Poetry Slam

June 20, 2008

I entered a Poetry Slam last night for the first time. It was part of the Winter Magic Festival which is held in Katoomba every year. I performed this one  slightly modified as it had to be squished into 2 minutes. It was very scary. I have sung in public before but somehow it was scarier just talking. But it went ok. I didn’t stuff up too badly. And it was really fun. I think I’ll be doing it again.

Of course I didn’t win, not even close. But I didn’t expect to. I knew I would be performing to a misogynist and racist audience so it didn’t surprise me in the least that the two winners were white and male. And the runner up was… yep, you guessed it, a white, male misogynist.

But there were quite a few women in the audience who approached me afterwards who said that they really liked my work and praised my performance. One women even whispered furtively, “You should have won.” If I had been free to speak, if I had have spoken freely, I would have replied, “Sister, I know the rules of men’s games, you can only win while wearing white skin and having a dick between your legs whilst babbling goobledegook.” I didn’t reach the age of 26 without learning that my skin and my sex were liabilities when playing games in the malestream. My commitment to women’s liberation and women’s centredness is even less acceptable.

Winning and losing are male concepts. The idea the poetry can be well serviced by competition is completely alien to me. Poetry is spiritual, poetry is erotic, poetry is connection. But the reality is that I did win last night. I made connections with other women poets. Real women who wrote with feeling about earth and sky and women’s power. Our voices shone strongly to each other. We connected and we won.

On a personal level, I faced my fear of performance and I proved to myself that it is entirely possible for me to get up on stage and not make a complete fool of myself. I didn’t go completely blank, like I thought I would, I didn’t stumble over ever single line, I didnt trip over when I walked onto the stage. In short, I won. I conquered my own doubts and self-hatred, two of women’s biggest and most fatal stumbling blocks.

I came away from the night with a feeling of elation. The night confirmed for me just how lacking in music and poetry men really are. They have no feeling for the beauty and depth of language, the subtlety of rhythm, the complexity of the personal and political. Dissenter and I couldn’t help but laugh at the clumbsiness of what men call poetry.

The way the competition was judged was the MC (a Black or possibly mixed racial man, the only other person of colour performing) threw five markers out into the audience. Whoever caught the marker became a judge. Fair right? One of the markers went to a highschool girl (pretty cool I thought), another to a woman who was a birdwatching guide, another hit an elderly woman, her husband picked up the marker and when he tried to give her the marker the woman refused to take it, retired gentleman becomes the next judge, the fourth marker was caught by a woman, her friend’s husband quickly snatched the marker from her, so sexist IT dude became a judge and the last was thrown to a male tree lopper. Three men, one woman, one girl.

I have to wonder how different the judging would have been if the women had held tight to those markers. The wrap up of the night was like some sick joke. The two male winners, the male MC and the TWO WOMEN WHO HAD ORGANISED THE WHOLE EVENT stood on stage to be congratulated. So women are the ones that do the hard yards and organise the events, men are the ones that win, introduce and control the proceedings of the event.

Ngh, I need to organise some women only performance nights. Men’s performance bores me to tears. Even though one of the women’s performances was horrible classist, misogynist and possibly racist, she didn’t hold a candle to the misogyny and homophobia of some of the men. And the audience was laughing and enjoying the misogynist and homophobic ‘poetry’.  The most woman-hating poem was voted runner up. Erch.

But I really do have to do it more often. It was great to meet other women performers, women who wrote Mother Earth/Goddess poetry no less. Pretty bloody awesome methinks.


  1. Wow, well done Allecto, that’s brilliant! I’m so proud of you for getting up there (especially among all those misogynists) and saying your words! That must have been a wonderful night for you, and you’re right, you really did win. 😀 Did you get any contact info for the women who spoke to you afterwards? Maybe they would be interested in helping with a women-only event? I’m so excited for you – I know exactly what it’s like to be worrying about tripping up, forgetting what to say and everything – I wish I could give you a great big hug. 😀 xxx

  2. Allecto’s performance of her poem was very awesome and very powerful.

  3. I wish I could have been there. 🙂

  4. Thanks you two! You are so sweet Dissenter.

    I told one woman about my blog and she said she would come and leave a link to her website on my blog. I met a lesbian feminist friend in town today and she seemed pretty keen on the idea of a women’s performance night. I have a few contacts with women who work in women’s services so I could use them too. I just need to get off my ass and do it.

    Oh and I am trying to organise getting a copy of the video so I can put it up on youtube and then you can get to see it!! The internet is so cool.

  5. Ohhh I would have loved to hear your poetry performance. I love poetry slams, and you’re right, they are unfortunately rife with misogyny and even classism. You did win out there, connecting with those women. Even if it’s by cultural conditioning, I love how much more instinctive women are than men. It allows for stronger relationships and greater wisdom.
    Is there any way you could post a recording of your poem? Or at least the written version?
    And getting up there and just performing (and I am sure you did really well) is already a great feat.

  6. Oh, this is Lara by the way, but I am signed into my WordPress account. Sorry for any confusion 😛

  7. Yay! I was hoping there would be a video but I didn’t want to ask because I didn’t want you to be pressured and all that stuff 🙂 xxxxx

  8. Well done.
    I used to do quite a lot of poetry slamming – though my poems were not very suitable. I ususally did it for fun and coz most of the poetry community here are ok.
    I got a bit bored with slam, because of the poetry was of the ranting variety or comic.
    I like to write with a bit more depth. When I perform now I tend not do slams, but poetry readings. This because the audience tend not to be drunk or over-excitable.
    I also like to read as fundraisers for children’s and women’s organisations.
    I think poetry slams are good for they make poetry popular with people who have been told poetry is posh. I think it can break down some barriers.
    But, poetry slams tend to scare of feminist poetry, especially when it confronts male privilege. Women’s poetry tend to be accepted when it is funny or not too confrontational.
    This is stupid, for the best poetry comes the heart. This includes anger, hurt, confusion and other feelings that hard to make neat. Poetry should be simple but layered to have a long life.
    Sorry to go on.
    Well done.

  9. Never mind I am an idiot I found the written poem you performed 😛 How beautiful! It flows perfectly and it’s heart-felt. I can’t imagine how great it sounded to hear you say it.

  10. Another woman saw me at the festival today and told me how much she like my performance!!! Go me!!!

    I totally agree with you about poetry slams, Rebecca. They do seem to be very populist. I’d never been to one before and had no idea what to expect. I don’t believe that Australia has had much of a history of poetry slams. This particular one was only in its second year. The only other poetry performance type stuff I had heard about was poetry in the pub. And that doesn’t sound like my cup of tea either.

    I really entered the slam as a kind of test run. I want to perform at the conference in September but have been scared that I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I would be too scared. I wasn’t scared of stuffing up in front of a misogynist, racist, homophobic crowd, because they do not matter to me at all. I don’t give a shit what they would think. But I do care about radical feminists. It would be so embarrassing to stuff up in front of the women I adore!!!

    Your poetry is awe-inspiring, Rebecca. You should have won every slam!!! I would love to see you perform.

    Thanks for the beautiful compliments Lara. I am hoping to get a copy of the video. I’m not sure how much it’ll cost though. If I am able to get a copy and if it isn’t too, too embarrassing I’ll upload it.

  11. Thanks for your kind remarks bout my poems.
    I think you do really well at a conference, it is harder performing in of women that you respect. I tend to forget that I know anything about them,and focus by isolating myself by “rehearsing” the poems.
    I have been known to get drunk when nervous, which is very amateur and disrespectful of the audience.

  12. Go Allecto! Go! Go! Go!

    I smile at the thought of you bringing your warmth to such an event. 🙂

    So hard to perform one’s own stuff. The poem you linked to is beautiful.

    I look forward to the updates!

  13. OK, missing out on things like your poetry reading makes me feel steamed about living pretty much as far away in the world from your country as I could possibly be! Of course, the Higher Good is that this means there are womens’ liberationists ALL ACROSS THE GLOBE, so I should stow my disappointment and smile about that.

  14. Thanks Pisaquari and Level Best.

    LB, I know. I hate being stuck down here in Australia when I here about conferences or festivals elsewhere. That is the one bad thing about the internet!!! All of my friends live on the other side of the planet.

  15. I wanna see allecto kick intellectual poet butt! 🙂

  16. Hm. Don’t know how likely that is. I haven’t heard back about the damned video. Oh well.

  17. Methinks you are wonderful and the Moon Goddess shines her cresent light upon you in thanks of your service to women.
    I met you at the poetry slam and finialy refound the little tag of paper with your blog address.here is my wesite as promised: http://au.geocities.com/naomi_downie/index.html
    although it is clunkly compared to your professional
    blog. it is filled with my goddess poetry and art.
    I have re-read The Storm poem you read at the slam,
    and loved it. the power of it was really activated that night with your strong voiced reading.
    I too was very disappointed when two tradtional male poets won, when there had been so many great women readers. they had both won last year as well which felt strange and unsettling. still the overall experience of meeting and sharing words was wonderful.
    I feel very inspired by your blog and want to devour it there is so much to read here and I look forward to explored it.
    I am very grateful for your passion for women and our sacred sister journey to finding our shared Godess connection. There is some lovely photos of you on the site http://www.jpa.ifp3.com daminan was taking photos of us all on the night

  18. Oh, Naomi, thank you so much for your beautiful, inspiring comments. It is so good to hear from you and reading your poetry on your website was just so good for my soul. Your writing is just amazing. Your artwork too. And as for the prettiness of the blog, websites are much harder to make than blogs, because blogs are already set up for you. But I quite like the look of your website anyways.

    I saw the photos on Damian’s site. There are nice ones of you too. 🙂

    I’m grateful for your passion and inspiring words too. The Earth Mother, the Moon Goddess are such important spiritual necessities for women. I love that your poetry is so in touch with women’s sacred, spiritual power.

  19. Just as a question, how many other women were performing in this competition? And how many men were there?

  20. Um, did you delete my comment because you didn’t want to admit that your sweeping, hyperbolic statements are a bit, well…silly?

    I’m genuinely curious as to what you think of Shakespeare and how he fits into your “men don’t know poetry” ideology.

    It’s not as if I was expressing a dissenting view which required your immediate censorship. I was just asking a question out of curiosity and interest.

  21. Lucy, I deleted your comment because I found it irrelevant to the post that I made. Shakespeare is both a racist and a misogynist, if you want my opinion on his work. I, myself, see no point in calling racist, misogynist work poetry.

    I generally delete random questions from women whom I don’t know. If your comment was a genuine one, and you really did want to know the answer then I apologise.

    If you are also asking whether there are any men whom I would call poets then my answer is yes. I love James Baldwin and Christos Tsiolkas. But aside from them, I haven’t found any other work by men which I would consider calling poetry.

  22. wondering if you are interested in creating a womens
    poet pose storytelling music plays whatever night in the mountains. Also I am creating a friend and I are creating a book of art and poetry you may be interested to being a part of…email me and lets talk about it. burn your flame for all to feel the heat of your soul, Naomi

  23. Allecto, nothing has changed. My partner & I went to the same event last year and the exact same sitch played out. We actually got to be judges but were outvoted by a bunch of men. The winner was a boring white male ‘phallosopher’. The woman who SHOULD have won (regardless of content – she actually understood the performance aspect of a slam) recited a poem about how to win a poetry slam – the last line was ‘Above all – be a man!’ It was great. Of course it made the male MC uncomfortable so he made narky jokes about it. We were really angry and we went up to the lady afterwards to tell her she should have won. The other bad thing is that these boring old bastards are representing us nationally. I’m sure that everyone thinks the mountains is a talentless cesspit of shite because of these wankers who don’t understand the point of a poetry slam.

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