Bronwyn Lovell for our coverage of Overload Poetry Festival 2011. On Sunday, Bronwyn reviewed a surprise addition to the Overload program, the Takeaway Poems stall at the Fitzroy Sunday markets. Punters could request poems on any subject from Overload wordsmiths, giving new meaning to poetry under pressure. Think poets are precious with, and protective about, their words? Well as Lovell found out, true twenty minute wordsmithery (ironic, isn't it, that that's not actually a word) is alive and well in Melbourne:The Slam Up Overloaded team has been fortunate to be joined by reviewer and poet
Fitzroy. Sunday. Sun. Does life get any better than this? Add poetry and art to the mix and forgive me for mistaking the Rose St Markets for paradise. The poets were the amazing Tim Clare and Luke Wright all the way from the Norwich, UK, and local superstar Ezra Bix, and they were writing free poems for whoever was wise enough to order one at the Take Away Poetry Stall.
I approached the desk and was promptly greeted by Laura, who was very warmly taking the orders. Luke was sitting beside her in front of a typewriter. ‘What’s your name?’ asked Laura. ‘Bronwyn,’ I answered. ‘And what kind of poem would you like today?’ she asked. Hmmm. Good question. I decide I would like something inspiring, to encourage me as an emerging poet. ‘What do you want to achieve with your poetry?’ Luke asks, ‘What are your dreams?’ And just like that I am suddenly teary eyed and spilling out my entire life story faster than poor Laura can take notes.
I told them that I most of all want to move people with my poetry and remind people of the beauty around them they don’t normally see. I told them how I used to write poems when I was a kid but then I did some crazy misguided things like join the Navy straight out of school, then tried acting, then went back to uni to study writing, have settled in Melbourne, but I miss nature and dream of a quieter existence one day. ‘Okay, I think we’ve got enough material to work from’ says Laura. She gives the notes to Luke and I’m instructed to return in 20 minutes.
I took a seat and ordered a fresh juice from the café. It was so good I ordered another one. 20 minutes passed pretty quickly but I was shy to return to the table because I didn’t want to bother them; what if they needed a little extra time? Eventually Luke called me over, saying he’d finished ages ago. He then proceeded to read me the following piece:
Bronwyn, may all your life be stories
from distant port holes on peace-time seas
through the electric grid of city streets
to a cottage somewhere in your dreams.
And may your stories tell us who we really are;
pin us to our seats
stop us mid pint
spin around our hum-drum lives.
For Bronwyn, when you’re gone
these stories will survive
these stories are what keep us all alive.
All the nearby customers and storeholders were listening in, looking at me, and I still couldn’t help it; I cried. Ezra was quickly on hand for emotional support with a hearty hug. Luke had perfectly captured exactly what I wanted to hear, and I was very moved. I asked a few other poetry customers about their experiences and it seems I was not the only one with wet eyes at this event. Amelia cried too when she received a poem for her 5-month-old son, also from Luke. Some lovely lines included:
There will be scraped knees and sad days
but this world is for the taking
and there will be sunrises and funparks,
first kisses and perfect days.
Amelia said, ‘the fact it can elicit such an emotional response is beautiful’, and it’s ‘such a great way of connecting with the community and taking poetry out of bars into the daylight’. I totally agreed. Not to mention the fact that alcohol is the usual beverage at such events. It was so much nicer to be enjoying poetry out in the open in the sun with a fresh juice rather than in a dingy old pub getting drunk. Amelia pointed out that this way, ‘you’re not just listening either, you’re getting something too’. Amelia planned to frame Mateo’s poem and put it in the nursery.
Sarah got the first poem of the day and it was from Tim. She asked for a poem to thank her friend for the strawberries she had given her. Tim asked her to tell him some anecdotes about her friend so he could get a feel for the kind of person she was. This was a particularly pretty bit:
Souvenir me another secret clutch of strawberries
like a nest of quail eggs
Sarah was delighted with the poem and loved the fact that it was so personal and that all the metaphors were real and recognizable to her and her friend, even if they wouldn’t make sense to others.
Ashley decided to request a break-up poem from Tim since she had recently split from her partner. When she was asked what sort of poem she was after, the brief she gave was frank and direct, ‘Fuck you and die, or a love poem’, she said. What resulted was something very special indeed. I liked this stanza a lot:
And maybe we weren’t fair,
maybe after the champagne and the inked contracts
you sat in your quiet workshop with your half page of notes
and felt we’d built you into something you’re not
Ashley was very happy with the piece Tim wrote for her. ‘It’s an astute interpretation of my raw emotions’, she said.
Alan, who is studying medicine, asked Luke for a poem about the difficulties of trying to be a doctor and a poet at the same time. These were some of the words he received:
And between your success and tragedies
Your brave new world of doing good,
You will always have your words
Ezra wrote a poem for a lady called Catherine and stood up on his chair and shared it in his phenomenal theatrical voice that echoed all the way along Rose St. And the poets weren’t the only ones sharing poems that day. At least two customers were inspired to write and read poems of their own. A sense of community quickly built around the table as the typewriter clicked away and people were read their poems. Customers wore expressions of captive joy on their faces and mild disbelief at this extraordinary gift they were being given. The speed with which these gems were composed was quite astounding. I wondered if the poets were ever sad to let their poems go off into the ether like that, when some of them were definitely good enough to keep and put in a collection one day, but this was not about the poets, their writing these poems for others was an act of pure generosity. Tim says it’s easy work for the poets, since it’s the customer who provides the topic and inspiration; the poet simply articulates each customer’s own unique expression.
Tim first came up with the concept of Take Away poetry when he couldn’t afford to pay for an actual stall at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and needed a roving talent. He set himself up next to a bin with a sign ‘free poems – any subject’. He says he has been asked to write everything from wedding vows to eulogies. Even when the topic chosen seems mundane, like a person’s favourite food, when Tim asks for more information he usually finds that the associations and anecdotes around it reveal a lot about the person’s personality. He says that the Take Away Poetry project has made him feel more positive about people in general, because the vast majority of people who approach him are nice and interesting, and they all have fascinating sides to their lives that you might never have suspected.
Bronwyn Lovell is an emerging poet and spoken word performer. Her poetry has been featured on RRR, SYN FM, 3CR Community Radio, and Melbourne Community Television Channel 31. Her work has been accepted for publication in Swamp, Antipodes, ZineWest, Positive Words Magazine, and Paradise Anthology. Bronwyn has a writing residency at Kinfolk Cafe as part of Australian Poetry's national Cafe Poets Program and she is a workshop facilitator for the Centre for Poetics and Justice. www.bronwynlovell.com