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Caravan Slam: Live poetry rocks my world


Anything preceded by the word ‘live’ usually gets my attention. I’m talking music, comedy, inspirational people, even TV. While seeing a favourite artist in the flesh can certainly mean the fulfilment of a lifelong dream, I’m more attracted to the spontaneity of it all, and often find the actual skill level of the artist quite irrelevant. For example, the echoey, not-quite-right tunes of lone buskers in Sydney’s Central Station tunnel are sometimes mesmerising, and I’m sure you would agree.  Yet, have you ever purchased one of the CDs that sits hopefully inside the empty guitar case in front of that lone busker? Exactly. So, I kind of like poetry, in a way that if I stumbled upon a poem printed somewhere I’d probably read it. However, when I heard about the upcoming Caravan Slam live poetry event, I didn’t care who was performing, I was there.

The first thing you would notice if you too became immediately overwhelmed by excitement at the prospect of live poetry and Googled ‘Caravan Slam’ is that nothing really comes up. Their last blog post was in 2011 and Google remembers a few reviews from an event that year. But you know what artists can be like when it comes to boring admin-y things. Despite what Google thinks, the group is going strong, they meet around once a month and the event I attended this week was a celebration of Carnaval Slam’s 3rd birthday.

This particular event was in St Peters, a suburb in Sydney’s inner west, so a friend and I negotiated our way across a few suburbs to a little doorway near St Peters train station that opened into a warehouse space decorated like a psychedelic trance rave circa 2000. I’m talking giant Buddha statue, a painted tree from which hung birdcage ornaments and miscellaneous lightshades, all brightened up with a generous amount of fluro. The atmosphere was, however, about as far away from a dance party as you could imagine. Lights were dimmed, candles adorned surfaces, couches were dotted around the floor facing toward a slightly raised stage, and a rug was laid out to seat remaining guests. Sitting up front was a musician strumming away on the guitar, playing chilled, haunting melodies. Another, in a white suit, sat on the semi stage next to him staring straight down at the floor, accompanying the guitarist with beautiful vocals. Sprawled out on the couches were various creative looking people staring off into space, appreciating the moment. The mood was about as ‘poetry’ as you could possibly get.

We didn’t get the memo about it being BYO (‘Bring Your Own’), but the others had come prepared, with longnecks and cask wine being the beverages of choice. The entry fee is only $5, so the added bonus of BYO drinks means you could conceivably spend $15- $20 and still get drunk. A makeshift bar eventually opened up in the corner of the room and we walked over to check out the options. ‘Well, there are no glasses for the wine, and the cider’s warm… do you want a beer for $4?’ were the bartender’s words. Beer was perfect.

The music stopped, and the man in the white suit stood up and thanked everybody for coming. In the next few seconds he suddenly and surprisingly transformed himself from an introspective floor gazing musician, into an out there, quick-witted comedy MC. Before long everyone was in stitches.

The idea of a poetry ‘slam’ is that you are supposed to freestyle a piece on the spot, then get judged accordingly. Think Eminem’s triumphant moment in 8 Mile. Realistically, that’s bordering on impossible for most people, so reading out something prepared was the order of the evening. Only one girl completely freestyled, the last poet of the evening, and I have to say it was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen, and certainly something that has to be seen live.

Judges were chosen from the audience and informed that their marks were completely arbitrary. Instead, their sole purpose was to give a witty response to the piece. One judge was replaced half way though for not being witty enough. The others migrated slowly towards the bar and as more beer was consumed, the justifications for points given and deducted became increasingly wacky. At one point it seemed judges were deducting marks primarily because the poets weren’t referencing death, lazers or dinosaurs. This, in turn, prompted one poet to title her piece about dating ‘death, lazers and dinosaurs’, much to the crowds amusement.

The performers themselves were a total mixed bag, from the clean cut, ‘could have written this poem in English class’ to the total eccentric. There was a ‘first timer’ guy who got up in shorts and a t-shirt to read a beautiful and sentimental poem about lost love. Then there was a phenomenal 3-minute auditory journey of imagery and vocabulary that transfixed the audience. In the stunned silence that followed, the MC busted out with ‘I think that was a haiku, did anyone count the syllables?’ More laughter. Later in the evening a scary looking guy with long hair and a leather jacket took to the microphone. His poem was about 80% swearing but magically put together in a cheeky way that actually told a quite hilarious tale. The MC even chimed in himself with a poem about his girlfriend getting plastic surgery while she sat across from him on a rug, giggling and swigging away on a plastic tumbler of cask wine. Arty stuff.

As an added quirk to the evening, as if I needed any more convincing about how cool live events are, we took a break to light sparklers en mass as a sort of ‘happy birthday Caravan Slam’ moment. I’m pretty sure you don’t get all that when you read a book of poetry, no matter how good the book is. In conclusion, creative, interesting, cheap, funny and a damn fine way to spend a Thursday evening.

Find out about Caravan Slam’s upcoming events here:





Image. Photo by Caravan Slam.

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