Angst and Slam Poetry

I am going through a bit of poetry angst at the moment. Well, perhaps life angst. Those periods where you question what is going on, what you're doing, why you're doing what you're doing. It's pretty much the usual in my brain, but sometimes it gets a bit more, well, serious.

The last couple of months have been serious. In an attempt to make myself feel better about life, the universe and everything I've been attending a lot more live events than I usually would, both poetry and music. I've seen The Adults and Liam Finn live recently and both gigs were excellent, although I loved Liam Finn a little more. I was right up the front beside the two drum kits and was able to really get into the experience (even if it involved a little more touching from high gig-goers than one would perhaps like, I was practically snuggled at one point!). Liam and his younger brother Elroy were captivating in their enthusiasm and talent. I had forgotten how live music is just better than headphones or my shitty stereo. The drums! The bass! The heart pounding! Julia Deans did an amazing version of that song I've linked above. Much grittier and intense than the Ladi6 version I linked. Best song of the night in my opinion.

As for poetry I went and saw a wonderful reading by Selina Tusitala Marsh and Lynn Jenner. The next morning I was sitting in Fidel's reading Selina's book Fast Talking PI and who should walk in but the author. It was the first time I've had that happen. I'm sure I blushed, but she seemed happy and I later went and asked her to sign my book. Selina was really lovely and enthusiastic about writing. Good vibes. She read in a more lively manner than I'm used to and it was really enjoyable. She read a poem about her mother that was just amazing. Intense emtionally and very beautiful. Sadly I have forgotten the name of the poem.

Then last week I went to the regular reading at The Ballroom. It was an interesting reading, one that left me with mixed feelings. The rest of the event was the usual mix of readers. Some highlights were Mike Eager and Alina Siegfried. On this occasion there was a mike which helped immensely. It meant I could actually hear some of the readers who are usually too quiet to be heard. These days I find myself drawn to poetry that makes me laugh. And there were some good laughs to be had that day.

In the same week I was also very lucky to attend a poetry slam event "Poetry in Motion" at Happy. There was a selection of local writers/performers and a duo of touring slam poets from The US: Ken Arkind and Carrie Rudzinski. Prior to the event I had watched videos of both performing. Carrie grabbed me with her surreal imagery and her tense emotional poems. Ken's charms weren't totally obvious to me in the videos, but live he was charming, acerbic, hilarious and politically engaging as well as impressively bearded. Carrie managed to take the audience to striking emotional heights and then go even higher. After the event I felt oddly drained from it just because they were both so intense I couldn't help but be a little enthralled by them. They were especially complimentary about both the good looks of the audience (and Wellington in general) and the city. I couldn't tell if it was a practised trick or sincere. It didn't matter much though the audience loved it!

Slam poetry is such a different beast to its more sedate counterpart. I find myself wanting poets to have memorised their work and wanting them to engage with me as they read. I've feel I've known all these things for years but only just grasped the concept. Sometimes slam poetry grabs you and won't let go, but just as easily can fail to come off. It's a knife edge and I think that's what I like about it. It's hard work to get the audience connecting with you, but when you do it transforms the whole event. I feel like everything that I've written in that last paragraph is cliché, which is appropriate for slam poetry I think. It operates in different territory to poetry for the page and even more traditional New Zealand performed poetry. Cliché does have a place. But I much more enjoy the surprise and loops that much poetry, slam or not, uses. Both Carrie and Ken surprised with their language use and their clever tricks. Both had emotional depth and Ken especially had really good jokes.

The local poets ranged from starkly political (giving me goosebumps) to some who were wryly observant or amusing. There was one young man, Duncan Hope, whom I look forward to seeing perform again in future. I was also pleased to see the P Town Poets read again. I saw them at their last Te Papa gig and thought it was a bit of a crime that the audience was so sparse. I look forward to seeing them again and hope that their audience improves. There was a general air from the audience and some of the local poets that they were slightly embarrassed by poetry or thought it a bit ridiculous. Perhaps that doesn't convey it quite right. They just seemed surprised about poetry. The audience was much, much younger than any poetry audience I've seen in Wellington before (bearing in mind my three year tenure so far, but definitely one of the youngest audiences I've ever seen). I wanted to talk to these young poets and let them know that there are other people writing in Wellington. In fact there are heaps of people writing in Wellington. I hope that as more Poetry in Motion events occur it will become obvious to them that there's a wealth of talent out there.

Alina Siegfried organised this event and is looking to start regular slam poetry events in Wellington. I think I'm going to try my hand at it and see how I do. Can't hurt and might help me get through this poetry weirdness I'm feeling. I was into theatre sports and drama at high school, even performing in the 1997 Christchurch Art's Festival. After that I gave it all up for poetry. But maybe it's time to mix the two together and get up on stage and perform again.


Mariana said...

Good luck for the Wellington Slam final Emma!

word verification for this comment:
celeb ;-)

Emma Barnes said...

Thanks Mariana! Also, hilarious word verification.