30 Jan Bankstown Poetry Slam: How playing with words provides a voice for the diverse
Story and Images by Michael Lu
Most people may recognise them as slam poets, but within the theatres of the Bankstown Poetry Slam, they’re simply known as wordsmiths.
Occurring once every month, the poetry slams consist of a curated selection of live spoken poetry performances and is the first of its kind to regularly occur in Western Sydney.
Sara Mansour is one of the co-founders and believes spoken poetry has the power to break down stereotypes and empower individuals from diverse backgrounds to tell their own stories in a creative way.
Poetry doesn’t have any rules, so I thought that it makes it really empowering because when you’re writing you don’t have to abide by any conventions in your writing and it makes it so much more accessible.
“When you’re performing, that in and of itself is really empowering because you’re performing to a live audience and saying your own words,” she explained.
While growing up, Mansour attended a public high school where there was a lack of focus on creative expressions unless it was by the book.
Looking back, it was after watching Rafeef Ziadah’s viral poem, ‘I am an Arab woman of colour’ when Mansour felt compelled to experiment more with her poetry.
“It really resonated with me at the time because I was a 19-year-old who was trying to find my place in modern Australia and trying to grapple with my identity as someone who was born here and wears the hijab and has first generation parents that migrated from Lebanon,” she said.
There’s a lot of complexity in the identity issues that I thought I can break down through my poetry so I can speak for myself and speak for the challenges that are perpetuated through the media.
Projecting a diverse set of voices, the slam shines a light on underrepresented issues and showcases stories from marginalised identities.
“There are so many people that come from diverse and marginalised backgrounds that don’t have anyone in the public eye that can positively represent them, so they task themselves with doing it,” Mansour said.
By speaking out on certain things, you have the opportunity to reflect on something that would otherwise not be shown, and I think that people from diverse backgrounds see that as a really big opportunity to educate.
Marking the end of the Bankstown Poetry Slam calendar, the annually occurring ‘Grand Slam’ highlighted the talent of this year’s best performers.
Regular slam attendees will have recognised the four-person team behind ‘Mouthful of Melanin’ – the overall winners of the ‘Grand Slam’ in 2018.
To reduce bias, judges were provided with criteria to follow while reaching a decision, including looking at the calibre of the pieces from a literary perspective, the coordination and choreography of the performances and whether the pieces were memorised.
Performers were also judged by the reactions of the audience, who were instructed to click their fingers instead of clap if they engaged with the content.
“It’s also the crowd reaction and whether or not the crowd is really vibing with the performances,” Mansour explained.
“Because poetry slams are such a community based art, the entire audience is encouraged to participate and engage with the performers.”