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.

Poem: Taksim today

turkey1mainRevolution is so beautiful
in the present
vibrant colours of people rising
modern ordinary people alive
without fear, new courage
taking the chance,
the overstepped mark
and running

so real
very possible
moving scenes
unlike
history books and distant stories
and the dulling grey of cynics
shaking their heads
saying we, naive and optimistic

they say each country is different,
and then it happens in another
and another
and another
each a different reason
it can only happen there

it spreads
flash points out of nowhere
you never see it coming,
say it’s possible not today, but one day
and that day is today, yesterday,
and for days,
Taksim becomes today’s Tahrir
Istanbul today’s Cairo
and right-now and tomorrow,
Turkey is today’s
impossible revolution

Taksim looks so different
from the way we saw it
with flares, flags and infinite numbers

When we were there, just tourists
we stood afar from police
weapons at their side
armoured vehicles behind them
and my Turkish friend, warning me
it’s so unlike Australia
so hard to even march
so impossible to speak

how unlike Taksim now

Revolution is a new place,
a new time,
shakes off its impossibility
a defiant, stubborn thing

Poem: The Call of the Racist

Performed on the open mic at House of Bricks spoken word night, last night

Photo by Michael Reynolds

Photo by Michael Reynolds

The racist,
a flourishing species
found around the world
densely populated
in most of Australia
habitats include
halls of parliament
offices of football clubs
a large colony in Cronulla
known by their intimidating battle cry:

but, but but, but
I’m not a racist but..
We’re all racist
No one is racist,
black people are racist too
I’m not a racist but it’s true

But but but
I’m not a racist but

I let black people in my football team
I got called an ape once too
I didn’t mean it
It was just a joke
Just a joke
Can’t you take a joke
But but but
No malice intended

I’m not a racist but but
They need to come here legally
It’s not my fault, there’s a little racist in everybody
I’m not a racist but but

The racist. Evades capture
Feigning jokes,
reacts badly
on public transport
The racist survives
by their litany of excuses
their intimidating call of but but
so no one will challenge it