Poetry is making a resurgence.
It has shaken off its olde-fashioned taint and flung itself into the future|present. Unexpectedly, hungrily, over the past half a dozen years, Brisbane has developed a thriving scene. As is the way in our deceptively lively river city, it happened under the radar. A few small collectives, several monthly events, weekly gatherings, a festival, online portals, guest appearances at gigs where poets would never have dared to show their faces before. A very popular sell-out event featuring yarns and longer length prose. All sorts of storytelling, and ostensible oversharing. Everywhere you look, a very personal kind of art is happening. It’s intriguing, and kinda… well, sweet.
Ruckus Slam is one of the liveliest poetry slams around. They celebrated their third birthday on Wednesday the 23rd of November, and a mighty ruckus it was. It’s always a nice feeling to arrive into a foyer buzzing with beautiful young things and madly costumed creatives. If the new-comer needs any more encouragement, an impromptu ‘soap box’ welcome by Scott Wings set the tone of the night (he was standing on a bucket). By introducing strangers to each other and marvelling at their new fiery energies, he made sure we knew that we would all be firm friends by the end of the show. And then it’s on.
This is the last of the year, so it follows a slightly different format. A few names were pulled from a hat, but most of the performers were the ‘winners’ at previous events. A two act show, broken up by a delicious blues dance lesson with Kristian Santic. 12 poems, all less than two minutes, with banter, heckling, cheers, and some kind of arbitrary scoring system using cards with puns about Jurassic Park. A special guest appearance by no other than Steven Oliver wooed the crowd and injected some searing blackness into the night.
Impro comedy collective Big Fork Theatre top-and-tailed the night, and they were amazing. They specialise in fully-improvised live comedy instigated from a single word at the start of the set. Brilliant stuff. Funny, witty, stoopid… all the good stuff. They fit right in. I am a sucker for a good collab and will be following up their gigs. Stay tuned to see some poetry | comedy partnerships in the future, because I was not the only one in the crowd quickly in lust with this new art form.
Ruckus have a few techniques for keeping the night moving along – if anyone waxes too lyrical, then cries of ‘Poetry Slam’ demand the speaker gets back on track. The odd forgotten lyric or unseemly pause, and you get a supportive round of ‘You got this’. A perfect score for your poem and the entire crowd rises to its feet to sing in unison, a ditty about dinosaurs being the tune for this event. Ruckus encourage heckling, but if you don’t know what to say, then say something nice. ‘Looking good up there brah!’ ‘Your hair is reeeaaal nice.’ ‘You done f*@#ing great!’ Supportive heckling! This should be a thing everywhere.
The cheerful joshing and the endless witty banter between poems is the perfect salve. Not every poem is deep and meaningful, but most are, and a night without comedic reprieve would be a hard lump to swallow. It doesn’t demean or diminish the poetry either. People share raw, brutal home truths, spilling about domestic violence, political apathy, broken homes, abandoned dreams… The frivolity acknowledges the courage, but gives us those moments to gather our equilibrium.
I’ve been reflecting lately on the relationship between the personal and the universal in art; how it sings to you inside because you resonate with the stories. But we don’t necessarily relate personally to these stories. Nor are these experiences universal. Sure, I’ve broken up with a person, seen some bad things, been overwhelmed by the world. But these are not my stories, I am not these people. When I look at the hundred and fifty rapt faces in the audiences, I can see they are following along with every word, on the edge of their chairs. What is it about yarning and poetry that attracts modern audiences? I think it is the unrehearsed truth, the lack of guile. These are my words; this was my vision; do you see, for a minute, what I see? Live poetry is a deeply intimate experience, even when juxtaposed with charming witticisms.
What’s really nice, and cannot be overstated, is the community feel of the event. The wyas in which they get you talking ot your neighbour. New poets encouraged to shine. Old ones adored for their ongoing love and talent. It’s a community, and it can be yours from the very first moment you walk in the door. What other arts space in this city rushes to give you a big fuzzy hug the second you arrive, whether you know them or not? There are no cliques at this party.
After 10 or 12 high quality poems, the details start to blur in your mind. An ode to a friend remembered, a threat, a hundred broken hearts… Glimpses remain.
But live poetry, unlike written, is a beast that feeds on the energy of the crowd. It is all about the moment, and the energy of the present. The upturned faces, the heart-baring bravery, the sub tones of new lovers and friendships, of feet stomped, voices raised and wine quaffed. Live poetry is a strange and startling creature, and Ruckus do a great job of letting it out of the cage.
Congratulations to the cast and crew of Ruckus at their 3rd birthday
Ruckus Team: Meg Bartholomew, Angela Peita, martin Ingle, Scott Wings
Poets: Ang, Patrick, Jenny, Stu, Nicki, Joel, Joe, Andrew, Ellery, Rachel, Charlie, Kirstin, Jeff, Timothy, Claire
Featured Guests: Steven Oliver, Kristian Santic, Big Fork Theatre
Image by Gawky Media