Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The silence of poetry

"With online platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram taking over our lives, self-expression has been taken to a new level. Anyone with computer access can publish their emotions. [...] Also think about the new possibilities due to YouTube: poems are voice recorded and synchronized with music, pictures, and occasionally videos too. The possibilities are endless."
 The above text is just an excerpt from a mini-essay I had to write regarding the influence of technology on publishing. Please don't ask me about its validity; I just winged this at 2 AM after doing a thorough cleaning of the house (procrastination tool number 2). Even though I could not find much academic proof to back up my point, I truly believed that there was still life in poetry due to its rising popularity on social media. My mini-essay didn't even cover poetry slam, which I know is quite underdeveloped in the Netherlands, but seemed booming in Sydney. Or perhaps that was just me being my hopeless romantic self.

I was quite excited browsing through websites, amazed at the amount of poetry events I wanted to go to:
  • UNSW Poetry Slam feat Jesse John Brand (< that's today!)
  • Mayda del Valle Performance + Workshop (< that's Thursday and Friday!)
  • Writers in the Park Poetry Slam
  • Youth PoWR 2015
  • Auburn Monthly Poets and Writers Group
  • Australian Poetry Slam Finals in Sydney
Okay, so maybe that's not so much, but it's still much more English poetry I could get close to than in the Netherlands. Like I said, I was too busy gazing at the stars, daydreaming about the way poets could still revolutionize the world. I guess the internet truly has a way of blowing things out of proportion, but when I went to my first poetry slam this evening, I had high hopes.

I mean, Jesse John Brand. THE Jesse John Brand!

Quite honestly I've never heard of him but apparently he's Australia's national poetry slam champion from 2013. Given that I'm not Australian, I excused myself for my ignorance, but I expected to come into a full room of enthusiastic young Australian poets when I walked into the UNSW Club Bar, fashionably late at 6.40 PM because I got lost. Turns out I was still a very, very early bird, so I just awkwardly sat somewhere at the side of this grid-like complex of empty chairs. Some people must've thought me an anti-social snob because I just kept clutching my phone, but I actually just had to check the train's timetables since I live quite far away. After that I noticed it was still awkwardly silent, so I just mashed up some scribbles on my phone, hoping the room would soon be filled up by more than a handful of people. 

At one point I was almost tempted to go on stage, awkwardly scratch myself behind the ear and mumble something about never having performed before and having written this while sitting on *that chair*, then go "screw this", and recite my scribbles. Of course that didn't happen and my jaw just dropped from listening to the first performer. I actually have a hard time grasping the whole idea of any spoken poem because I need time to piece the sentences together, so I mostly just get lost (in beauty) after each sentence. I was also intrigued by the the first performer's way of speaking, his cadence, which I found typical for Spoken Word. It's like watching a play, albeit much shorter and more puzzling. I can't describe it.

A few more poets followed, taking my spontaneous urge to perform away and adding fuel to it at the same time. One of them was Gloria Demillo:

She performed this poem just now, and I have to be completely honest here: it was much better this evening. I am not sure if it's because she's practiced more often or because I was right there, where her voice seemed more melodic and her emotions more mature. Regardless, I enjoyed the extra element she put into her poem. Many Spoken Word artists seem to include music nowadays, sometimes with their own singsong voice turned into melody. Poetry is not just about words anymore, it's a whole package, an experience. 

Same went for Jesse John Brand's performance:

I am glad I was able to see him up close, where his beatboxing, zipper-ribcage-sounds and frustrated screaming came to life. Again, much better this evening than in the above video. I don't think I would've liked any of these two poets that much if I hadn't seen them perform in real life. The sounds are just a tad more intense, the emotions just a little bit more penetrative. Which is quite funny actually because the little room filled with perhaps 50 chairs but only 10 living human beings was located at UNSW's party center: the Roundhouse. Downstairs there seemed to be some sort of chearleading event because on the background of intense riddles, high-pitched slogans would slip through. 

In a way I find it amusing because it emphasizes the thought I've been struggling with all night: poetry doesn't seem to make a difference. Right in front of me is "Australia's national poetry slam champion from 2013" and yet we can hardly fill a classroom of listeners. I think the chearleading team contained just as many people as our room of poets. I wonder how I ever thought it would be realistic to assume that one day, I would travel around the world, be my ambitious and moralistic heroic self, and save the world with my thoughts by shouting poetry on stage. Seriously, what is it that poets want to achieve in this age? Just express ourselves in the weekends while being tied to a 9 till 5 job during weekdays? 

If people think hardly any money can be made out of visual art, take a look at poetry. It's even worse. Perhaps the technological shift is even holding poetry back from its growth, as we're lost in a plethora of scribbles, hardly able to recognize what could make a difference in this world.

"The first time my eyes adjusted to the Australian sun, I thought I could survive eating solitude for breakfast and art for dinner. But every time I stare at the walls, I realise my poetry is dying. All poetry is dying inside of our ribs, until we dig up the past from heartbreak, and start spilling ink again"
~ Excerpt from what I wrote during the silence.  

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