November 28, 2017

Interview: Trans Tasman Poetry Slam Poets

Artists in Focus

Trans Tasman Poetry Slam Poets

Originating in Chicago in 1986, slam poetry has since evolved from the underground jazz club scene to an internationally recognised art form.

This December two high school poetry slam championship squads from different sides of the Tasman Sea are meeting for a poetic battle like no other. Melbourne’s John Monash Science School, champions of the Victorian OutLoud Poetry Slam Finals, and Auckland’s Dilworth School, winners of Word the Front line, will go head-to-head in the southern hemisphere’s only international youth poetry slam competition, the Trans-Tasman Youth Poetry Slam.

Two young poets, Cas Lee (Melbourne) and Jayden Osbourne (Auckland), share how they first became interested in slam poetry and what they are excited about for the upcoming international competition.


How did you first become interested in slam poetry?

‘I have to owe this one to a very close friend of mine who showed me ‘Repetition’ by Phil Kaye back in grade 8. I’ve been in love ever since.’

‘It first started with the type of music I listened to. My best friend Phillip showed me a song by Kendrick Lamar in year 10. I was about 14 or 15 and ever since I’ve listened to that song I’ve been interested in rapping, rhyming and words that then led me to writing my own stuff. In year 10 spoken word wasn’t a big thing in our school but the following year we tried to make it more official. This year we definitely cemented our presence as a group.’

What is your poetry about?

‘Most of my personal poetry revolves around emotive storytelling; showcasing moments either in my life or someone else’s where people can relate or learn. Group poems take on a slightly different nuance where, since it’s a collaborative effort, the topic tends to centre around social issues such as the big ‘-ism’s (racism, sexism, e.t.c), the big ‘-phobia’s (homophobia, islamophobia) and even education.’

‘It always depends on how I’m feeling at the time. If I’m happy and feel like writing, I’d write about something I enjoy and vice versa. Also it depends on my mood. Feel and mood are different to me. Sometimes I’m in the mood to write a full 3 minute poem in under an hour. And some times I can think on a topic for days, even weeks. So I tend not to force my poetry out, but let it happen naturally. So I guess my poems are about whatever I am feeling. And the way it is written is dependent on my mood.’

Video – Grand Slam Winners, Word the Front Line, Dilworth School, 2017. Video courtesy of South Auckland Poets Collective.

How is slam poetry different from other poetry? Why do you like it so much?

‘Slam poetry is just such a versatile medium of storytelling to me. People are constantly doing things with it, whether its adding rhymes (or taking it away), adding rhythm, adding a musical aspect to it (Andrea Gibson’s ‘Maybe I Need You’ is a beautiful example of this), it constantly evolves. But the core of it never changes; to understand what it is to be human. If you’ve ever been to a genuine slam poem competition, you’ll know what I mean when I say that you connect with everyone in the room even though they might be complete strangers.’

‘Besides the word SLAM being pit in front of it, I don’t see much difference. I believe Slam Poetry is more intense, but I just love it. And the mood and community it creates.’

What’s you favourite thing about performing slam poetry?

‘Hearing the clicks. Getting off stage and having someone come up to you and say, “I really felt that”. Feeling that nervous jittery thing in my fingertips disappear when the poem starts.’

‘I just love performing really. I love writing something I care about. Something I put all my time and an effort into, and watching everyone listen to me. Its like entering a third person mode, its just really cool and gives me an adrenaline rush.’

What has been the best poetry event you have performed at? And why was it your favourite?

‘It has to be the Outloud Spoken Word competition. Ignoring the slight bias that we won that competition, it was also just a great collection of people to perform to and with.’

‘Word the Front Line. We were one of 44 schools who entered the National Secondary School Poetry Competition, Word the Front Line. We won the competition. But my favourite poetry event I performed at, suprisingly wasn’t at the finals, it was at the semi finals. Our team, Dilworth, performed our group piece for the first time ever and it was so cool seeing our first 10 from a judge, and getting a standing ovation. So personally for me, it was at the semi finals, of Word the Front Line.’

What are you looking forward to for the AUS/NZ poetry slam competition?

‘I am mostly looking forward to having some of that healthy competitive spirit with the people from New Zealand. I’m genuinely looking forward to meeting them and listening to what they have written, it would be exciting to hear what they’ve come up with. I’m ready to be wow-ed.’

‘Firstly, to beat the Australian team! But more importantly just to travel more, meet new cool people, and to perform our pieces to a wider audience.’

Video – Winners Of Australian Poetry’s OutLoud 2016 Slam: The John Monash Science School.Students: Victoria Benson-Heap, Cas Lee, Kai Palihawadana and Vincent Sok Lim. Video courtesy of Emilie Zoey Baker.

The Trans Tasman Youth Poetry Slam is taking place on Saturday 2 December, from 2pm – 4pm, at the FCAC Performance Space.

1 – Dilworth school performing. Image courtesy of Dilworth school.
2 – John Monash Science School performing at Melbourne Writers Festival. Image courtesy Cas Lee.
3 – Dilworth school after winning Word the Front Line. Image courtesy of Dilworth School.
4 – John Monash Science School after winning the Outloud Spoken Word competition. Image courtesy Cas Lee.