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Are you ready to slam? Perth poets gear up for national competition

In a darkly lit room, a single microphone on a stand casts a peculiar shadow across the crimson curtains behind it.

There’s a sense of nerves mixed with adrenaline in the air as poets both new and old clutch crumpled pieces of paper covered with their work to their chests.

Without warning, a single figure stands before the microphone, their deep voice echoing, making the glassware shake and blowing any last shred of nerves out of the door.

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It’s Allan Boyd, also known as The Antipoet, the WA coordinator of Perth Slam.

“Ladiesssssssssssss and gender-benders, Are. You. Done. Uncle SLAM?

Camera IconAllan and Tonja Boyd. Credit: Andrew Richie/The West Australian

This is the world of Perth’s slam poetry scene, an underground oasis filled with diverse characters of all genders and from all backgrounds and walks of life.

And those responsible for creating this space all the way back in 2007? Allan and Tonja with their daughter Joni, also known as Checkout Chick.

Allan told Perth Now he met Miles Merrill, the founder of Australian Poetry Slam, when he was performing in Perth in the early 2000s.

“He said ‘Antipoet, I’ve seen you perform and I want to start this national slam competition, can I contact you about it?’,” Allan said.

“So, working with the State Library at the time, Writing WA helped promote Perth Slam for the first couple of years when it was at PICA Bar and now it’s at The Rosemount.

“We’ve been running it since then — me and Joni hosting, with Tonja as the time and scorekeeper.

“We just love it and we love doing it as a family.”

Poets from Perth's slam scene say they are grateful to the Boyd family for providing a performance space.
Camera IconPoets from Perth’s slam scene say they are grateful to the Boyd family for providing a performance space. Credit: Supplied

So what is slam?

It is similar to when Jonah Hill took to the stage in the 2014 film 22 Jump Street, spitting words including ‘slam’, ‘waving my hands a lot’ and ‘Cynthia — Jesus died for our sin-thee-a’s’.

Slam is a form of performance poetry where poets deliver a poem in a variety of ways, usually through a bold delivery spanning poetic techniques and body language.

Perth Slam runs monthly at The Rosemount Hotel, giving poets two minutes and a microphone to slam about whatever they like to five judges handpicked from the audience.

Scott-Patrick Mitchell is able to use slam to talk about addiction.
Camera IconScott-Patrick Mitchell is able to use slam to talk about addiction. Credit: Supplied

Slam poet Scott-Patrick Mitchell, commonly known in the industry as ‘SPM’, won one of Perth’s first Poetry Slams in 2010.

Today known as one of Perth’s most successful slam poets, SPM told Perth Now the first time they slammed, they “bombed so hard” they placed last.

“But it’s such a supportive, adrenaline-fueled environment, so I did my research, figured out what a slam poem should and could be and came back for more,” SPM said.

“And within a year-and-a-half I had won my first Perth Slam cup.

“Slam is like watching a really good footy match, just without the mud and sweat.”

Manveen Kohli is another Perth slam poet who focuses her poems on gender equality and women's rights.
Camera IconManveen Kohli is another Perth slam poet who focuses her poems on gender equality and women’s rights. Credit: Supplied

SPM published their first book earlier this year and said ‘Clean’ was shaped by their slam poetry, tackling topics including drug addiction and recovery.

“It’s been so well received by the community and people have really applauded it,” they said.

“At a slam, us poets use language to heal ourselves and then share that with the audience.

“Slam has allowed me to talk about my pain and struggle in a way that has nourished my spirit, and you see it so often with other slam poets.

“They share something heavy on the stage and when they finish, they seem lighter, as if the burden has been lifted.”

Skylar J Wynter, who performs as an alter ego, said slam had given her a voice to share poems of injustice she had seen in the community.
Camera IconSkylar J Wynter, who performs as an alter ego, said slam had given her a voice to share poems of injustice she had seen in the community. Credit: Pip Waller

Skylar J Wynter, who has been performing since 2020, said slam had changed her life after developing PTSD from a traumatic episode.

She told PerthNow slam “gave her a voice” to share poems centered around injustice, which she had recently collated into a book entitled ‘Shine’.

“Through slam, it’s given other people the opportunity to go ‘oh, I’m not alone, there’s someone else out there that has experienced a trauma and still gets up every day’,” Skylar said.

“I’ve had someone come up to me after a slam and say that my poem stopped them from taking their own life, so that’s why I do it.

“Slam has been such a good thing for me in that it’s given me a sense of family and I love Allan and Tonja for what they have done in setting up a platform for us to perform.”

Both Allan and Tonja agreed the one thing they were most proud of was the feedback they received from the community for providing them with a place to share their most intimate poems, no matter what the content.

The Perth winner of the 2022 Australian Poetry Slam will receive a cash prize and a chance to compete in Sydney in October.
Camera IconThe Perth winner of the 2022 Australian Poetry Slam will receive a cash prize and a chance to compete in Sydney in October. Credit: perth slam

“We’ve had people come and perform just once just to get something off of their chest,” Tonja said.

“It’s just a great opportunity, especially for people who are marginalized and neglected for not being a part of dominant culture, because it helps them express themselves and more than that helps the audience understand and hear their stories.”

“And at the end of a poetry slam, the real winner is poetry. Performing a poem might be exactly what you need, but you don’t know what you’re giving to the audience,” Allan added.

“We keep going because we don’t know what we’re going to get — by the end of a slam we could be crying, laughing or clicking; it’s always an unexpected experience.

“It’s a community who are so willing to accept everybody else. As soon as you get on that stage, you’re a part of the Perth slam family.”

The Perth heats of the 2022 Australian Poetry Slam will kick off on Saturday, August 6, at The Rosemount Hotel and will feature both recurring and new poets.

The Perth leg of the competition will span three heats and a final throughout August, with 14 spots available per heat.

The winner and runner-up of the Perth leg of the competition will both receive a cash prize and a chance to compete in Sydney for the Australian title on October 23.

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