetry/

Leeza’s E-Folio for her teaching career can be accessed here:

https://leezavonalpen.wixsite.com/leezajaydeedu

The Poetry Slam: An Insider’s View

When I say Slam Poetry, what do you think of? Beatniks in black turtlenecks and clicking hipsters? Or maybe you think of Neil Hilborn’s “OCD” – the spoken word poem that made the rounds on the internet circa 2013. Slam poetry – or spoken word poetry if you like – is experiencing something of a resurgence and for a good reason. If you’ve ever listened to a spoken word poem, then you know that it is a powerful gut-punch of a storytelling medium. More than that, it’s a highly diverse form as well; the content and structure of spoken word is open wide to innovation and interpretation. Highly personalised or highly politicised, spoken word is a glimmering oyster of diverse styles and poets, which makes it a pleasure to listen to every time. It also makes it highly enjoyable to write and to read – because above all, spoken word poetry is designed to be read aloud and heard. There are few better places for this than the ubiquitous poetry slam and it’s sister, the open mic poetry night. As a person who’s performed in several poetry slams, I can tell you the nitty-gritty of what it is like to be involved in one.

I’m going to be real with you for a second. Getting on stage and performing your work to a crowd of strangers is nerve-wracking, especially when there are judges in the crowd who are giving points for your work. But at the same time, it’s also deeply satisfying to know that they’re sitting before you specially to hear slam. Here’s a fact; slam communities want new blood, specifically yours. If you’ve got a poem and a voice to tell it with, they want to hear you say it. They will even approach you afterwards to say they liked your work. It’s humbling and gratifying all at once. If you can get up there to read your poems, you have my respect as a fellow poet, especially if it’s your first time.

At my first poetry slam, I didn’t actually read any of my work. I wanted to suss out how it worked and then ghost out of there after enjoying a night of poetry. Instead I got randomly selected to be a judge (all the judges are randomly selected from the audience). No problem, I thought to myself. Except I had no clue about the standard of work to be expected at a poetry slam competition. Cue me scoring the first two people exceptionally harshly by mistake – I soon wised up, but not without escaping un-called-out. Poetry slams are friendly places with a great deal of camaraderie – expect call outs to people in the audience and call outs about judges who are overly harsh, as I had soon discovered.

My second poetry slam was the one I first performed at and, fortunately, I didn’t make a giant hash of it. I got up on stage, didn’t fall off the edge of it, spoke my piece without squealing feedback from the mic, and then got off the stage. All in all, a success. Since then, I’ve performed in a few and I’ve got ‘performing at a poetry slam’ down to a fine art.

Here’s how it goes:
I rock up to the event a good five minutes before the signup even opens (the signup usually opens about half-an-hour before the slam starts). I then hover like a vulture so I can be first, or second, or third to write my name down on the list. This ensures I’m definitely going to perform at the slam.If the slam is abiding by Australian Poetry Slam rules, there’s a maximum of 20 competitors. The first fifteen names on the signup sheet are guaranteed to be in – any number of people past that go into a lottery to see if they’re competing that night. This is the reason for the vulturing; when there’s a captive audience, I like to
know that they’re going to be my captive audience.

Once I’ve got my name down on the list, I buy myself a cider and claim a seat for myself and whoever has come with me. Some people come in a posse, others with one or two friends or family members. From there it’s only a matter of waiting somewhat nervously while I enjoy the other poets who are slamming that night. While I do this, I usually gnaw my fingers a bit wondering if I’m the next poet up or not – all of the performers are called up in a randomly drawn order, so you never know when you’re up next. I’ve got the luck of a mildly cursed witch; I’m almost always one of the last people to perform, and when I’m not, I’m definitely the first called up. This is what happened at the last slam I was in and I was not expecting it at all.

When I do get called up, I take myself and my poem up to the mic. Sometimes I memorise my poem, but you don’t have to. For poetry slams, the timer starts from the first word so intros aren’t particularly wise. Also, take this advice from someone who knows; pay attention to that timer. For Australian poetry slams, two minutes is your absolute maximum and if you go over, you lose one point every thirty seconds. Poem went for two minutes and ten seconds? That sweet little score of 9.3 has dropped to an 8.3, and with it your chance at placing. Am I speaking from bitter experience? Well, kinda. I’m not particularly bitter. Poetry slam judging is fair even if it’s reasonably unpredictable. There’s five judges, who are randomly selected, and the top and bottom scores are removed. Favouritism is pretty well eliminated but there’s an added element of unpredictability. Once I’ve been given my score, I sit back, drink cider, and enjoy the other poems before waiting to hear the final results. A round of applause to the victors and it’s all done and dusted.

Whether you’re up on the mic or in the audience, poetry slams are always a good time and they happen almost everywhere. If you’re unsure about where to start, a quick google or Facebook search will be able to point you in the direction of your local poetry slam event. If you’re in Adelaide, the Adelaide Poetry Gig Guide on Facebook has an updated list of regular open mic’s, slams, and one off events.

I’ll leave you with this pro tip I’ve learned from experience: don’t perform a poem about someone who’s in the audience unless you really want them to hear it. Otherwise, have fun and if you see me around in Adelaide’s slams, come and say hi.


Words by Taeghan Buggy 

Taeghan Buggy is a writer, a poet, and a performer. Her work tends towards emotional gut punches and dangerous words. Taeghan’s immersion within ‘Arts Culture’ includes the New Wave Audio Theatre project, Flinders’ Speakeasy Creative Readings, and Adelaide’s open-mic poetry scene.