Poetry Slam—Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival 2022

Bellingen Readers Writers Festival 2022

If I had known what a Poetry Slam was, I wouldn’t have performed.

One of my Bellingen friends suggested that I enter the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival Poetry Slam. The rules looked straightforward—three, three minute poems, no props, no music. I signed up without any hesitation or further thought. At the performance workshop a few weeks out from the event, the organiser, Jason, assured me that any poetry was welcome and it would be an informal event.

I focused my attention on the three poems—a haibun, a 9x9x9—both on death and an ode that included a funny poem about the development of an ovum. Every day I read them to the trees and to friends and got feedback from both. Every day edits were made. The afternoon before the event, a friend listened to my first poem, The Impermanence of Being Here. They made two comments that allowed a little draft of doubt in the back door. Maybe I should pull out. After all, there were poets on the waitlist who were dying to perform.

As I sat down, the words of John O’Donohue came to me: Open to the mystery of being here and enter into the quiet immensity of your own presence.  I settled into the sense of not being alone, of leaning into the very real connection to all of life, the trees, the sky, family, the ants, the birds, the trees, the waves—the knowing that life is precious and short.

I stood up to the microphone, my pounding heart almost bursting, yet my hands were not shaking. I took a moment and looked out to the uplifted faces of 200 people and took a breath. I smiled, made eye contact and began slowly and steadily with a heartfelt sense of respect for the shared storyline of this poem—death. My love for this piece of writing flowed through me and sang through the lines. The judges scored high.

The 19 other poets offered ballads, humorous ditties, loud activist rappy expressions of anger, non-rhyming stories, erotic metaphors. I wondered where mine belonged in this sea of the Poetry Slam.

During the break, I questioned—if I get to the second round do I go with my second serious poem about the death of a friend or do I move to my third poem which was an ode and a funny children’s ditty about the development of an ovum? I was tempted to go with the funny one to match the evening’s entertainment and have a better chance of a place to win. I noticed this and breathed out, rested into my chair, softened my body and closed my eyes…. awaken to the mystery, quiet presence. It was a relief to check in and know what was truly calling.

I was more relaxed in the next round. I felt my feet on the ground, looked out to the waiting faces and read my second death poem. Grateful, I stood back from the microphone. The audience were moved.

The energetic, articulate activist and the funny ditty man were the perfect choice for winning the prizes of the Poetry Slam.

I was deeply content, satisfied and happy. I had honed my poems, put myself out into the world with this often-taboo topic of death and I was performing again after nearly 20 years away from the stage and, most importantly, I had felt connected to life around me and spoken into the poem of my choice.

The following morning in bed, I googled Poetry Slam.

“Slam Poetry is performance-based art where the artist gives voice to the poem in a manner that brings words to life, with animated emotions, and equally emotional enunciation… Slam Poetry is thought of as a rebellious way of expressing opinions*

My kids sent me a link—https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ETPRsJ-exZw (This is actually a Beat Poem…but it captured the night) I laughed.

 

If I had known what a Poetry Slam was, I wouldn’t have signed up let alone read the two death poems. I was grateful for my naivety.

The following day I gave a talk on my Funeral book that I self published. It was interesting to watch the ease I have when it comes to sharing my celebrancy, death and dying work in contrast to the poetry sharing.

The Impermanence of Being Here

Here is a transcription and recording of the first poem, The Impermanence of Being Here.
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