Posted on February 10, 2015
A few years ago, before we had Boodi, and moved from inner city Melbourne to semi-regional Geelong, I lived a very different life. I was the accounts manager for a national costume jewellery company called Tiger Tree (I do miss being the queen of accessories, as my friend Rachel used to call me), I travelled for ages each day on the 246 bus from Elwood to Collingwood, firmly plugged into my iphone music library. It was a long trip through peak hour traffic, perfect for reading and dreaming and tapping out little observations in the notes section of my phone. It was pure bliss in retrospect, and I didn’t really mind it most days.
We lived in a shabby apartment with the most glorious view of sky and the changing visage of the plane trees outside our window. I loved that view. Our fluffy ginger cat Kiku was still in the land of the living. There was a tiny bar around the corner called The King of Tonga, and it was our second home, replete with many good friends, which made for a a very niche brand of community, tucked away there in the poets section of Elwood, and still does. You should definitely pop in there for a visit if you’re ever around.
The King of Tonga used to hold an annual “talent” quest called Tonga’s Got Talent. It consisted of 3 or 4 different rounds, culminating in a grand final in the room out the back, with a $500 prize from the Bendigo Bank and other prizes donated by local businesses. The contestants would front up for the rounds in the tiny space in the front window of the bar, and strut their stuff. The talent was many and varied, including some actual talent, and some not so talent, and then, one year there was my something in between.
I decided that I was going to recite a poem. The poem was the Australian classic poem Five Bells by Kenneth Slessor. It is an amazing poem. It has a place close to my heart, I discovered it just after my father and brother drowned, and the words resonated so strongly. My sister quoted lines from it in the front of her memoir, Midnight Water. It is a long poem, and not a light-hearted one, and really, god knows what compelled me to decide to recite a poem in front of a bar full of people, let alone a poem like this. But I did.
Despite my really very quiet and subdued nature and voice, I have always partaken in debating and public speaking throughout my life. When I was in year ten at Golden Square High School and taking part in the inter-school debating rounds, I decided that I didn’t like the sound of my own country girl accent and I actively chose to change my elocution. By this I don’t mean to say that I took classes or anything, I just took notice and spoke “properly”. It is still at the point that if I get too drunk, my speech becomes ever more pronounced, and strangers ask where I am “from”.
Through speaking aloud, I learned to love the sound of my own voice.
For a couple of weeks I kept practising reciting Five Bells aloud. I had no intention of learning it by heart, but the intonations had to be just so. It had been years since I had read aloud like this (which reminds me that my beautiful husband read The Old Man and the Sea aloud to me when I first moved to Sydney to be with him), and I had forgotten the power that comes from speaking the written word. It is a wholly emotional, transformative experience. Although I had read Five Bells a hundred times or more, speaking it brought home the devastating lines
The night you died, I felt your eardrums crack,
And the short agony, the longer dream,
The Nothing that was neither long nor short;
But I was bound, and could not go that way,
But I was blind, and could not feel your hand.
like the power of the first time that I read them, and the way that they gave voice to my raging grief and fear.
By the time that I stood up there in front of the small crowd, I didn’t care what anyone thought of the idea of a poem recitation as a change from the usual fare, I was caught up in this resounding poem. To speak the words almost took my breath away.
I won the final that night. It should be clarified that the judges were good friends, but they were friends with everyone else too, and the field was rather weak that night. So I had to go on to the grand final, which was going to be judged by Bruce Woodley from The Seekers, and actor Rodger Corsair. I was going to sing The Last Day of Our Acquaintance by Sinead O’Connor, as I actually am not a terrible singer, but I do have a very terrible sense of timing, and could not possibly match my singing to he music (another story, surely), and so I stuck with my thing and recited Pablo Neruda’s Barcarola poem. It was still a beautiful thing to recite, but in the end I was glad to get it over with, with so many more people watching curiously.
I didn’t win (obviously) against the very entertaining contestants. I did get very drunk and had a great time. There were photos taken at the end. It was a great experience, I throughly recommend it. What I really recommend though, is to read your own writing aloud, and see how different it sounds. See how beautiful your voice is, and how it speaks your words.
I am thinking of doing some video work of my writing and incorporating it here, or elsewhere, particularly after watching the documentary on Nick Cave called 20000 Days on Earth, which really opened my eyes up to the power of the creative process, and how important it is as a vital component to being oneself.
Have you ever done spoken word in any form?
Linking up with Essentially Jess for #IBOT