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I think I’ve found my new favourite hobby in Wellington. I attended a slam poetry event in the low-key, dusky vibes of San Francisco Bathhouse. Having a keen interest in poetry, I decided to take a break from religiously attending theatre, and instead I shook it up with a night of hearty, local poetry. I actually found theatre and slam poetry weren’t too dissimilar. Both involve skilled and generous performers, a stage, interactive audiences, beer, friends, and a gathering of artistic sorts!
The night of passionate conversations, unleashed inspiration, and diverse talent left me with a lasting impression. This kinaesthetic buzz that bounced around the room stayed with me, and I couldn’t help wonder how many didn’t know that this gig exists, right in the heart of Wellington?
Originating in 1984, Chi-town (Chicago), slam poetry gained heat when a construction worker, Marc Kelly Smith aka Slampapi, kick-started an open-mic poetry reading at the Get Me High Lounge, in which budding poets took to the stage to build an audience. Slampapi once said, “the very word ‘poetry’ repels people. Why is that? Because of what schools have done to it. The slam gives it back to the people… we need people to talk poetry to each other. That’s how we communicate our values, our hearts, the things that we’ve learned that make us who we are.” Marc Smith considers himself a socialist, and founded the first-ever National Poetry Slam in 1990. That annual competition still runs today.
Poetry in Motion Wellington is hosted and organised by Travis and Liv, and it celebrates a diverse range of talents, intellects, and subjects. From a fiery fuck-you slam about Brexit by a woman called Kate who wore red fingerless gloves and kindly gave me a poem about the sexual politics of pubic hair, to the humble words of a lanky shy boy’s self-proclaimed soppy love poetry (which actually tugged on multiple heart strings around the room), to the classic British, grey-haired, cynic who took the piss out of rhyme and stood audaciously with his arms behind his back. This daring, enrapturing, poetry evoked all kinds of feels.
The culture of clicking is something that really hooked me. This is the way it works. If you appreciate or respect a certain line in the poem and want to give them praise for it you click your fingers repetitively, and a whole chorus of clicks may grow around you. It’s well fitted considering the rhythmic, tactile feel of slam poetry and the clicking never detracts from the poet’s performance. Part of the attraction is the interactive and intimate relationship that grows between poets and spectators around the room. At the beginning of each slam poetry event, the hosts hand around placards with numbers on them to several different tables. These people are chosen at random and asked if they’d like to score each poem. The scoring system and delegation of judges are a relatively new addition to the culture of slam.
Here are a few of my favourite lines from the evening:
“Brexit” by Kate
“Politicians thinking resigning is the key, / or not resigning / and outright refusing / to diffuse the ticking time bomb of party political implosion.”
“A love poem to Melbourne” by Duncan
“If Wellington played never have I ever with other cities, she would lose—I need to move.”
“A funny massage job interview” by April
“The world is just a sleazy stranger.”
These slam poetry events are a great hub for creativity, meeting friendly faces, getting issues or ideas off your chest, or simply listening to some beautifully insightful and vivid perceptions of the world. Plus, anyone can sign up to read their work! Whether you’ve been storing some kick-ass lines and are keen to give them a dust-off in front of a crowd, or you’re relatively new to the game, you’re welcome to join. There’s a whole crowd of willing clickers there for moral support! Poetry in Motion events take place at Meow on the first Wednesday of every month.
If you want to get in on slam poetry, check out the Poetry in Motion Facebook page. Or get along to How We Survive: A Feminist Poetry Show at The Cavern Club on Saturday August 13 and Sunday August 14 at 7pm. Go to Eventfinda for more details.