Last month I did something I don't often do.
As in, I don't ever do.
I read a poem I had written off my phone. In front of a crowd. And it was how I set the tone for the monthly spoken word night I host.
I have so many mental reasons why I tell myself I don't do this. 'You're a professional! Real performance poets memorise everything! People expect a certain standard from you!'
And I'm not chucking the baby out with the bathwater. There are good reasons I memorise my poems. I want to wear them like skin for the audiences I share with. I want to know I can look into people's eyes while I share what I have carved out with care. I want to be able to breathe the full life I intended into the phrases I crafted.
But, in all of those reasons, what am I saying about others?
What am I role modelling to the student I urged to share,
even if it was just one shakey line from a phone,
even if it was just saying their name,
even if was just sharing their breath on a stage?
I am saying I am past that. That I am bigger than that. Above that. Beyond that.
But, here and now, I am calling myself out.
I am the student, who sometimes needs to urge myself to share,
even if it's just one shakey line from a phone,
even if it's just saying my name,
even if it's just sharing my breath on a stage.
I'm a learner. I'm small. I'm a work in progress.
So, I did this. I took my own advice. I became vulnerable.
I made a confession.
'SpeakUP' is one of the things I am most excited about for 2015. I'm absolutely frothing for it.
I've been to a lot of Poetry Slams and Spoken Word nights in the past - and a lot of these events have had a significant influence on my approach to poetry and my continued pursuit of spoken word opportunities. The poetry scene in Australia is amazing, and it just continues to increase in depth and quality, as great events and performers pop up all over the place.
But as I've said to people in the past, I used to struggle with feeling a little too 'hip-hop' at poetry events and a little too 'poetic' at hip-hop events. This wasn't because of anything that anyone said or did - it was just my own insecurity and self-consciousness as someone who didn't feel like I fit cleanly into a specific category. In the last year or two I've embraced my distinct style and felt more confident being someone with influences in both categories. I'm not strictly hip-hop, but as a spoken word artist I can't separate myself from hip-hop. I'm drawn to complex rhyme schemes, fast-paced rhythmic delivery and melodic, hypnotic flows. Hip-hop is the culture and music that has shaped me most significantly as an artist.
So part of the reason I'm particularly excited about SpeakUP is that it represents what I used to crave. As a High School student I would spend my hours on YouTube watching Def Poetry Jam. To see some of my favourite rappers step away from the beat and come out on a stage looking so raw and vulnerable was a powerful thing to behold. I love the openness of spoken word and the myriad of styles that it brings to the table.
But, I really LOVE this particular place
where the VALUES of hip-hop (flippin' something out of nothin', keeping it real, confronting power imbalances),
and the STYLE of hip-hop
meet the SIMPLICITY of spoken word
and the BEAUTY of poetry.
That's unique. That's fresh. That's a place that resonates with my soul.
SpeakUP is an attempt to develop a place and space that is distinctively hip-hop influenced, whilst remaining a very open, welcoming spoken word night. It's likely that the critical mass of performers at these events will generally have a hip-hop background. And yet, having said that I don't want anyone to have the opposite experience I used to feel - I don't want any poets who don't have a hip-hop background to feel like they need to imitate or conform to that style just because the event has a distinctive flavour that is different to their own. I want every writer who steps up to the mic to walk away feeling energized, encouraged and affirmed. The great draw of spoken word has always been (and will always be) its openness and ability to bring together very diverse stories and styles.
So, this is an open event, with a lot of room for the unexpected.
But, should you choose to find yourself at The Lounge Room in Gosford on the 14th of March at 7pm, there are a few things you CAN expect.
Fresh coffee beans, friendly baristas, home-baked treats.
Hip-hop beats and smooth melodies.
Emcees, poets and people who have never performed spoken word before, getting vulnerable on a mic.
A creative community representing some of the best the Central Coast has to offer.
Sounds good, right? I'm frothing.
See you there.