Setting Creative and Poetic Goals for June

It’s been just over two months since my last blog post, but I have been busy in that time, writing my own stuff as well as doing stuff for Melbourne Spoken Word, plus uni stuff, which all melds into one.
  • I completed the ‘Dirty Thirty Poetry Month’ challenge and one of the poems is going into an anthology of the daily picks from that month. I still need to go through those poems and look at which ones have a life beyond that challenge.
  • I released a new experimental spoken word EP, ‘The World Doesn’t Make Sense’ on BandCamp, as part of my final assignment for this semester’s studio class. It was definitely experimental and recorded within the course of a couple of days, but I got this epic 6 minute poem about wrestling Christopher Pyne out of it, which I wrote and drafted multiple times until I was happy with it. The recording process and the textual/aural effects underneath it are new to me and in some parts I think they really work. Let me know what you think.
  • I’ve done lots of MSW stuff; we launched the new website, a new CD, we toured Bill Moran, and ran a workshop with him, we bought new camera and audio gear to do more YouTube stuff and I’ve been writing and editing articles, commissioning recordings.
I’ve got one 2,000 word, literary/philosophical essay left, due on Friday, for this semester and then I’m on holidays for like 6 weeks or something which is sweet and as it gears up to my final projects next semester (and graduation, yay!) It’s an essay project on basically whatever I want and a creative project of 10,000 words or their equivalent in audio/visual work, and so part of my prep for that can happen over the holidays, including the reading, research and starting to try and articulate in poetic form, what I want to write about.
So it’s now June 1 and I’m ready to set writing goals. I’d encourage others to do the same. Post them in the comments and we can cheer each other on. I’m gonna break them up into writing goals, MSW goals and reading goals.
A focus for my writing and reading might be the intersection between literary or creative writing and sport, particularly football (the round ball) and also my love of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, as this might be the direction I’m leading into for my final creative project.
Writing/Performing Goals
  • Draft at least a poem a week. I’ve got a weekly poetry challenge where I set people prompts and I can use those if I’m stuck on ideas.
  • Memorise at least one new poem, probably from the above EP, either the 6 minute epic poem (could be hard!) or Knocking on your door, maybe even the Minister Poem.
  • Enter Slamalamadingdong. Only 8 spots in the slam, so might not get picked but I want to be there, sign up and if I get in, perform.
  • Enter the Sydney Road Writers Cup. I’ve already entered, now gotta compete.
  • Enter the Dan Poetry Comp this Saturday
Melbourne Spoken Word Goals
  • Record and publish at least two spoken word videos on the YouTube channel, probably the winner of the Dan comp this Saturday and the winner of Slamalamadingdong at the end of the month, plus our gigs at Conduit Arts and with Anthony O’Sullivan – which is more than two, but two would be good, probably more. It gives me a little leeway if something technical goes wrong as I get the hang of the new equipment.
  • Write at least two ‘Comment’ pieces for the website. Ideas including something on writing bios/creating an online presence for poets, and maybe a piece on setting goals, encouraging development of poets, their writing process etc. as an extension of my own process of setting goals.
  • Do one interview with a poet/person in the poetry scene. Not sure if it’ll be video/text/audio yet.
Reading/Listening Goals
Might read more, might write more than that, but that’s a good basis to get moving again. Hopefully pairing the writing goals with performance ones helps me to shape the pieces I write for those audiences, and memorising other poems helps if I choose to use those poems in the competitions.
The Melbourne Spoken Word goals helps anchor me to what I need to keep doing to nurture this beautiful scene of ours. We’ve also got two events on this month which will be awesome. Also a side goal is getting better at proofreading my own stuff. Noticed little typos and grammatical errors creeping into everything from status updates and tweets to poems and longer articles.

On salvaging my writing process

I literally blogged once here in 2014. It’s fair to say that over the last few years, personal blogging has become far less a part of my writing process. Perhaps part of it was when I moved away from full-time work into full-time study as an office job and regular blogging seemed to go hand in hand. There’s also been a shift in my writing process in the form of less long-form writing, much more poetry. I’ve basically stopped writing fictional prose all together, culminating in me ditching a novel project that was part of the second year of my Creative Writing degree. My main writing consists of poetry, primarily spoken word and for performance, as well non-fiction. Many of the storytelling elements I’ve honed through fictional prose though still remains in my current work, especially the flash fiction I used to write.

But it’s fair to say, and the reason I’m writing this post, that my writing process in general has considerably slowed and deteriorated. I’m not writing regularly which is frustrating, and even more so when I ‘need to write’ like when I need to write something for uni, or for an upcoming gig. I certainly still have time to write. I mean, sometimes things get busy or I get particularly good at procrastinating or fucking around and not doing much, but other times I am productive, just not in producing my own work.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes in my writing process is the creation of Melbourne Spoken Word. Aside from moving from work to study and taking on more activist and political work, MSW is a really fulfilling and great project that I’ve been working with for the past two years. Organising gigs, editing and running the website, plus a whole heap of other stuff takes time and mental energy that can often mean your own writing loses out. Sometimes it can feel like I am being productive in the areas of poetry and so it’s easier not to worry about my own writing, where as if I wasn’t doing any of that, and just busy with other stuff, then I would feel much more that I wasn’t working on writing. Because of MSW, I haven’t noticed my process deteriorating as much.

At the start of the year, Michelle Dabrowski, the creator and energy behind one of Melbourne’s best spoken word events, Slamalamadingdong announced a hiatus until June and part of that was a similar thing, running a slam ate into her ability to focus on her own writing. This is something I could definitely relate to whilst I’m not about to put MSW on hiatus. I’ve tried to slowly create ways of running an organisation meant to serve and nurture spoken word which includes not just supporting existing gigs and avenues for publication, but the actual writing of spoken word, helping to actually produce performance pieces.

In months past, we’ve run casual writing workshops at Under the Hammer. It’s just poets all together in a room, and we write based on prompts. We start with like 15 minutes of freewriting, just write flat chat, no stopping for 15 minutes straight without second guessing yourself, no deleting, no editing, and it kind of empties out your writing pores and from there, we work on each prompt for ten or fifteen minutes, writing poems, just experimenting and writing without as much pressure that this poem be a really great piece. Some pieces out of it you like and do something with, some pieces you file away and probably don’t look at again. But at the end of a couple of hours, you end up with a bunch of writing. We definitely want to do this again.

Blogging was a major part of my regular writing practice in the past and I think I need to return to it. It was the regular act of writing, and sometimes I included poetry in there, but as I began to pitch non-fiction articles to places like Overland that would’ve gone into the blog, it’s dried up. But writing about my process, mostly for myself, in a longer form than on Facebook or Twitter was useful and something I miss. Perhaps others would get something out of it too. I also used to post monthly goals that used to keep me on target, that maybe I should return to.

But the main thing is returning to a practice of regular writing, and writing a lot more without it’s end point or success in mind. I’m sure others poets do that. They don’t read everything they write on an open mic. Or just once or twice and it doesn’t come back. Keen to hear others and how their poetic process works. Do people do a lot of freewriting, workshops or journaling?

One thing that’s going to kick off this new process is ‘The Dirty Thirty Poetry Month,’ where the goal is write a poem a day for the month of April, with daily prompts to help write about things I usually wouldn’t and kickstart pieces. It’s run on Facebook as a group by Melbourne poet Abdul Hammoud and I plan to try and write something every day and might post some on this blog, or my own Facebook profile.

There are some parts of what I’ve learnt in doing MSW that can help with my own writing. Such as writing away from home, and working in cafes or at uni between classes. There’s nice writing spaces in the building I study in, big iMacs to work on if I want a break from the laptop. There’s less temptation to procrastinate or fuck around when away from home, with things like PlayStation at home. Except for Fridays, when I’m almost always at home and my partner also works from home so working in the study too can sometimes make me more productive, I just need to remember that writing something is one of those things as well as responding to emails, managing the website and social media etc. even if it is just freewriting or writing something for fun.

Once the challenge and freewriting sort themselves out, I might start the monthly goals again and see how blogging improves my process, plus a bunch of others things to focus me.

On the confidence and potential of crowd funding

Crowd funding. We’ve all kind of heard of it, heard of someone raising a whole bunch of cash to do some sort of creative thing or raise $70,000 to make a potato salad, but I guess I never thought I’d have the kind of project that would do it successfully. But I just did.

Pozible thank youOver the last two years or so, I’ve put a fair bit of energy into Melbourne Spoken Word, what started as a blog to list all of the amazing spoken word and poetry gig going on in Melbourne, and to talk a bit about the scene, has kind of exploded and gained more support than I could’ve imagined, to the point it’s now more of a mini arts organisation.

It’s mostly been run out of my own pocket and energy, with a few people helping write for the site and assist me with gigs, plus the Melbourne Poets Union and Book World have sponsored us a bit which is awesome. But it became a time when taking MSW to the next level required more cash and resources behind it than I could afford or could garner from a few sponsorship agreements. And applying for grants to be honest, is fucking terrifying, confusing and complicated, plus under Abbott is looking even harder, though something we want to try in the future.

The main thing was the current free WordPress template we were using didn’t really fit with who central we wanted Upcoming Events to be to the site and we wanted something a bit more dynamic and in your face. I found some quotes and asked around about costs, all of which were well into the four figures. I think someone mentioned crowd funding and I thought it was worth a shot, but probably seemed a little unlikely. It’s not like poets are known for being loaded and to be honest, I almost felt guilty for asking all of this from people, what amounted to $4,500 grand which I thought would be for the whole poetry community, but also felt like I was asking it for my own personal project.

The thing is though that in hindsight, the project, a new website for MSW was what is really needed and it’s a pretty solid project to ask donations for. It’s clear and tangible. Alongside the rewards people get from pledging, we’ll all get to see this amazing website soon and it’ll feel like we all contributed to make it happen, and that would be my advice if you wanted to launch a crowd funding project, it has to be for something tangible as well as something that will benefit the people you’re asking to cough up a fair bit more than change from their wallet in a bucket.

It’s incredible. Two people in particular pledged over $1,000 to the project. Many more donated $50 or $100 or more. Some gigs even passed around buckets to collect donations. Aside from the website we’re getting, it gives you incredible confidence in the project that is Melbourne Spoken Word that people were willing to support it in that way.

We were also lucky enough to surpass our original target, reaching $5,235 in the end, which meant we also bought a portable PA system to use in venues where we have to provide our own sound equipment. We also think we’ve probably earned enough to buy a recording interface (the thing that connects microphones and instruments into your laptop) which will help us launch our audio journal of spoken word in 2015.

Crowd funding is said to be past its peak, and my advice is you wouldn’t be wanting to ask money for just about anything, and certainly your ability to keep asking for money from subsequent campaigns would diminish unless your profile grew massively, and so you’d wanna be real sure that this is the project you want to ask people to pledge for.

But now that I’m done and dusted, unless your really wanna donate to MSW and keep it going you can email and we can arrange something, I thought I’d recommend a few projects worth donating to below.

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Right Now write about human rights, through essay, storytelling, poetry, they give a voice to human rights struggles. I was very lucky to work with them on the above anthology, I edited and commissioned all the poetry in it, judged the poetry section of their competition and worked on the poetry for the online magazine. They’re currently trying to raise enough funds for re-do their website and expand the online magazine.

Randall's Ride -cropped

My friend and fellow poet, Randall Stephens is riding across Australia on his bike, you know, like the ones with pedals not engines. He’s raising money from Haemophilia and doing poetry gigs on the way.

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Equal Love are the guys who run the rallies for same-sex marriage rights in Melbourne. They’ve been doing it for ten years and putting on and promoting the rallies unfortunately isn’t cheap, and if artists find it hard getting money out of the Abbott government, imagine how hard it is for LGBTI activist groups.

Poem: Lighthouse

A coast line of abandoned lighthouses,
the last extinguished darkens the most.
Those who come from across the seas still
search for boundless plains in the absent light.
Lighthouse keepers now man artillery,
the harsh coast without warning.

But the tide turns, inland to coast,
urging the boats safely to shore,
small crowds guide them by candlelight
lighthouses are occupied, keepers are usurped
a people’s lighthouse can always be relit

broken bodies is out now, online, at select bookstores or you can buy it off me in person. I will still continue to write about asylum seekers, because as the above shows, there is still so much to be done. I’ll be launching the chapbook on August 4, from 4pm at Under the Hammer Arts Hub, 158 Sydney Road with guests Santo Cazzati, Amanda Anastasi, John McKelvie and Les Thomas.

Also, I encourage you all to get out to the next refugee rally next Saturday, 1pm at the State Library.

New Chapbook coming soon

I’ve moved within a bunch of literary ‘scenes’ and my writing is fairly broad from novels and short fiction, to non-fiction, personal essay and cultural commentary to poetry and spoken word, although the later seems quite separate from the other forms of writing and the people that inhabit that world.

Anyway, I move within the ‘spoken word scene’ a lot, it’s a close knit community in Melbourne, almost their own world of publishing and norms. It’s very inclusive (which led me to start Melbourne Spoken Word). Anyway, my path toward ‘publication’ seems to be a bit different or more accepted within this scene. I sometimes submit to journals and magazines, but most of my poetry is consumed by me performing in live shows. I put out a spoken word album with Santo Cazzati last year and get up on a lot of open mics.

I’ve noticed that self-publishing is much more of a done thing within this world and poetry in general. Poetry publishers tend to be smaller, and most people end up just putting out their own collections and albums, and it’s less seen as a second class of publication. I also love the culture of poets releasing ‘chapbooks’ or zines with a small bunch of poems, to sell or hand out at gigs.

One day I’m going to release my own book or collection, with an album, but for now, I’m working on a small chapbook, made by myself, collating all of my poetry themed around refugees and asylum seekers.

A couple of years ago, I was burned by the self-publishing experience. I put together a collection of my early writings as an eBook and sold a total of 5 copies. There were a number of reasons for this, but one of them was mainly that it wasn’t the quality of writing to release out into the world, and I believe my reputation was damaged by that experience.

But this time, I believe my writing has improved, many of the pieces have been tested in the live performance environment and I’m receiving editorial assistance. One of the great things about the spoken word scene is the range of skill sets that we can share with each other and I think we’re quite capable of being self-sustaining, running things ourselves like we do. The other reason I believe it to be different, is as I said before, the different perception around self-publishing but the scene also makes self-publishing better in terms of distribution.

Some have been quite successful at getting collections into local bookstores, but most people sell their books and CDs at gigs in person. I like that there’s more of a connection between the writer and audience. You get their reactions to your work and there’s something less alienating and satisfying about someone buying something off you in person.

The chapbook will be out in a month or so. Not decided on whether I’ll have a ‘launch’ or not but I think there might be an accompanying visual art piece. I’m still decided on trying to get my other writing published the traditional way, but I believe this is the right decision for this area of my writing.

Brand Fixing

For World Refugee Day, I posted a few poems by myself and others on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtags #worldrefugeeday and #poetry but here’s a new one I just wrote…

In the battle of the brands
brand Labor
brand Liberal
compete for niche markets
sell their wares to a demographic
they claim they have to appease
but cultivated themselves

paid Murdoch and Fairfax
to invent new customer demands

they now expect a certain type of product
fit with the latest in racist features
anti-boat rhetoric comes standard
with bogus security extras
for threats that don’t exist

and they’ve fixed the market
agreed to both leave out costly features
such as health and education
to go for the cheap sell
price brand Green out of the market
force them to play dirty too

more than sawdust in the engine
or bolts not screwed on right
the product is tainted to begin with
selling the same rotting wares
the biggest con job you’ve ever seen

under the hood
people pay with their lives
so the brands can cut costs
and make it Canberra on top

but
brand Labor is doing it tough
brand Liberal have a reputation
the tried and trusted racist brand
Labor’s just a cheap rip off
who fired the advisor that said
perhaps human rights
would be a definitive selling point
a one of a kind feature
that brand Liberal couldn’t match

EWF and engaging with Creative Writing students

I’ve thought about writing this post for a bit, and decided against it until now because I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, but I have a criticism of the Emerging Writers’ Festival this year that I think is worth opening up a discussion about.

I love EWF and have been to it every year since I moved to Melbourne, and it was one of the first outlets for me to meet other writers in Melbourne (as well as the NaNoWriMo group) that really helped me push forward with my writing and make a bigger effort at being published. It’s a great festival that I’d recommend any writer, no matter what level, attends as it’s invaluable for meeting other writers, engaging in debates and discussion around writing in Melbourne and helps you work out how to do.

That said, I wasn’t able to go to much of it this year, for the first time. I bought a ticket to the whole weekend of the Writer’s Conference, the best part, but missed most of the Saturday afternoon because I had my own poetry event on that afternoon, that I’d been booked for before the EWF dates came out, which is definitely not my gripe here, but the past few weeks for me have been fairly busy and I had to miss the Sunday, and a bunch of other events.

I study Creative Writing at RMIT. I’m in second year and started it after becoming engaged with the writing community in Melbourne and really love the course, the chance to study writing full-time. My classmates are all emerging writers too, but we found this year that the Emerging Writers’ Festival, a festival aimed at us, was right in the middle of the end of semester, as assignments were piling up, and with the stress of all those coming down upon me, I had to make the difficult choice of missing the events I wanted to go to.

And I know, speaking to other classmates in my course that they weren’t going to anything this year because of this. Last year, I took programs to my year level to give to everyone to try and get them to come to the festival. I saw myself as an unofficial ambassador because I knew the festival would be perfect for all these writers I’d just met, many just from high school. As I remember last year, the timing was a little better, but I think many missed it for similar reasons.

I realise that EWF can’t cater to every demographic’s whim and schedule and inevitably people are going to have clashes and sometimes miss things, but I feel like Creative Writing students should be a major focus for EWF and getting them along to the festival. EWF offers something quite different to what you study in class; meeting other writers, engaging with publications that you can submit to etc. and would be a perfect thing for me, my classmates and other university students to throw ourselves into during semester break. Our teachers do give us practical knowledge, encourage us to submit etc. but I feel like it’s more effective when our peers and the people were submitting alongside and for are the ones encouraging us.

I know EWF invited many of our teachers to speak at the festival and that’s great, but I think it would be worth keeping in mind next year timing the festival so its accessible to students too, because I love the festival so much that not only do I want to be involved in it next year, but I want to be able to encourage my classmates to come along too.