Poetic (Days) Weekend in Footscray + The Art Of Poetic Duel


A big weekend coming up for poetry in Melbourne - to and from the world. Two days of poetry, workshops and film at Footscray Community Arts Centre starts Friday with a masterclass with USA slam champ Anis Mojani ... Anis will also be running a workshop at 11am on the Saturday. If you have some time now, spend it with Anis from his TED talk last year ... he'll slowly but surely give you his whole heart. Take it. In taking it, you give it. This poet is total soul.


On Saturday night the 23rd, the second One Night Stanza featuring some of the most fascinating spoken word artists in Australia, including Amal Kassir, Helen Kassa and Miles Merrill - with two awesome special guests from the States - Mojani (who sold out the last ONS, last year) and one of my absolute favorite wordsmiths of the world - Buddy Wakefield.

Yeah! You heard me - Buddy Goddamn Wakefield! This is going to be FUN.

Here's one of my most favourite tracks by Buddy (we featured this in a Going Down Swinging compilation a while back - by the by, GDS is one of the presenting organisations bringing Buddy to town. You can get the track on Buddy's album Live at the Typer Cannon Grand (2009) 


I'm happy to be on the decks again out the front, mixing for the breaks. Last year this was an absolute highlight. Be sure to book ahead because it's bound to sell out again! Details are here:  http://footscrayarts.com/event/poetic-days-weekend/

On the Friday night of FCAC's weekend poetics fest there will be a screening of a film that I'm just itching to see ...

Zajal - The Art of Poetic Duel

'Zajal- The Art of Poetic Duel traces the thread of this form of improvised poetic duel from its origins in the Middle East, the history and culture that it emerges from and similar oral traditions from around the world through to its resonance in contemporary art forms like battle rap, cypher, spoken word and poetry slams.'

I'm going to give the rest of this post over to the maker of the film Sarah Mcdonald, who wrote about her experience making the film for me today. Since she first talked to me about the project I caught the spark of deep inspiration that I know so well - when the poets and singers and dancers open the door right into our souls. You get it, yes? It gets you. I've not heard of Zajal before, though I've known that in Arab cultures as in Greek, Roman, Etruscan, African, Japanese - in all human cultures - poetry has been a foundation art and a contested sport since ancient times. The poetry slam is not new territory for poets, but a rediscovered country. And in that case, to me it is a sign of great hope that the popularity of the slam and the mc battle is rising. If we can win wars of words and dance, maybe we can overcome the need for wars of weapons and chance.


Making 'Zajal- The Art Of Poetic Duel' has been a parabolic learning curve, massive challenge and absolute pleasure. It has been produced though my work with Victorian Arabic Social Services coordinating The Anti Racism Action Band - a youth performing arts organisation established in the wake of 9/11 to stem the social issues arising from the racism that young people from culturally diverse backgrounds were subjected to, and to build positivity and bridges between communities. This film is completely in line with that aim and reveals a side of Arabic culture that is rarely exposed, the richness of the history and culture that Zajal emerged out of, the depth to which poetry is embedded in Arabic culture, the intelligence, humour and warmth of Arabic people as well as the universality and importance of poetry as a means of cultural expression. I came to be working at VASS quite serendipitously. I've been playing Arabic music [ think Oum Kulthoum, Fairuz, Mohammed Abdul Wahab ] with my friends, Liam O'Connell and Yousef Alreemawi, who had mentioned me to the CEO of VASS and things unfolded from there. On the last day of work last year my boss told me that there was funding to make a documentary about Zajal and that it was a kind of poetry which was a bit like a rap battle. She gave me one phone number and essentially just said "Go for it!" This prospect was extremely exciting to me and completely up my alley in many ways which made me undeterred by the fact that I'd never made a documentary before and knew nothing about this form of poetry that was in a language which I didn't speak. I like a challenge! It was initially quite a challenge to find anyone who could tell me anything about it. I even initially roamed around Brunswick asking people if they knew anything about Zajal, to which the majority of people cocked their heads to one side and said "Huh?!" I think it was the musical connection that was part of what made people see that I had a genuine connection with and interest in their culture and open up to me. One connection lead to another and another, as things do, and most people I spoke to were genuinely chuffed that someone was interested in this aspect of their culture and were keen to help. Once I had made a series of connections I engaged with a great production team, Jeevika Rajagopala and Flourent Tourville of Pan Loop productions, and together we went on a whirlwind of back to back interviews throughout Melbourne and on an action packed road trip to Sydney for a stack of interviews and spoken word events - which saw us at one point having to sleep tetris-ed into the back of my station wagon in torrential rain.. We met so many talented and beautiful people along the way who were incredibly generous, kind and helpful and saw so many great performances of music, rap and spoken word. I honestly lost track of the amount of times that I was moved to tears. It was an absolute honour and privilege to get to know everyone involved and get a window into their world. I felt utterly nourished to the depth of my soul by the beauty and humanity that I witnessed. This film is full of that beauty.


As far as films go, we made this with an unreasonably tight timeline and budget and it was only possible because of the contributions of everyone involved and the passion and dedication of the team behind it. I am immeasurably grateful to Tim Parish for his help with editing, Jeevika and Flo for their involvement through the whole process, Yousef Alreemawi for his translation and Cy Gorman for the sound design, to VASS for having faith in me and to The Australia Council for providing us with the means to make it happen. [ this is sounding a little " I'd like to thank God...and my mother and father.."!!! ] I realise that we've only uncovered the tip of the iceberg of this culture and that there is yet much more to explore and reveal. It's that thing -  the more you look, the more you find. I hope that it opens the door for more inquiry, cultural sharing, better representation of Arabic cultures and provides inspiration for contemporary artists.

Zajal- The Art of Poetic Duel is being officially premiered early September in Melbourne and there will be more screenings later. Keep up to date at the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/zajaltheartofpoeticduel

And if you're in Melbourne, see you at FCAC next weekend!