The recent Australian Poetry Slam has me dipping into the vault again. This time it's not a video poem but a live performance. 'Stars' was recorded on stage at the Sydney Opera House in the APS National Final, 2018.




Reflecting on my own time in the APS scene, I'm proud of the performances and the poems, but also wondering what was it that drove me to compete in slams. I was first introduced to them in Adelaide 2016 when I was asked to be a 'sacrificial' poet at the SA State Slam Final. I loved  being the 'warm-up' poet but it was safe. It took me a couple more years to find the courage (was it courage?) to perform as a competitor. Ironically, I was working on a novel at the time and was writing in residence at Writers SA where I saw the poster advertising the national poetry slam every. single. day. Was it desire to win that made me compete, or something else?
It was 2016. I was 48 years old and peri-menopausal. It might seem strange to say that at 48 I was only just finding my voice; but that's how it felt. I think there is an alchemy that occurs in the body and mind in the years leading up to and during menopause. However, in our youth obsessed culture, it's the negative effects of aging & menopause that are emphasised; so much so that older women can feel, at best, devalued & invisible and, at worst, whinging hypochondriacs. Pre-40 me found the idea of women being invisible incomprehensible. To my shame, I remember thinking: what the fuck are these women complaining about, what do they mean ... invisible? I'm starting to get it. But it's a bullshit story. And I'm working hard to let go of these bullshit stories. (More on this to come in future posts, I'm sure ...)

So perhaps there were a number of competing reasons that I stepped up to the microphone and performed in a poetry slam. A desire to write something short (writing the novel was a torture and it's still unfinished), a desire to be seen (fuck invisibility), and a desire to be heard, which became stronger than self doubt or fear. The more I performed, the more confident I became. It's no coincidence that my first collection of poetry & prose is titled SIARAD, a Welsh word that means to speak. Sure, it would've been nice to win the APS but it's a long shot, and I can see now that there were deeper (semi-conscious) desires driving me.
The surface story in 'Stars' is about a guy with penile cancer (true story). But the subtext is all about friendship, facing our fears and the deep love that exists in the darkest moments. I'm also a strong believer in using humour as a way of transforming difficult or heavy subject - for myself and for the audience (or reader). 'Stars' is a blend of fact, fiction & fantasy.


At the time of writing 2 hours parking at the Royal Adelaide Hospital cost 7 bucks. Now, 2-3 hours parking will set you back 19 bucks.


2018: 'Stars' Performance - runner-up in the SA State Poetry Slam final. I performed it again in the APS national final, making it through to the Top 5 final round of poets (NB The rules are different now - you have to perform a new poem at each stage of competition)
2019: 'Stars' performance won the Goolwa Poetry Cup
2020: Published in SIARAD, poetry & prose

STARS, the poem (full text)

You didn't laugh when you told me you had penile cancer.
I did. I'm not proud. I think it was shock.
I remember the time we pissed ourselves over world like
important and impotent,
eunuch and unique.
I remember a woman laughing in a dream, she said
There's just on thing you need to know about love
But the damn dream switched before she could tell.
A dream like that is like a joke without a punchline.
Your cancer is like a joke without a punchline.
Now, I don't know much about love but I do know
two hours parking at the new Adelaide hospital
will cost you seven bucks and that
some specialists are weird, man, and have no tact.
I wish your tumour was a rare mushroom blooming
in a galaxy far far away.
I want to burrow into it and blast it with jokes
because we know laughter is the best medicine.
But - we also know my jokes.
So - let's put Catherine Tate in the Opera House instead
and night after sold-out night I will push her into your penis
so your tumour dissolves into laughter and applause
and that aura of shame you wear like a hoodie will melt away
like Arctic ice.

I don't know if that's possible.
I don't know many dead people.
I don't know if a man is still a man when he doesn't have
a penis, and we don't talk of such things.
We are listening instead to that antiseptic urologist
who seems to be saying
Come back next Thursday, mate, and I'll cut off your dick.
I rub your back when you're sick in the car park
and that's when you tell me as a kid you slept outside
to feel stars inside you like friends.
And when dawn broke and those stars disappeared, you wept
because you thought you'd never see them again.

We are gliding the spiral of our Milky Way galaxy.
You're alive, and deeper than the darkness 
descending. And I see now - this is it.
This is love.