By Marketing Coordinator Katie McAllister
Thursday – 5pm – 6pm, The Royal Exchange
I was pretty stoked to know that the first thing that I would be reviewing for NYWF would be a debate. Having come all the way from Perth I was looking for familiar faces, event styles, avocado brands and a way to orient myself when the sea was on the opposite side. I do a lot of debating back home and felt pretty comfortable this was an event whose form I knew.
Tahlia Chloe started the debate with an acknowledgement of country that drew attention to the fact that there were no Indigenous writers on the panel. It was a call to arms for artists to use their voices to amplify the voices of those not heard in Australian literature. Chairs aren’t scored in debates, but so far, Tahlia was winning. Also because from that point on, whenever she would read a panel members bio, she would go, “Oh, FUCK, really? That is amazing. YOU are amazing.”
Chris Tse opened the case for the Page team, recognising he was immediately disadvantaged as a NZ poet on Australian soil and as a page poet in a spoken word event. He told us that performance poetry can be smoke and mirrors, where the poet is celebrated for a performance, but not the substance of their poetry, if. They. Just. Speak. In. The. Slow. Breathy. Poets. Voice. They. Could. Read. Betty Crocker. Recipes. And. It. Would. Be. Sexy. He told us that a lot of poets are introverts and that the concept of standing in front of an audience is the most terrifying thing in the world to them, second only to the fact a new form of poetry could use cake mix and be great. At this point I was craving cupcakes and also confused – where was the structure of the speech? But good marks for manner, New Zealand accent always an advantage.
Eunice (“fuck, oh my GOD, you’ve spoken at the UN??”) Andrada took to the stage with the essence of sass, adjusting the microphone and nodding to Chris, “If you were a stage poet, you would know how to use the microphone.” After some cheering from the audience, she launched into rebuttal. Excellent, points for rebuttal early in speech. She said that poets weren’t courageous when they could hide behind a page and that poets needed courage. Boom. Mike drop. But not even, because she was a stage poet and knew how to use the microphone. Then we got a point about why Eunice performed Slam Poetry, “Growing up, there was no one speaking out who looked like me, so I didn’t think I could participate in poetry until I saw it performed.” She also told us that canonical poetry and the classics are boring, so we need to make poetry accessible and fun to people who find it boring. Because, the classics are boring. Drink every time Eunice says the classics are boring.
Then we were back to the page team and I’m was losing any hope in the structure of a debate. Alex McKeweon told us that you could really add to a poem by performing it, you could bring out different ideas and meanings the audience might not have found. But also, you totally shouldn’t, you egotistical stage poet, you. You should let the audience interpret for themselves what they think a peom is about, don’t force your interpretation on others with your slow. Pace. And. Cooking. Recipes.
Back to the stage team to bring us home, sans debate format. Admas Tewodros started by telling us that the stage is a powerful place because of its relatability. If we as audience members see people uncomfortable on stage, we can legitimise our own awkwardness and vulnerability. It is a space for poets to be courageous, to learn and to grow and to challenge themselves. We all thought Admas is on a role before she says, “I’m out of things to say. This is awkward.” Again, the spirit of NYWF moved within the audience and panellists and everyone said, “Read! Read a poem.” So Admas did, and it was glorious. Totally not allowed in debating, and glorious.
Final rebuttal time. Chris Tse told us that there were different ways to be courageous, that the classics aren’t boring (don’t drink) and ultimately, he wanted to make sure there was a written record of his Chinese/NZ voice in NZ literature. Which was quite powerful. And conveniently made an excellent length tweet.
Eunice stood up to finish the debate. She told us the #classicsareboring (drink) and that this is what makes poetry impenetrable and undeletable. Having given up on debate structure and trying to see who was winning which issue, I was confident that Eunice was going to bring home the gold on the issue of making poetry accessible to all readers, until she said, also in convenient tweet length, “But page poetry is a platform for someone. No platform for someone’s voice or truth should be undermined.”
So, with the last chance to officially make this a debate, by declaring a winner, Eunice had officially done away with the debate structure. In doing so, she had helped me do away with my expectations of this festival and anxieties about fitting in. Everything, every idea, every form or medium was welcome here. Page or Stage. Classics or no classics. What a mint first panel.