Each Saturday morning for the next few months, you’ll be able to drop in to Lyneham’s Front Café and Gallery and meet your local poet. Sat behind a desk containing a laptop, a long black and a pile of notes is Julian Fleetwood, writer, organiser of the TRAVERSE POETRY SLAM evenings, and poet in residence at the now iconic Lyneham hub. “The deal is that I get free coffee and in exchange I write poetry and attempt to elevate the space, make it a bit more… poetic.”
Fleetwood’s role as house bard complements a suite of activities he’s been involved with for some time. Starting as a creative writing major at the ANU, his early plan was to create prose. “I didn’t want to do poetry, I wanted to write short stories, but I tried poetry and found that it was a great way to express something less narrative-driven.”
Fleetwood and a bunch of his colleagues decided to produce a literary journal called Block and to launch the first issue a performance night was hosted at The Front. “The launch was a chance for us to perform the pieces, get feedback, put that back into our writing, and it went really well.” Buoyed by the success, Fleetwood gained an Arts ACT grant and founded the Traverse Poetry project. Its aim is to promote cross-media workshops and events for poets. The Traverse Poetry Slam is now a regular must-see night within the Canberra arts community.
“With slam poetry, your focus is on maintaining the audience’s attention – it needs to grab people, and for that you need to appeal widely. You need to make your work accessible. And you need to have good rhythm. The basic format of slam poetry is that the subject is picked from the audience and the poets respond for no more than two or three minutes. The Front is conducive to people being attentive, which promotes a friendly environment.”
In that regard Traverse nights are the genteel yin to the roughhouse yang of the Bad!Slam!No!Biscuit! events. “We’re not opposites,” says Fleetwood, who collaborates with the Bad!Slam! crew. “But it’s a good thing to have the two events. Bad!Slam! is more about being loud and exciting.” But that’s not to say that passions don’t run high at Traverse evenings. “About three years ago we had a bit of fight at a Traverse event.” And what was the fight over? “Aesthetics! ‘This poetry is meaningless!’, that kinda fight! A highlight in the history of Traverse!”
While the slams continue to unearth new performers each year and build on their strong community of writers, Fleetwood suggests that it’s not all about the microphone. “If you’re worth your salt you won’t be purely about performance. I think people should work on page poetry as well because there is so much you can do on the page.”
The next Traverse Poetry Slam’s theme is Autumn. It’s happening at The Front on Friday May 27 from 7.30pm. Head to traversepoetry.org for more info.