Power, poetry and passion

Creating engagement and enthusiasm for poetry and the spoken word is often viewed as a struggle by educators, NSW/ACT Organiser Lee Cunningham writes. Millennials are tainted by stereotypical views of ‘do they even care’ by society. Faced with these two challenges, Bankstown Poetry Slam has managed to involve a whole community and grow to being the largest poetry slam in the southern hemisphere.

Founded by two Western Sydney University students, Sara Mansour and Ahmad Al Rady, Bankstown Poetry Slam, supported by Bankstown Youth Development Service, offers a positive and supportive platform for amateur artists who are willing to share their stories and ideas. Nothing about this poetry slam is censored, and there are no boundaries around how individuals choose to deliver their message. Content of participants’ poems are only limited by their own imagination. A single Slam could offer the audience insights into personal ideas and experiences of religion, relationships, racism – and anything in between!

The preparation that goes into each performance involves deep thought, planning and thorough practice, with a large proportion of participants reciting (almost performing) their poems without the use of notes to aid them. With such an array of individual topics broached, it is no surprise that artists are highly emotive and fervent when delivering their spoken word. Artists also often describe the process from planning to performing as cathartic and a release. The progression to performing was even described by one artist as “about how honest you can be to yourself”. Bankstown Poetry Slam has unintentionally caused its own participants to be taken on a detailed internal journey of self reflection, all before they actually reach the point of self expression on Slam night.

Everyone connects

Somehow, and almost paradoxically, participant and audience members subsequently report that passionate, individual issues and opinions – once shared – have the power to draw people together. Everyone connects to something in someone else’s poem. This sharing of ideas has brought people together so much so, that Bankstown Poetry Slam refers to its diehard supporters ‘slamily’. It’s no surprise that on Australia Day 2017, Sara Mansour, co-founder of the Slam, was awarded the Young Citizen of the Year by the Canterbury/Bankstown community.

Bankstown Poetry Slam also offers Real Talk, a high school spoken word program which provides education and support so that students can participate in meaningful dialogue which empowers them to find their voice. The program runs over six weeks and involves mentor poets who workshop classes with students. The program is highly successful and students are reported to “really come out of their shells”.

The Slam has also branched out to offer a project called Flip the Script at their monthly Poetry Slam event. Flip the Script specifically caters for youth and offers the opportunity for performers 24 years or under to showcase their talents, challenge stereotypes, address issues and action change – with no limits or parameters around what can be performed. There are also no strict time limits or judging, which offers the budding artists a supportive, encouraging environment so that they can have a go.

Bankstown Poetry Slam is held at the Bankstown Arts Centre on the last Tuesday of every month. Typically, over 300 people attend the monthly Slam. Flip the Script is held before the Slam begins and runs from 4-6pm.