By Sebastian Gonzalez
Following the NYWF Program Launch at Cakewines last month, I was full of enthusiasm for a festival I wouldn’t be able to attend for at least another year – my thoughtful and well-meaning partner had arranged a surprise long-weekend away. But there was a consolation prize: ‘Please Laika Me’. A satellite event in Sydney organised in conjunction with Subbed In, it gave me an excuse to finally enter Haymarket Library. Satisfyingly creaky and musty, I sadly couldn’t remember the last time I’d been in a library.
On the first floor zines were spread across a table while the backroom hosted cash registers programmed for people to punch out receipt poems.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first, but having attended several writers’, readers’ and literary festivals over the last few years, I could definitely detect the absence of something. The vibe was casual and welcoming, fluid, loose, open. Eventually I figured out that the void was the absence of ego, and it was that welcoming vibe which by the end of the night would see me participating in my first open mic.
The evening began with an introduction and reading by Sara Mansour, co-founder of Bankstown Poetry Slam, who in addition to an excellent performance also introduced me to the concept of clicking, as opposed to clapping. It was a difficult habit to break, but I’m working on it.
We proceeded downstairs for a ‘Writing to Constraints’ workshop run by poets Holly Isemonger and Dave Drayton. After running us through a few methods for working with found text, including ‘erasure’ and the ‘Judith Wright Shuffle’, we were sent roaming through the stacks for the text we would work with. I came back with ‘The She-Wolf’ by Marcel Druon, which – judging by the ‘fuck yeah’ I got from Holly – was a good choice. We flicked through our books, chose phrases we liked and wrote them down, then rearranged them to construct our own pieces. Finally, Dave introduced us to an arcane method of literary alchemy, which involved running our pieces through a translator between multiple languages and eventually back into English. After a few passes of English > German > Spanish > English, I was unimpressed and threw Finnish and Indonesian into the mix, which produced interesting results.
After heading back upstairs for a reading by Melody Paloma of her ‘Judith Wright Poetry Prize’-winning ‘Hyper-reactive’, we headed back down for Workshop #2, ‘Let’s Get Loud’, by Subbed In’s Stacey Teague and Dan Hogan. This workshop, handily, was about the performance of a piece, and covered voice and etiquette, as well as the more prosaic mic handling guff. Stacey and Dan, seemingly old hands, instilled some confidence in those of us who were flirting with the idea of joining the open mic.
I now had a poem and the misplaced bravado that I could get up in front of a room of strangers to read it, so what else to do, eh?
Upstairs Rory Green made some closing remarks and then the floor, and mic, were open. First up was Jesse Anderson (I think), he had incandescent pink hair and read a brave piece on transitioning. Rory asked if anyone else wanted to read.
There was a deep silence.
Fuck it, I thought, and got up.
After forgetting to introduce myself, I read the three pieces that had come out of the earlier workshop, and it wasn’t terrible. I think there was applause, cheering even, but the roaring in my ears made it hard to tell. I sat down and with the crowd cheered on the other brave souls who followed, most also first timers.
The intimidatingly clever and hilarious New Zealand poet Hera Lindsay Bird closed the night, sending us home with a spring in our steps.
If the collegiality, encouragement and openness of ‘Please Laika Me’ was any indication of the spirit of the festival, I now get what they were talking about at the launch.
I get why people were gushing.
And I will see you next year.
Image credits: Oliver Minnett