Her first taste of slam poetry at a Sydney bar has The Newsroom’s Nicole Iliagoueva thirsty for more.
Hurriedly shuffling from Sydenham station, I thank my rainbow umbrella for sheltering my straightened hair from the torrential rain, so that I don’t end up looking like Cousin It.
Naturally, when I arrive at Django Bar, I take the wrong flight of stairs and end up in what seems like a Broadway rehearsal for Cabaret. Despite wanting to stay among the hype of watching performers practice for their upcoming show, I slowly back out and walk through the audience door.
I enter the low-lit retro joint, noticing that the deep burgundy walls are hidden by 1950s playful posters and, sliding my black gloves off, confidently stride towards the bar.
Skimming through the drinks menu, I ask a friendly bartender for some suggestions and she asks if I want to drink or get drunk. I thank her and walk away with my Long Island Iced Tea (you can guess my answer) to the red couch at the back, where my fellow slam poetry companion awaits.
Basking in the warmth of the intimate lounge, I eagerly wait to see the show unravel in front of my eyes for the first time. Having watched slam performances online, I imagine that this would be a slightly different experience. The host of the Caravan Slam event, Lou Steer, describes slam poetry to me as “walking on a tight rope on an abyss without a safety net”. This leaves me feeling even more confused.
Soon enough, the same woman bounces onto stage, her personality glowing as bright as her orange hair. She is witty yet self-deprecating. Lou tells us a bit about herself and then selects four random people from the audience to rate the upcoming three-minute performances out of ten. And when I say performances I mean exactly that. Coming to this event makes me realise how theatrical slam poetry really is. The poets come to life on stage, whether it’s communicating with hand gestures or shaking with anger, frustration, grief or nervousness. It’s the thing that really distinguishes traditional poetry from the slam variety.
One’s tone and style is important in capturing the essence of the piece, of which there is much diversity. Some rhyme, others rap, some simply speak, and one even scream-cries his words so loudly that you can almost feel his physical pain piercing through the room.
During each performance, if people are finding a particular line impressive or relatable, the rule is to click, as clapping is too distracting to the performer. But whether the piece resonates with the audience or not, they always break into applause at the end. If not because they like it, then out of respect for the poet. I admire people who turn their pain into something productive and positive. These poets gather the courage to speak of their broken heart, family struggles, immigrant hardships, mental health, love, loss and lessons learned. It is said that what’s bad for your heart is good for your art.
I can only imagine how cathartic it must feel for the poets. Although nerve-wracking, putting yourself into new situations like this are a true testing of your capabilities. In fact, immediately after the performances my friend and I pinky promise each other that we too will give it a go next time Django Bar host their Caravan Slam event, which is held the first Thursday of every month.
The scores are tallied, the winner announced and the nights antics are almost over. I no longer feel like I am sitting in a room full of strangers. It’s as if experiencing such truth together makes us closer than we actually are, like the result of a drunk conversation. As Allen Ginsberg said, “Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private.”
It is still raining when we leave the venue. But now it hardly bothers me, my head buzzing with ideas (and possibly the after effects of a few Long Island Ice Teas), consumed with this feeling that my heart is expanding in size, like when you’re listening to soul music. And this feeling, which can be unearthed through short-lived experiences, like a night of slam poetry, is something I want to carry with me throughout life, or at least onto the stage when I deliver on my pinky promise. The next Caravan Slam event at Django Bar is on Friday, September 1 at 7pm. Bookings are recommended. – Nicole Iliagoueva