-by J.C. Inman
It seems that the pervasive view on poetry is that it is a lonely pursuit, poets in darkened corners of rooms pontificating about the meaning of it all. In Canberra, with its thriving literary scene, this is hardly the case; there are a multitude of events in a which one can listen to, share (even compete) and interact with poetry and poets. When I first came to Canberra over a decade ago, I knew of only one group where I could share my poetry: The Closet Poets meeting in the conference rooms of the ACT Writers Centre, the group would discuss the works of a famous poet, before going around the table to share their own compositions. This group disbanded in 2005.
No longer having a home to share my poetry, I started attending Poetry At The Gods, an evening event held monthly at The Gods Cafe at ANU. Hosted by one of Canberra’s finest poets, the night aims at bringing to Canberra the crème de la crème of Australian poetry, such as Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Brook Emery, Judith Beveridge (this month is Les Murray) and the best of Canberra too, with Alan Gould, Kathy Kituai, and ‘once every 6 or 7 years’ the host himself, Geoff Page.
From not having an audience in 2005 and jumping to modern day, things are drastically different, I can count another six regular events held Northside where one can share their poetry.
The Watsonian Poets meet at Joeys Cafe in Watson. Chaired by Fiona McIlroy, it is an easy-going conversational group, where free verse poetry rubs shoulders with villanelles and bush poetry over wine and coffee.
The School of Music Poets (located within the ANU’s School of Music) focuses on the production of ekphrastic poetry inspired by sound. The group regularly collate the poems for publication, and hold events with guest speakers sharing their own musical poetry. The SOM Poets meetings are conducted by Helen Hall.
If performing your poetry is more your thing, Canberra again has you covered. In addition to the one-off events, there are two regular poetry slams and, although there is a lot of crossover between them, they remain very distinct.
The first is Canberra’s wildly popular Bad!Slam!No!Biscuit!, who’s core values centre around accessibility, equality and ridiculousness. This is high octane poetry, with loads of audience participation like a proper screening of Rocky Horror. Over the last 5 years, Bad!Slam! have continuously brought the wildest and the best of Australian and international slam poets to the stage. Every month there are first time participants in the slam. Bad Slam currently hold the universal record for the most first prizes given each night, (the feat is yet to be recognised by Guinness). The Bad!Slam! crew of Andrew, Joel, Amanda, Amelia and Bela roar into action on the 3rd Wednesday of each month at The Phoenix Bar, so you need to be over 18.
The second is Canberra Poetry Slam, of which I am host, alongside Varisht Gosain, know as both The Flying V and as the Loyal Minion. Held at the Front Cafe in Lyneham, the CPS is Canberra’s longest running poetry slam (founded in its previous incarnation as the Traverse Poetry Project by Julian Fleetwood). The Canberra Poetry Slam aims to nurture emerging poets and provide a great night of entertainment. It starts the night with an open mic for those who want to share poetry, without competition, before kicking off with the slam proper. With new and established slam poets every night, coupled with the confusing but enthusiastic antics of the hosts, The Flying V has it right when he says ” feel the love; embrace the chaos”.
The newest regular event is Word Co-op, held at the ANU Food Co-op and run by Andrew Galan. Andrew says, “Word Co-op is a bimonthly Saturday evening of words dedicated to showcasing poetry, providing a forum for extended performances, and combining multiple poetry aesthetics. Starting February 15, and happening every second month of the year, a mix-up of up to four Australian Capital Territory poets with inter-state and international poets will be providing you with their words. Word Co-op is an opportunity for diverse voices to take part in an event that they can define and enjoy; and an opportunity for audiences to experience a full spectrum of poetic forms”.