The Ebb and Flow of Performance Poetry
Studio 19, Saturday, Sept 28, 2pm-5pm
Poetry is leaping from the worn pages of high school English textbooks onto the stage, as a vibrant performance poetry scene bubbles its way to the surface in Australia.
A leading light in the Australian slam poetry scene is Joel McKerrow, a Wollongong boy made good after moving to Melbourne at age 22.
Taking a teaching position at a Victorian college, McKerrow fell headfirst into the idea of performance poetry - literally, performing poetry on stage - through a student who introduced him to the work of American spoken word artist Anis Mojgani.
"I just fell in love with the artform," McKerrow says.
"I started writing lots and performing, at open mic nights and poetry slam competitions. It started going really well, people liked my stuff, and it just snowballed from there."
McKerrow has since established himself as arguably one of Australia's leading performance poets, competing at the World Slam Poetry Championships in 2012.
But what is slam poetry?
"It's poetry that refuses to stay on the page," McKerrow says simply, "a creative outlet of using written words, but bringing in a performance side, which takes it to a new level.
"It's an intersection between writing and dramatic arts. A lot of people, when [they] first experience it, [it] really blows them out of the water in terms of what they thought poetry was. Students come away from high school thinking of poetry as not interesting or exciting.
"When they discover performance poetry, it changes lives."
It certainly changed McKerrow's life, and the life of many others. He was a co-founder of the Centre For Poetics And Justice, a group that used poetry to empower youth and marginalised communities.
"We were a group of performance poets who wanted to make sure our poetry was bigger than being just about us," McKerrow says.
"We went to schools and refugee communities, indigenous communities, and used performance poetry and hip-hop as self expression and story telling."
McKerrow returns to Wollongong this week to host The Ebb and Flow of Performance Poetry, where he will teach would-be slam poets the tricks of the trade.
"It begins raw and you develop as you go. There is a lot of skill in it, learning to perform a piece well and not just reading it in a monotone off the page," he says.
"I call it embodying your words, stepping into it and performing with your whole self. It takes skill, but also guts and courage to get up and fully give yourself to the piece."
McKerrow will also be a feature poet at the Wollongong heat of the Australian Poetry Slam competition, to be held tomorrow night from 6.30pm at Rad Bar.