The sound and the flurry

Scotty Wings Photo William Beale
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Poets recite in a one-round slam to an amped-up crowd who stomp their feet and make dinosaur noises. Carmen May reports on Melbourne's changing live poetry scene.

By Carmen May

“It is utter chaos and all around, the poet’s dance and cry and even dance while crying on stage.”

Scotty Wings screams at the crowd to lift up their scorecards and unanimously everyone scores the poet on stage a full five out of five for his performance. Almost immediately, as if like a trained choir, the crowd then erupts into a chant to the tune of Jurassic Park’s theme song, “Holy f—ing s–t, f—ing dinosaurs, it’s a five!”

More recite their poetry in a one-round slam to an amped-up crowd who stomp their feet and make dinosaur noises when encouraged to by Scotty. If the poet goes over three minutes allocated the crowd erupts in a random song to essentially shut him or her up.

Given the crowds energy, it is no wonder that Jurrasic Park is the theme for Ruckus. The winners at the end of the poetry slam later receive dinosaur colouring books and plastic dinosaurs in different shapes and sizes.

Ruckus, a new breed of slam poetry meets theatre event, is a fast growing phenomenon in the Melbourne Spoken Word arts over the last few months.

Melbourne is seeing individuals such as Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa, who made an appearance on Australia’s Got Talent, or Omar Musa who was on ABC’s Q&A and also Scotty Wings. This shows that poets are starting to create opportunities for themselves and Melbourne is starting to see some bright developments for its arts scene.

Scotty who is the director of Ruckus in Brisbane and now Melbourne had previously been running poetry events in Queensland for more than 10 years. He knew that he needed to branch out and had previously been down in Melbourne for the past five years going back and forth.

In 2015, he made a decision to introduce Ruckus to Melbourne.

Scotty now says that people are starting to realise that Ruckus is the place to go to bridge the gap from spoken word to performance art and venture into unexplored territory.

“If you had asked me that a few months ago I would’ve said the opposite but now I can say that people are starting to jump on board.”

Before Ruckus, he had ran a slam called Jam Jar Poetry Slam held at the Jam Jar café located in West End Queensland on Sunday afternoons. He gave it up due to exhaustion. His partner at the time and a few other people then decided to start a slam a year later, which was when Ruckus was born.

“It is only a matter of time before Melbourne will be seeing people branch out and try different things.”

Among the many people who would like to see a change in the Melbourne poetry scene is Rikki Livermore, a hip-hop dancer, and choreographer who also is a spoken word theatre artist and who recently moved down to Melbourne from the UK. Rikki, who came from a small town in the South East of Essex called Leon Sea, has been running ‘Forget What You Heard About Spoken Word’ for three years. He runs the well-known organisation with his business partner Matt Cummings.

Rikki mentions that the Melbourne spoken word scene here reminds him of the London art scene, of about 10 years ago. It also reminds him of an earlier version of where London is at right now.

“Melbourne has seen only two poetry scenes. They are either the very friendly open sharing spaces or at the other end of the spectrum, you have one main poetry slam event,” he says.

He recognises this is why people like Scotty Wings are trying to push the gap in the art form and bring something new to Melbourne.

Rikki says the use of music with poetry in big in the UK. The choreographer believes that as spoken word poetry moves into theater, it is going to continue to develop into something bigger. He sees that more spoken word artist’ are moving away from monologues and into theatre plus also creating shows with poetic elements and music.

“Melbourne is a growing and budding arts scene, which is how it should be.”

He says Melbourne scene could needs to be more critical. Melbournians can be too nice at times, which can limit the art. He says that he does not need people to be really nice about his work and he does not want people to constantly tell him that his work is good.

“Melbourne has room to develop and grow. Critical and constructive feedback helps, which is slowly creeping in. I attended Scott’s gig the other night and he gave out a task to two audience members to give constructive and critical feedback to some of the pieces.”

Ben Solah. Photo William Beale
Ben Solah. Photo William Beale

Benjamin Solah, the director of Melbourne’s Melbourne Spoken Word believes that there is an underground seeding popularity of spoken word that has not yet been realized, spoken word, a vehicle for social change in life.

He says it speaks out about a lot of issues but he would very much like to see it develop more. Spoken word, to Solah, is an art form that is accessible and relatable to a lot of ordinary people, smashing the preconception of what poetry is.

“If it was used more in schools and widely seen on TV then it would become more popular. It expresses a lot of situations and basically life in a different way than regular speech.”