Australian Poetry Slam Victorian State Final

I ended up at the Victorian State Final of the Australian Poetry Slam because of a text.

a text inviting me to meet Freya, the later winner of the victorian state final of the australian poetry slam

As it happens, the pumpkin pie was less than delicious.

True to her reputation, Freya was a poet champion. She treated us to her original poems, one about a wolf, and one about a spoon. She and I even had a slam off, in which I recited Invictus as well as my own Love Poem #2. She won convincingly. It was a promising start.

Freya was fresh from winning the Frankston heat of the Australian Poetry Slam. What this meant is she had travelled to Frankston and out-performed a bunch of wannabe poets, earning herself – as she excitedly told us – a spot at the Victorian State Final. While I’d only recently met Freya, there was something in the combination of spontaneity, slam poetry, and her personal magnetism that made being her groupie an irresistible proposition. Last night, 23 November, along I went.

I’ve written the odd poem but I have little experience of hearing spoken poetry. I’m growing to dig it. It adds a performance dynamic to poetry that imbues already great poems with the energy and intensity of their author and performer. Listening to poets read poetry in the same way one would listen to musicians play music deepens the experience of the poetry and makes it a social and enriching past-time, just like poetry reading should be.

The State of the Final

Twelve poets performed at the Victorian State Final. It was an incredibly talented and diverse mix of performers, reciting a diverse range of poems. The first poet, a sixteen-year-old student who ended up taking second place, performed a quasi-rap on frustrations with the political establishment. The rap had lots of cool rhymes and a stream-of-consciousness vibe that I dug. As we were instructed to (it’s sort of the thing with slam poetry), I clicked appreciatively. I got sucked in by this first one – as a former politically disenfranchised teenager and poet, I felt he spoke right to me.

Then what a variety of poems we enjoyed: bush ballads about billy carts, chilling refrains on persecuted partners (“she’s too tired to be angry | but I’ve got the mongrel in me”), body percussion, droll feminist spoken word, and some very intense metaphors.

Freya spoke fifth and had the audience in the palm of her hand from the beginning. She recited her potato poem, which is about a personified potato that is unhappy with a premonition of its own demise. As with her other poems, this one is generously studded with wordplay, irony, and an offbeat humour to rival Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. The audience clicked and “mmm”ed appreciatively.

By a stroke of luck, the MC, Simon Taylor, had earlier explained to the audience how the clicking business worked. By way of illustration he asked people to click and “mmm” when he said the word “tomato”. On cue, they did so. Serendipitously, “tomato” featured in Freya’s poem. The response was Pavlovian. As soon as she word passed her lips, the audience twitched in an ecstasy of clicking. It was quite something to enjoy.

a picture of a capsicum, unappreciated at the australian poetry slam victorian state final

The capsicum: unappreciated by today’s poetic elite.

Once the poets were finished, the burgeoning audience got to enjoy some vocal performances, free potato chips, and a spot of stand up. None of this I had been expecting when I went to a poetry slam final, but I’ve come to realise that at a poetry slam final you should expect what you might not otherwise expect (of course, you shouldn’t “expect the unexpected” because that is a paradox and an absurdity that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny). Then the winners were announced.

The moral of the story is that Freya won. She gets a sweet wad of cashola, gets flown to Sydney to compete in the national finals, and gets the moral satisfaction of having it officially confirmed that poems about personable potatoes will always beat verse about victims of violence. Unfortunately, however, she is a few steps away from being financially independent – but that’s Capitalism for you.

This post could have been a broadly comprehensible post about the Slam final in general, or a niche post just about Freya’s role in it. Instead, it tried to be both and thus may be too niche to be broadly popular and too broad to be popular with the niche. But if the victory of the potato poem has taught us anything, it’s that, at least sometimes, the wacky win.

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