Words – Karla O’Connor

Photos – Karla O’Connor and J Forsyth

The Centre for Poetics and Justice presents… Song Line Linguists

Sometimes when I tell people I’m going to see some spoken word poetry they look at me with a screwed up expression on their faces that says “Eeeerr, really?”

My guess is that these people assume spoken word gigs will be a bunch of wanky writer types professing their indignant and pretentious views on the world, or maybe they think it’s just lame.  And maybe said people are correct in some instances, I’m not really sure, but I am sure that if they came along to any of the performances presented by The Centre for Poetics and Justice, they would be proven mesmerizingly incorrect.

I can’t believe it took me so long to discover these guys; after all they are a group of men and women after my own heart. The Centre for Poetics and Justice is a community arts organisation based in Melbourne, dedicated to the integration of poetics and social transformation. They use poetics as a form of literary education, self-expression and social engagement for marginalised teenagers, and this is right up my ally. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m dedicated to working with young people in community development, stimulating social change, and I believe using the arts as a means to create opportunities for this, is…. well… like I said – they’re after my own heart. In fact, after my first live CPJ spoken word experience sometime early last year at Bar Open, I left the place fist pumping the air all the way down Brunswick Street, feeling like I could take on anything. I WOULD take on anything. I was INSPIRED, baby!


So fortunately for me (and you, but maybe you just don’t know it yet), Melbourne’s underground slam poetry scene is expanding, offering fresh, new and exciting performances a-plenty.

But not so fortunately for me, when I visited Melbourne’s Arts Centre last sunny Saturday afternoon, I was taken on such a journey by three stage poets that I failed to conduct any sort of analysis on the performances. Of course being so engulfed by the performance is a terrific thing, but not when you’re expected to give some sort or comment on it, intelligent or otherwise. But maybe that fact alone is enough; my inability to be in anyway ‘outside’ the story that was being told right in front of me is a clear indication that I had been transported into their stories. They had crafted worlds that were breathing and moving inside me.

Michelle Dabrowski, curator and founder of ‘Slamalamadingdong!,’ possibly Australia’s best slam poetry event; Charlotte Roberts and Jacky T had me. Their collaborative performance based around the power of personal narratives took me by my proverbial balls, lifted me up, swung me around and then placed me ever so softly back on my chair where I could continue to laugh, tear up, get shivers down my spine and have a finger-snapping-good time. Fist pumps were lacking but that probably had something to do with the drinks costing twelve bucks a pop, and therefor, a less inebriated Karla.

Spoken word poems are poems that don’t want to just sit on paper, they have to be performed. It’s like a perfect blend of poetry, theatre and often times, music.

And these three clever wordsmiths took this to another level. The performance began with Michelle using a loop pedal to create a melody with her own breath, holding different notes, making different sounds and singing certain lyrics over a drum beat. She then cut in and out of this with her poems, which required such finesse but was made to look effortless. She even threw in a little bit of interpretive dance, for good measure – don’t worry, it was the favourable kind. Charlotte and Jacky T used the same looping technique with a mix of horns, tambourines, keyboards and foot stomping, and performed poems that were reminiscent of lives past, full of empathy for people and life; both in it’s day to day bullshit and its beauty.

And I think that’s what telling stories is all about; it’s about expressing, exploring and resonating with what is to be a human. It’s about opening minds to new perspectives, communicating events, inspiring people, commenting on society and perhaps eliciting change. And spoken word is accessible. Not everyone has the recourses to make a film, play an instrument or read music, but everyone has a story they can tell that someone else can learn from.

Or maybe the point of a story is just for it to be told, and for it to be heard. Perhaps a story needs no goal. It has no objective, it just is. It exists only in it’s telling, to be loved or hated, pleasant or miserable. After all, it’s Michelle Dabrowski that said in one of her poems “They’re just fucking stories.”

My advice: keep your ears peeled for upcoming Slamalamadingdong! events and any of the cool stuff The Centre for Poetics and Justice are up to.