I am frequently paralysed by
the choices of the modern world:
from how to spend $50
to how to spend my own life
which streaming service to keep?
which show to binge next?
Leaves me flailing
on my back,
like a slater
Perhaps this has always been a problem
on some level,
no doubt exacerbated,
by optical fibre
but, how do you choose what you do
with these ticking hours?
Mary Oliver phrased it beautifully;
‘What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’
But sometimes I want to say back to Mary
‘What is it you plan to do with this one wild
selection of Netflix originals?’
Saint that she was,
probably wouldn’t have made the first choice
to even entertain the notion
of the Netflix scroll
She was just choosing which flower
to write her next poem about
and would probably
gently encourage me
towards the hum out the window
of life pulsing electric
through stardust and soil
Ghost Mary reminds me
the choice was never just
whether to rewatch the Matrix trilogy
or try something new
The choice was (and is)
to show up and write
some words on this page
or to distract myself,
catching up to
Of course you can watch movies
and show up
to your creative life
(arguably, it’s essential)
but I know when my own scales
here I am
beneath a thumping fan in the kitchen
I want to write the poems,
Every now and then
in quiet moments,
the desire for ‘greatness’ wells up to my surface
and takes the open mic in my mind’s stage
‘Where is your magnum opus?
Your mass following?
Your literary agent?
Your flowing royalties?
What have you been doing?!
How come you have not been ‘found’ yet?
Why have you not toured the world yet?
Why are you not publicly adored yet?
Well…what will you do about it?’
It is like my ego
has had a few too many drinks
and become narcissistically confident
and deeply self-critical
I feel both berated
remembering that I
am apparently someone special
of best-seller status
and viral TED talk fame
a bulging bank account
Though I have also
missed the boat, the train, the spaceship
I have turned at the wrong times
paused when I should have moved
moved when I should have paused
I have failed
the all-important and never-satisfied god of hustle.
The crushing weight
of my not-so-specialness
presses down upon me
And I’m washed by a wave of
that I have not become great yet
that I have not yet risen
from the ranks of apparent mediocrity
I’m still just here
where life is happening
steadily and quietly
I pour my ego a glass of water
gently caress the microphone
from his trembling hand
sit him down at the bar
I slap him
look him in the eye and say,
You are loved.
Do you think something is only great
if a million people see it?
Do you think being known by strangers
would make you feel more seen
than the eyes of your own children?
Do you think there’s anything out there
you don’t already have, right here?
Do you really think
the wildly successful version of you
in an alternative universe
isn’t still losing sleep over your crap?
And let’s keep walking
the beautiful path before us.
He drinks his water,
wipes a small tear from the corner of his eye
I breathe deeply
in the wonder of my life
and walk outside.
It is happening just like they said it would:
they are growing up fast
I used to hold him like a football
Yesterday he kicked one over the fence
He used to know no words
Yesterday he told me he could see
‘The soft-feathered wings of the day’
6 and he already spins better poetry than me
dresses up like a pirate
like a paramedic
like an astronaut
And I’m still wondering
is he dressing up as a 4 year old?
or has that much time actually passed
since we first met?
They are growing up fast
And you find yourself uttering that phrase
even though you know how cliche it sounds
And I wonder,
if it is just an easy-to-reach-for substitute
for things that are more difficult to say
If you pause too long to ponder
the volumes you’ve already forgotten
the mispronounced words
the day before walking
the night after coming home
it’s dizzying to think about
the rollercoaster tracks in the rearview
And when I say
they’re growing up fast
I think what I really want to say
is that I’m horrified by how casually
I am passing through this gift shop
And I know,
it’s easy to be sentimental
when the household is asleep
and you are writing poems in the quiet hour
And I don’t want to romanticise
the slog of it
the shit of it
the thousand little deaths of it
There are honestly days when I fantasise about
going back to before
back to morning sex
and midday movies
and deciding to go to the beach
and then just going, straight away
this is what horrifies me
more than my kids growing up
It’s the curse of casually spending every season of your life
wanting to space-jump
backwards or forwards
when the miracle, in all its bloody wonder
is always and only ever happening
where you are now.
And you casually let it play
like background music.
You are skim reading the body of your life
You are swallowing without chewing your life
You are driving on auto-pilot through the rich landscapes
of your one life,
Sometimes I feel
like every poem I write is the same
I only really talk about
trying to be present
trying to see the wonder
trying to live and give
from a deep well of gratitude
I write about it so often
because it is
as it is difficult
And the best things are often so
like raising these kids
who are growing up
at the pace of growing up
And maybe all you can show them
is that none of it is casual
none of it is granted
none of it is cheap
Every time oxygen fills those God-given tanks
Every beat that is thumped from that drum in your chest
It is all more dazzlingly wondrous
than any Sci-Fi reality anyone’s ever dreamed of
It is nothing to be casual about.
This everyday miracle.
named after lion
May your roar be unleashed;
you were not made to be silent
May your roar be unleashed,
but may your claws stay in hiding
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.
So, I haven't written a blog entry for a couple weeks.
But a little over a year ago I recorded some of my poetry in a little EP called 'Things I Don't Understand'. I've still got a few copies, and I'll post you one if you'd like (click here)!
Anyway, I thought in lieu of written words this week I'd share one of those recorded poems - I wrote this a while ago now (2009) but it seems more relevant than ever as I watch my little boy learning about the world, surely forming a million questions just waiting for the language he can wrap them in.
This poem is for the child in us,
and the 'grown-up' in us,
that continue to have conversations
in the depths of us.
- even a little idiotic -
but I think,
the most religious person I know
is an atheist
And I can already hear the objections to that sentiment
The crowd switch-off, the flare-up of ‘faith vs. evidence’!
But try to stay with me - this may be relevant
whether you’re a ‘right-wing evangelical’
a ‘progressive intellectual’
or a ‘lefty vegan’ smoking the botanical
I’m not a fan of the labels - trust me; I try to avoid them
(Can’t we just agree we’re all human, and we’re all kind of annoying?)
But I do find it funny that my friend, a Facebook activist
atheistic strategist, trying to save the world
with surprisingly violent words for a pacifist
loves to remind me how backwards my passion is
He’s a university student; he’s doing an arts degree
(So we’ve got something in common; I’ve got an arts degree)
But if you’re asking me - doesn’t matter if you’ve got an arts degree
or a PhD in some form of scientific mastery
Either way, you can still a bastard, be.
Don’t take that as an accusation
I just have some simple observations
the same temptation for self-righteous proclamation
and broad, sweeping condemnation
can be wielded by every variation
of information interpretation
We all want to be right, right?
We all want to lift our hands
or fall to our knees
sing, pray, preach, proselytise, lecture
gather in conferences, forums, theatres
rejoice and lament
about the wonder and the agony
and the mystery, of it all.
about Higgs Bosons, protons, photons,
the complex language of DNA
the injustice of all the pain
the hope of a tomorrow better than today!
Surely these impulses are as human
as believing you’re the ant the universe revolves around?
But religion is a funny concept with myriad meanings
Did you know Jesus seemed to only fight with religious leaders?
Did you know every university textbook was written by someone, or some crew
as grand and flawed as me and you?
Did you know first-class academics have been in favour of eugenics
and beautiful work has been done by ‘uneducated peasants’?
Did you not know that all the boxes break?
We’re all a little messy,
a little religious
a little pretentious
a little evangelical
a little lost
a little in need of comfort
a little in need of restraint
I’m not a fan of the labels - trust me, I try to avoid them
Can we just agree we’re all human, and we’re all kind of annoying?
Beautiful, frustrating, growing children asking question after question
thinking with our stomach, our scratches, our exhaustion
trying to sneak in a bite when we get in a fight
crying for a parent to intervene
because our knees are bruised.
So, how about we
put ourselves aside for a moment
dress each other’s wounds
make some fairy-bread
and play in the streets
'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.
Ben Procter and I used to sit in our year 7 classroom and chat about things we wanted to do in the future. Our list included travelling overseas together, living together, working together and buying a lifetime's supply of Starburst Squirts (not even sure they make those anymore?)
We've ticked off the most important ones in that list - and apart from our sugar cravings our year 7 dreams were fairly aligned with where we are at in our lives today. It always excited me having any opportunity to do something creative with my best mate, who all bias aside, is incredibly talented in all areas of film and media. Do yourself a favour and peruse through his website and see what I mean. We've both recently decided to take the plunge and dedicate ourselves to having a serious attempt at developing our artistic passions and profiles. This video represents a new season for us. It's a very simple, one-shot video, but for Ben it was a chance to try out some new equipment (a gimbal) and for myself this was a poem I wrote to launch 'SpeakUP', a monthly spoken word gathering on the Central Coast which kicked off with a bang in February.
So, simple as it may be this is representative of the season ahead and the projects it will bring.
And at the heart of it is the simple thought that our lives are cluttered, chaotic and complex - and maybe things would be a little less off-balance in this world if we all took a moment to breathe....
Grace and peace to you.