Slam poetry delivers some ‘Real Talk’

ICYMI (in case you missed it) slam poetry is in and here to stay.

Put simply, slam poetry is a spoken word poetry competition.

  • Spoken word is a form of performance art. It is like listening to a hip hop song stripped of music.
  • The poet uses a range of vocal techniques and their body language to perform
  • Audiences are encouraged to click when a poet says something that resonates with them.

Bankstown Poetry Slam (BPS) started out as a small monthly community event, but rapidly grew to welcome over 200 attendees. The emerging poets of BPS have wowed local and broader Sydney audiences, including performances at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Sydney Writers Festival.

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Now they run a range of workshops and programs to build their community of writers. One of these programs is Real Talk, a five week workshop series in schools. Workshops incorporate spoken word exercises with different topics such as, gender, identity, racism and bullying. 2017 marks the second year this program has been facilitated.

On Friday 30th June, all of the participating schools came together in the Bryan Brown Theatre to battle it out. The energy in the room suggested it was anything but a battle. The wave of clicks carried validation and comradery up to the stage.

At the end of the first half key themes had already started to emerge. Mental health, social justice, family and equity are key concerns of young people today. The students effectively wove together the social, personal and political. This speaks to the calibre of youth-youth mentors available through BPS. I had to constantly remind myself that these were year 10 students on the stage.

Each poet was fantastic in their own right, but two standouts for me were from Chester Hill HS and Bankstown Girls HS.* From Chester Hill HS ‘Man on the Train’ shared the inappropriate conduct of a stranger towards the poet on public transport. It was uncomfortable to hear her experience, but to deliver her poem came from a place of strength.

One poet from Bankstown Girls had me moving forward in my seat with my chin cradled on my knuckles as she opened up about the loss of her father. It was so heavy it was beautiful.

Her mother was seated across the aisle from me, pride soaring through her tears. This is why we make art.

BPS show the extraordinary potential of youth-led projects. They strip us all back to the vulnerable humans we are and reconnect audiences through shared humanity and storytelling.

Below are some finger-clicking quotes from Real Talk participants:

  • ‘Instead of a weapon, I pulled out a pen.’ Holsworthy PS.
  • ‘He was pulling out his license, that’s not an act of defiance’ James Ruse Agricultural HS
  • ‘A square peg trying to fit into a round hole. She is smart, but she just googled how many calories are in the seal of an envelope.’ St Ives HS
  • ‘They told me to stay in my lane and never try to take a man’s place.’ Plumpton HS
    (To which Emcee and BPS co-founder Sara Mansour replied, ‘They told you to stay in your lane; you just created a new one.’)

* Names removed for privacy reasons.
Images courtesy of Bankstown Poetry Slam and BYDS. Photography by Chris Woe.

This article was first published by State of the Arts Media on July 21, 2017.

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